Segments in this Video

Snapshots of Emerson (01:18)


Ralph Waldo Emerson became the leading spokesman for Idealism, or Transcendentalism, in America. Experts, and his own words, offer insights into Emerson's thoughts and beliefs.

Emerson's Childhood, Early Education, and the Influence of Women (03:52)

Born just after the United States freed itself from Britain, Ralph Waldo Emerson was an important voice in the spiritual development of the nation. His childhood, the effects of his father's death, and the influences of intellectual women are examined.

Emerson at Harvard and as a Teacher (01:56)

Upon graduating from Harvard, Ralph Waldo Emerson began a teaching career. Passages from his journal provide insights into Emerson's intellectual development, spiritual experiences, and thoughts on his place in the world.

Emerson's Early Success (02:59)

Before the age of 30 Ralph Waldo Emerson attended divinity school, worked as a minister, was married, and became a prominent public figure. Passages from his journal provide insights into his spiritual growth.

A Revolution in Emerson's Life (03:23)

Emerson's wife, Ellen, died shortly after they were married, shattering his dreams. The effects of Ellen's death on Emerson's thinking, and on his personal and professional lives, are examined.

Emerson, Romanticism, and Platonism (01:55)

Europe was caught up in the cultural movement that came to be known as Romanticism at the time Ralph Waldo Emerson traveled there from America. An expert traces the route of Platonism from Plato to Emerson.

Emerson's Travels in Europe (03:43)

After his wife's death Ralph Waldo Emerson left his life in Boston and traveled to Europe. The influence of the art, beauty, wonders of natural science, and of exposure to Transcendentalism on Emerson's thinking are examined.

Emerson Becomes America's "Founding Thinker" (03:43)

After nine months in Europe, Ralph Waldo Emerson returned to Boston with a strong sense of purpose. He started a new family, began writing, and published his first book, "Nature."

Emerson and the Lyceum Movement (01:32)

The Lyceum Movement fed America's hunger for public education and self improvement by offering lectures across the country on wide range of topics. Ralph Waldo Emerson became one of the stars of the Lyceum Movement.

Emerson Challenges America's Academics and Clergy (02:57)

Using his status as one of America's great intellectuals, Ralph Waldo Emerson issued challenges to academics and the clergy. Some of his views enraged the religious establishment and he was banned from speaking at Harvard for years.

Intellectuals and Conversation at Emerson's House (01:50)

Ralph Waldo Emerson loved conversation as a way to develop thoughts. His increasing fame made his house a center for thinkers and writers of the time, including Henry David Thoreau and Walt Whitman.

Emerson and the Sacred Books of the East (01:58)

In addition to his study of Plato, Emerson was also drawn to the great texts of the East. In his journals, Emerson recorded that the sacred books of the East were the bedrock of the eternal wisdom which he was in search of.

Emerson's "Self Reliance" (02:23)

In 1841 Ralph Waldo Emerson published a book of essays which contains what might be his most famous work, "Self Reliance." Passages from the essay are read and experts interpret Emerson's words.

Emerson, Transcendentalism, and Idealism (03:51)

Ralph Waldo Emerson's essays and lectures moved readers of his time, and they move readers today. Publication of his essays made Emerson the most prominent spokesman for Transcendentalism, or Idealism, the name Emerson preferred.

The Death of Emerson's Son (02:18)

The death of his young son inspired one of Ralph Waldo Emerson's most heartfelt poems. An expert assesses the impact of his son's death on Emerson's thoughts and work.

Emerson the Poet (01:31)

Ralph Waldo Emerson helped heal his grief over the loss of his son by editing "The Dial," a literary magazine he helped establish. While Emerson is remembered mostly for his essays, he thought of himself as a poet as well.

Emerson Condemns Slavery and Oppression (02:38)

As his popularity grew, the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson began being used by others in ways he did not intend. Emerson was an outspoken critic of slavery and of oppression against women, native Americans, and others.

Emerson, Whitman, and a New American Literature (01:50)

Emerson's call for a genuinely American literature began to bear fruit as talented American authors started to emerge. Emerson's association with Walt Whitman is examined, and the influence of Whitman on Emerson's own poetry is assessed.

Emerson's Final Years (01:51)

With his memory fading, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote moving elegies for his wife, for Henry David Thoreau, and for President Lincoln during the 1860s. After returning from an overseas trip with his daughter, Emerson died at home in 1882.

Emerson's Lasting Relevance (02:51)

Ralph Waldo Emerson's essays and lectures moved people of his time, and they move those who study him today. Experts offer insights into the lasting influence and relevance of Emerson.

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Emerson: The Ideal in America—Educator's Edition

DVD (Chaptered) Price: $169.95
DVD + 3-Year Streaming Price: $254.93
3-Year Streaming Price: $169.95



A generation after Americans had freed themselves politically and economically from Britain, it would be up to Ralph Waldo Emerson to carry the Revolution to individual men and women by exhorting them to a freedom of the spirit as well. Through a detailed recounting of Emerson’s life, this program traces his vision of the ideal in America from its genesis to its flowering as the principles of Transcendentalism. Readings from Emerson’s journals, addresses, and published works—including Nature and “Self-Reliance”—are interwoven throughout. Commentary is provided by Robert Richardson, author of Emerson: The Mind on Fire; Richard Geldard, author of God in Concord; and others. Bonus material includes short bios of key Transcendentalists, profiles of women who influenced Emerson and Transcendentalism, the role of oratory in American life and the rise of the Lyceum lecture circuit, an overview of idealism in Western philosophy, and Eastern influences on Transcendentalism. Produced by the Ralph Waldo Emerson Institute. (54 minutes)

Length: 55 minutes

Item#: BVL37620

ISBN: 978-1-4213-8048-3

Copyright date: ©2007

Closed Captioned

Reviews & Awards

“An efficient and engaging introduction to the overall shape of Emerson's life and thought. Recommended.”—Educational Media Reviews Online


“Provides a comprehensive overview of [Emerson’s] major contribution to American literature and the intellectual movement of the time.... Bonus materials on [DVD] explore the strong influence of women in his life, the role of oratory, the Lyceum Movement, and Eastern influences on Transcendentalism.”—School Library Journal


Recommended by Curriculum Connections.


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