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Beyond the campfire's light: Historical roots of the wilderness concept


George H. Stankey



Publication type:

Miscellaneous Publication

Primary Station(s):

Rocky Mountain Research Station


Natural resources journal. 29(1): 9-24


Because wilderness holds a variety of culturally imbued meanings, it is necessary to understand its cultural origins. The Judeo-Christian origins of western society generally are credited with portraying wilderness as a synonym for desolate, wild, and uninhabited lands manifesting God’s displeasure. But wilderness also served an important function in Christianity as a place where one could prepare for contact with God. Such contrasting perspectives created an ambivalence that still prevails. Yet despite the ambivalence, early European and North American societies perceived wilderness as a threat. A gradual rise in scientific understanding was a major force in promoting a change in this perspective. But not until the intellectual shifts prompted by Romanticism and transcendentalism, along with an increasing scarcity of wilderness, did efforts to protect wilderness gain support.


Stankey, George H. 1989. Beyond the campfire''s light: Historical roots of the wilderness concept. Natural resources journal. 29(1): 9-24

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