Sunday, October 25, 2009

Readings October 26th.

This weeks readings included Cathy Stanton's The Lowell Experiment and an article on the American Preservation Ethos.

I feel like this week's readings, for the most part, can be summarized in one person:

John Muir.

For those of you who did not watch the Ken Burns series about the National Parks (of which about four hours are dedicated to him), John Muir is, at least in the NPS, considered the first Park Ranger. He was an avid preservationist and was integral in the creation of the first National Parks. He also founded the Sierra Club.

In Stanton's book, she outlines what she feels a public historian is. Leftists, activist, civically engaged, (normally) white, middle class. Muir was all of these. While he put his efforts towards the natural resources and not the culutural resources like Stanton writes about, Muir still fits the bill pretty closely. Muir did not grow up in an affluent household, but did well for himself in life as first an engineer, then a naturalist. He owned a fair amount of land and was well educated.
Muir was instrumental in the founding of Yosemite and other national parks, wanting to preserve them for their beauty, but also for how they could serve and be enjoyed by the general population. He was most certainly an activist, through his writing, influence on politicians, his actions for the parks.

I have heard Muir citized for his 'radical environmentalism', which in most cases was a deep concern for the preservation of land and resources. However, it does tie into our second reading about preservation. Many feel that Muir would have just preserved everything if he had the chance (and considering his great pull with the presidents at the time, it could have happened). It does beg the question however, if people had not pushed so hard for preservation, would we these parks and places? Is the extreme need to preserve a complete negative?

The main difference between Muir and Stanton's version of public historian is that Muir actively engaged his subject. He lived in all of the places that became parks and was constantly surrounded by and engaged with the surroundings he was trying to save or work for. Stanton notes that public historians are often too removed from what they are studying, such as the Lowell rangers not actually living in Lowell. However, it's a comparison better left unmade. Muir walked 1000 miles for the experience of it and camped out in Yosemite with Teddy Roosevelt. His wife sent him back to live in the wilderness because being away from the mountains/trees/etc was bad for his health. Muir made his work into somewhat of a religious experience and while, as Stanton said, people do bleed 'grey and green', I do not know if that quite equals Muir's experience.

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