William Cronon on Wilderness

The second week of the course marks the beginning of our investigation of several important tropes that have shaped the way we think about the national parks and the environment in general.  Image

Certainly no trope is more important than wilderness. “In Wildness is the preservation of the world,” Henry David Thoreau wrote in “Walking.”  Yet the entire wilderness equation is a complex matter, as William Cronon explains in his essay, “The Trouble with Wilderness: or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature.”  It’s time for us to re-think wilderness, Cronon writes, and he suggests that many of our romanticized ideals about the “otherness” of the natural world, as opposed to the corrupt, polluted world of civilization, have actually reinforced a division between nature and culture that is not healthy, as if nature existed in a place somewhere “out there.”After reading Cronon’s essay and thinking about the points Richard Grusin makes in his essay, think about some of the following questions:

What are Cronon’s main points? What is exactly the “trouble with wilderness?”

What does Cronon’s interpretation of wilderness mean for our appreciation of the national parks?  Could it be that many national parks have been preserved only because of the ideology Cronon describes? If so, why is this problematic?

Is wilderness inherently a problematic trope? How does it make us think about the natural world?


One thought on “William Cronon on Wilderness

  1. I’m looking forward to talking about this in class. This is such an important essay in environmental studies and it is very thought provoking. When I first read it some years ago it really affected the ways in which I think about wild and domestic spaces (note that I didn’t write, “wild versus domestic spaces”). We’ll be talking about many of the ideas embedded in this essay throughout the semester so this, in conjunction with the Grusin chapter, is a really good place to start.

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