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Visions of the Land

Visions of the Land: Science, Literature, and the American Environment from the Era of Exploration to the Age of Ec

Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 228
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  • Book Info
    Visions of the Land
    Book Description:

    The work of John Charles Fremont, Richard Byrd, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, John Wesley Powell, Susan Cooper, Rachel Carson, and Loren Eiseley represents a widely divergent body of writing. Yet despite their range of genres-including exploration narratives, technical reports, natural histories, scientific autobiographies, fictional utopias, nature writing, and popular scientific literature-these seven authors produced strikingly connected representations of nature and the practice of science in America from about 1840 to 1970. Michael A. Bryson provides a thoughtful examination of the authors, their work, and the ways in which science and nature unite them.

    Visions of the Land explores how our environmental attitudes have influenced and been shaped by various scientific perspectives from the time of western expansion and geographic exploration in the mid-nineteenth century to the start of the contemporary environmental movement in the twentieth century. Bryson offers a literary-critical analysis of how writers of different backgrounds, scientific training, and geographic experiences represented nature through various kinds of natural science, from natural history to cartography to resource management to ecology and evolution, and in the process, explored the possibilities and limits of science itself.

    Visions of the Land examines the varied, sometimes conflicting, but always fascinating ways in which we have defined the relations among science, nature, language, and the human community. Ultimately, it is an extended meditation on the capacity of using science to live well within nature.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-2172-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-IV)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. V-VI)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. IX-XX)

    This book investigates the connections between the representation of nature and the practice of science in America from the 1840s to the 1960s, as explored in the texts of seven American writers: John Charles Frémont, Richard Byrd, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, John Wesley Powell, Susan Cooper, Rachel Carson, and Loren Eiseley. In one sense, it is a study of how environmental attitudes have influenced and been shaped by various scientific perspectives from the time of western expansion and geographic exploration in the mid-nineteenth century to the start of the contemporary environmental movement in the latter third of the twentieth century. In...

  5. PART 1 Narratives of Exploration and the Scientist-Hero

    • ONE “I Saw Visions”: John Charles Frémont and the Explorer-Scientist as Nineteenth-Century Hero
      (pp. 3-31)

      In nineteenth-century America, science was not confined to the laboratory, bound up in a mythos of isolation and otherworldliness, inaccessible to the public mind. Rather, science quite often denoted “action” in the rapidly expanding United States. The practice of natural history and, later on, narrower and more professionalized disciplines such as geology, cartography, and paleontology facilitated our engagement with the frontier, the wilderness space that has gripped the American imagination since the earliest times of European colonization. This chapter focuses upon John Charles Frémont (1813–90), an explorer-scientist who made major contributions to the surveying and mapping of the American...

    • TWO “The Evidence of My Ruin”: Richard Byrd’s Antarctic Sojourn
      (pp. 32-54)

      Nearly a century after Frémont’s 1842 expedition to the Rocky Mountains, aviation pioneer and polar explorer Richard Evelyn Byrd set out to do some serious science on the Ross Ice Barrier in Antarctica. As part of his second expedition to the southernmost continent, he stayed alone at a remote weather station—named Bolling Advance Base and located at 80° 8′ south latitude—during the polar winter of 1934 , the season when darkness becomes total and temperatures routinely dip below –70 degrees Fahrenheit. The station was a rudimentary, claustrophobic structure: a prefabricated hut buried in the ice, its presence marked...

  6. PART 2 Imagined Communities and the Scientific Management of Nature

    • THREE “A Strange and Terrible Woman Land”: Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Scientific Utopia
      (pp. 57-79)

      While the exploration narratives of Frémont and Byrd produce a complex portrait of the individual within nature—a perspective through which we gain insight into the relations among masculinity, heroism, science, and the environment—the writings of Charlotte Perkins Gilman shift the discussion from the role of the individual to the structure and function of the community within nature. A prolific author, outspoken feminist, and progressive intellectual, Gilman (1860–1935 ) published everything from philosophy to journalism to utopian fiction and was best known for critiquing the prevailing social conventions regarding the role of women in American society. This chapter...

    • FOUR “A Unit of Country Well Defined in Nature”: John Wesley Powell and the Scientific Management of the American West
      (pp. 80-102)

      Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s fictional utopia illustrates the tension, on one hand, between an emerging ecological view of nature and the valuation of wilderness and, on the other, the ability of science and technology to control and even reshape the natural environment. This rift in American attitudes toward science and nature has intriguing historical antecedents in the late nineteenth century, a time of accelerated geographic expansion, the emergence of the United States as a world political and military power, the professionalization of scientific practice, and a burgeoning conservation movement. In this chapter, I leave the imaginative South American wilderness landscape of...

  7. PART 3 Nature’s Identity and the Critique of Science

    • FIVE “The Earth Is the Common Home of All”: Susan Fenimore Cooper’s Investigations of a Settled Landscape
      (pp. 105-133)

      From within the forests of central New York State in the mid-1800s, a land of expansive woodlands, rolling hills, quiet lakes, and small but growing communities, writer and naturalist Susan Fenimore Cooper published a book entitledRural Hours(1850), which described the local environment and rural customs of her home village, Cooperstown. Cooper’s text, like that of fellow diarist and enthusiastic observer of nature Henry David Thoreau’sWalden(1854 ), is organized as a daily journal and covers the span of one year, season by season. Within this deceptively simple structure, however, is a complex, multilayered narrative that integrates natural...

    • SIX “The Relentless Drive of Life”: Rachel Carson’s and Loren Eiseley’s Reformulation of Science and Nature
      (pp. 134-174)

      Though Susan Fenimore Cooper witnessed significant changes to the landscape of her home county during the nineteenth century—the loss of old-growth forests, the decline in numbers of certain wildlife species, the increase in both cultivated land and human population—the genteel naturalist scarcely could have imagined the scale of transformation that occurred throughout the twentieth century, in terms of not only the land but also scientific practice itself. Two such developments provide the context for this chapter: the tremendous growth and diversification of science and the ever-accelerating development and degradation of the natural environment.

      The explosion of scientific knowledge...

  8. Afterword
    (pp. 175-180)

    From the vantage point of 2001, as I sit writing at my desk at home in Chicago, nature seems to be more than ever a place of contested agendas and representations—at times a site of renewal and at others a place of continued exploitation. On one hand, within this sprawling, heavily industrialized urban region, nature is undergoing a revival. Local leadership, proud of Chicago’s historic vision of itself as a “city in a garden,” funnels impressive sums into landscape beautification with trees and flowers, and the City with Big Shoulders hasn’t looked so green in thirty years or more....

  9. Notes
    (pp. 181-200)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 201-214)
  11. Index
    (pp. 215-228)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 229-229)