I took John Clarke’s History of Environmentalism module last year. We read a few interesting pieces that I found to be relevant to this week in Transnational history. Sophie made an interesting point regarding how easy it is to forget that the ways in which we visualise the borders and landscape of various nations are constructed. This point reminded me of a few fascinating concepts I learned about last year in John’s module. After the Revolutionary War, the United States was desperate to culturally define itself in contrast to its European counterparts. Romantic images of wilderness and vast terrains were spread by novelists, poets, painters, and explorers during the early years of America’s independence. There was an almost frantic effort to label themselves as the nation with unmolested, virgin land. Nature and the vast expanse of wilderness was that focal point. Wilderness, therefore, became the centre of literary and artistic expression.
Conservationism, preservationism, and the current environmentalist movement all have their foundations to some extent in the maintenance of America’s natural grandeur – the wilderness that served as America’s first cultural identifier. I only ever approached this thought from a settler-colonial theoretical perspective—American national identity grew at the expense of indigenous history, culture, and identity erasure. I never thought about this piece from a transnational perspective as I have only written about wilderness in the context of North America. It is interesting to look at ‘wilderness’ in terms of boundaries and the international definition of self. The United States created the concept of ‘wilderness’ (a place devoid of human touch) to separate itself from Europe. Europe had thousands of years of artists, poets, and other magnificent cultural traditions that young America could not emulate. They, therefore, used ‘wilderness’ to separate themselves from the rest of the Western world and give themselves a cultural background previously non-existent. The concept of ‘wilderness’ has played a huge role in my dissertation and honours studies since John’s class and it is very interesting to look at it from a transnational perspective now.