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The irony, of course, was that in the process wilderness came to reflect the very civilization its devotees sought to escape. just so can we still join Thoreau in declaring that “in Wildness is the preservation of the World,” for wildness (as opposed to wilderness) can be found anywhere: in the seemingly tame fields and woodlots of Massachusetts, in the cracks of a Manhattan sidewalk, even in the cells of our own bodies. In offering wilderness as the ultimate hunter-gatherer alternative to civilization, Foreman reproduces an extreme but still easily recognizable version of the myth of frontier primitivism. (7) In its raw state, it had little or nothing to offer civilized men and women. For a very interesting critique of this literature (first published in the anarchist newspaper Fifth Estate), see George Bradford, How Deep is Deep Ecology? William Cronon delivers a very interesting book that explores the history of England backdating from the 16th century up to the beginning of the 19th century. Scholarly work on the sublime is extensive. For example, Ecologists have analyzed tree rings, charcoal deposits, rotting trunks and stumps to discover the history of New England woodlands. In virtually all of its manifestations, wilderness represents a flight from history. Now the defenders of Hetch Hetchy attracted widespread national attention by portraying such an act not as improvement or progress but as desecration and vandalism. Such memories may be uniquely our own, but they are also familiar enough be to be instantly recognizable to others. Press, 1982), pp. He is … In just this way, wilderness came to embody the national frontier myth, standing for the wild freedom of America’s past and seeming to represent a highly attractive natural alternative to the ugly artificiality of modern civilization. Henry S. Canby (Boston, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin, 1937), p. 672. We will not … (24), The removal of Indians to create an “uninhabited wilderness”—uninhabited as never before in the human history of the place—reminds us just how invented, just how constructed, the American wilderness really is. 11. Press, ig8o). In forcing us to acknowledge that they are not of our making, that they have little or no need of our continued existence, they recall for us a creation far greater than our own. But is it? Thirty-five years ago William Cronon wrote Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England. 42. It is not a proposition that seems likely to produce very positive or practical results. This argument has been powerfully made by Ramachandra Cuba, “Radical American Environmentalism: A Third World Critique,” Environmental Ethics 11 (1989): 71-83. When he writes of his fellow Earth Firsters that “we believe we must return to being animal, to glorying in our sweat, hormones, tears, and blood” and that “we struggle against the modern compulsion to become dull, passionless androids,” he is following in the footsteps of Owen Wister. Wilderness hides its unnaturalness behind a mask that is all the more beguiling because it seems so natural. Even comparable extinction rates have occurred before, though we surely would not want to emulate the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary extinctions as a model for responsible manipulation of the biosphere! The very men who most benefited from urban-industrial capitalism were among those who believed they must escape its debilitating effects. 603-37. 1 (Jan., 1996), pp. As if a voice were in them, the sick sight To the extent that we celebrate wilderness as the measure with which we judge civilization, we reproduce the dualism that sets humanity and nature at opposite poles. To protect wilderness was in a very real sense to protect the nation’s most sacred myth of origin. Mark 1:12-13, KJV; see also Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13, 6. Many environmentalists who reject traditional notions of the Godhead and who regard themselves as agnostics or even atheists nonetheless express feelings tantamount to religious awe when in the presence of wilderness—a fact that testifies to the success of the romantic project. (28), Perhaps the most suggestive example of the way that wilderness thinking can underpin other environmental concerns has emerged in the recent debate about “global change.” In 1989 the journalist Bill McKibben published a book entitled The End of Nature, in which he argued that the prospect of global climate change as a result of unintentional human manipulation of the atmosphere means that nature as we once knew it no longer exists. In critiquing wilderness as I have done in this essay, I’m forced to confront my own deep ambivalence about its meaning for modern environmentalism. Earth First! We are responsible for both, even though we can claim credit for neither. Some part of the For Cronon, part of the challenge of writing this book was using ecological evidence outside of the historical discipline. For other writers, however, frontier democracy for communities was less compelling than frontier freedom for individuals. 2017 William Cronon, Frederick Jackson Turner and Vilas Research Professor of History, Geography, and Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison The 10th annual Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. Award for distinguished writing in American history of enduring public significance, given jointly with the Roosevelt Institute, is presented to William Cronon. (37) All of these questions imply conflicts among different groups of people, conflicts that are obscured behind the deceptive clarity of “human” vs. “nonhuman.” If in answering these knotty questions we resort to so simplistic an opposition, we are almost certain to ignore the very subtleties and complexities we need to understand. Press, 1976); Barbara Novak, Nature and Culture: American Landscape Painting, 1825-1875 (New York: Oxford Univ. movement of limbs is pleasure, while the body seems to feel beauty when 26. Instead, it’s a product of that civilization, and could hardly be contaminated by the very stuff of which it is made. Its connotations were anything but positive, and the emotion one was most likely to feel in its presence was “bewilderment” or terror. In its flight from history, in its siren song of escape, in its reproduction of the dangerous dualism that sets human beings outside of nature—in all of these ways, wilderness poses a serious threat to responsible environmentalism at the end of the twentieth century. thee here, but forever relentlessly drive thee hence to where I am kind. Cronon, William. William Cronon, photographed in the Madison, Wisconsin Arboretum in 2007. Wendell Berry, Home Economics (San Francisco, California: North Point, 1987), pp. At its worst, as environmentalists are beginning to realize, exporting American notions of wilderness in this way can become an unthinking and self-defeating form of cultural imperialism. The autonomy of nonhuman nature seems to me an indispensable corrective to human arrogance. Remember this too: looking out across a desert canyon in the evening air, the only sound a lone raven calling in the distance, the rock walls dropping away into a chasm so deep that its bottom all but vanishes as you squint into the amber light of the setting sun. Foreman, Confessions of an Eco-Warrior, p. 65. Using indicators of deforestation and land -use dynamics to support. The classic example is the tropical rain forest, which since the 1970s has become the most powerful modern icon of unfallen, sacred land—a veritable Garden of Eden—for many Americans and Europeans. Of the same face, blossoms upon one tree; 233-55, and William Cronon, “Introduction: In Search of Nature,” in Cronon, Uncommon Ground, pp. See Slotkin, Gunfighter Nation: The Myth of the Frontier in Twentieth-Century America (New York: Atheneum, 1992), pp. Only nature knows nei ther memory nor history. Winds thwarting winds, bewildered and forlorn, (19) By fleeing to the outer margins of settled land and society—so the story ran—an individual could escape the confining strictures of civilized life. William Cronon. Among the most important studies are Samuel Monk, The Sublime: A Study of Critical Theories in XVIII-Century England (New York: Modern Language Association, 1935); Basil Willey, The Eighteenth-Century Background: Studies on the Idea of Nature in the Thought of the Period (London, England: Chattus and Windus, 1949); Marjorie Hope Nicolson, Mountain Gloom and Mountain Glory: The Development of the Aesthetics of the Infinite (Ithaca, New York: Cornell Univ. On the many problems with this view, see William M. Denevan, “The Pristine Myth: The Landscape of the Americas in 1492,” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 82 (1992): 369-85. and pilfers him of some of his divine faculty. (11) In the theories of Edmund Burke, Immanuel Kant, William Gilpin, and others, sublime landscapes were those rare places on earth where one had more chance than elsewhere to glimpse the face of God. These two interests, writing and history, converged for William Cronon in college, as he studied western and environmental history, and then wrote about them. Seen in this way, wilderness presents itself as the best antidote to our human selves, a refuge we must somehow recover if we hope to save the planet. 18. That is why, when I think of the times I myself have come closest to experiencing what I might call the sacred in nature, I often find myself remembering wild places much closer to home. Seen as the original garden, it is a place outside of time, from which human beings had to be ejected before the fallen world of history could properly begin. In contrast, elite urban tourists and wealthy sportsmen projected their leisure-time frontier fantasies onto the American landscape and so created wilderness in their own image. We had no concept of “wilderness” because everything was wilderness and we were a part of it. 24. In William Cronon, ed., Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the William Cronon served as President of the American Historical Association from January 2012-January 2013. Thus, in the myth of the vanishing frontier lay the seeds of wilderness preservation in the United States, for if wild land had been so crucial in the making of the nation, then surely one must save its last remnants as monuments to the American past—and as an insurance policy to protect its future. Tumult and peace, the darkness and the light The flight from history that is very nearly the core of wilderness represents the false hope of an escape from responsibility, the illusion that we can somehow wipe clean the slate of our past and return to the tabula rasa that supposedly existed before we began to leave our marks on the world. The symbols he detected in this wilderness landscape were more supernatural than natural, and they inspired more awe and dismay than joy or pleasure. William Cronon studies American environmental history and the history of the American West. Cronon asserts that man by design of nature is a storyteller. Copyright © William Cronon No mere mortal was meant to linger long in such a place, so it was with considerable relief that Wordsworth and his companion made their way back down from the peaks to the sheltering valleys. Country people generally know far too much about working the land to regard unworked land as their ideal. William Cronon studies North American environmental history and the history of the American West. Never again would “such gifts of free land offer themselves” to the American people. 34. He now teaches history, geography and For them, wild land was not a site for productive labor and not a permanent home; rather, it was a place of recreation. Why in the debates about pristine natural areas are “primitive” peoples idealized, even sentimentalized, until the moment they do something unprimitive, modern, and unnatural, and thereby fall from environmental grace? That is why its influence is so pervasive and, potentially, so insidious. 640-41. But the trouble with wilderness is that it quietly expresses and reproduces the very values its devotees seek to reject. The unfettered clouds and region of the Heavens, One went to the wilderness not as a producer but as a consumer, hiring guides and other backcountry residents who could serve as romantic surrogates for the rough riders and hunters of the frontier if one was willing to overlook their new status as employees and servants of the rich. In particular, we need to discover a common middle ground in which all of these things, from the city to the wilderness, can somehow be encompassed in the word “home.” Home, after all, is the place where finally we make our living. I have discussed this theme at length in “Landscapes of Abundance and Scarcity,” in Clyde Milner et al., eds., Oxford History of the American West (New York: Oxford Univ. diss., Yale University, 1994). I have offered my survey course on American Environmental History for over 20 years. Merritt Y. Hughes (New York: Odyssey Press, 1957), pp. See Ann Vileisis, “From Wastelands to Wetlands” (unpublished senior essay, Yale Univ., 1989); Route, National Parks. What I celebrate about such places is not just their wildness, though that certainly is among their most important qualities; what I celebrate even more is that they remind us of the wildness in our own backyards, of the nature that is all around us if only we have eyes to see it. The more one knows of its peculiar history, the more one realizes that wilderness is not quite what it seems. I have written about the rhetorical structure of Turner’s work in two essays: William Cronon, “Revisiting the Vanishing Frontier: The Legacy of Frederick Jackson Turner,” Western Historical Quarterly, 18 (April 1987), 157–76; and William Cronon, “Turner’s First Stand: The Significance of Significance in American History,” in Writing Western History… 31. Pequot War – WOW.com. William Cronon, a pioneer in the field of environmental history with an unparalleled commitment to public discourse and academic freedom, is the Frederick Jackson Turner and Vilas Research Professor of History, Geography, and Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. This was why the early Christian saints and mystics had often emulated Christ’s desert retreat as they sought to experience for themselves the visions and spiritual testing He had endured. (13). 4. William Cronon studies American environmental history and the history of the American West. “The frontier has gone,” he declared, “and with its going has closed the first period of American history.” (18) Built into the frontier myth from its very beginning was the notion that this crucible of American identity was temporary and would pass away. We work our nine-to-five jobs in its institutions, we eat its food, we drive its cars (not least to reach the wilderness), we benefit from the intricate and all too invisible networks with which it shelters us, all the while pretending that these things are not an essential part of who we are. But the most troubling cultural baggage that accompanies the celebration of wilderness has less to do with remote rain forests and peoples than with the ways we think about ourselves—we American environmentalists who quite rightly worry about the future of the earth and the threats we pose to the natural world. 39. “Their arguments,” he wrote, “are curiously like those of the devil, devised for the destruction of the first garden—so much of the very best Eden fruit going to waste; so much of the best Tuolumne water and Tuolumne scenery going to waste.” (10) For Muir and the growing number of Americans who shared his views, Satan’s home had become God’s Own Temple. Prof. William Cronon on Historical Writing Prof. William Cronon's excellent guide to historical writing; part of an even larger guide to doing historical research. Even as the fight was being lost, Hetch Hetchy became the baffle cry of an emerging movement to preserve wilderness. In this view the farm becomes the first and most important battlefield in the long war against wild nature, and all else follows in its wake. Written before his article, The Trouble with Wilderness, William Cronon wrote the article The Uses of Environmental History. To the extent that biological diversity (indeed, even wilderness itself) is likely to survive in the future only by the most vigilant and self-conscious management of the ecosystems that sustain it, the ideology of wilderness is potentially in direct conflict with the very thing it encourages us to protect. University of Wisconsin -- Madison ; Notre Dame, Indiana: Univ the here and.! 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