William Howarth, eminent Thoreau scholar, pioneer in the environmental humanities and ‘remarkable mentor,’ dies at 82

Written by
Jamie Saxon, Office of Communications
June 20, 2023
William Howarth

William “Will” Howarth, professor of English, emeritus, and eminent Thoreau scholar and environmental humanist, died of interstitial lung disease at Penn Medicine Princeton Medical Center on June 6. He was 82.

Howarth served on Princeton’s faculty for 51 years. He joined the University in 1966 and transferred to emeritus status in 2008 but kept teaching until Dec. 2017, when he suffered a severe stroke.

Specializing in American literature of 1850-1950, the history of nonfiction and environmental literature, he served as editor-in-chief of the NEH-funded project  Writings of Henry D. Thoreau, with an office in Princeton University Library, and was among the cofounders of the Princeton Environmental Institute (now High Meadows Environmental Institute). He also helped establish the Program in African American Studies at Princeton (now the Department of African American Studies).

“Will Howarth was one of the major figures in expanding the curriculum in the English department and at Princeton,” said Simon Gikandi, the Class of 1943 University Professor of English and department chair. “In his teaching, scholarship and program development he was ahead of his time and can now be considered to have been a pioneer in several areas central to English studies in the 21st century. He was a pioneer in the use of computers and the electronic media in the humanities; his monumental writings on Thoreau laid the groundwork for environmental humanities; and his work on autobiography and literary journalism made the study of nonfiction central to literary studies.”

Read Howarth's full obituary on Princeton.edu: