Recreating Nature: Ecocritical Readings of Yosemite and Grand Canyon
Committee ChairBabcock, Barbara
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractIn Recreating Nature: Ecocritical Readings of Yosemite and Grand Canyon, I examine the intersections of culture and nature in two prominent national parks, and I consider the implications of nature-tourism in the environmental discourse of the U.S. Covering a period from 1848 to the present, my project aims to correct an oversight in scholarship about the park system, in which legacies of colonialism and imperialism--when addressed at all--tend to be historicized and framed as the age-old sins of a presumably reformed national politic. Instead, I examine both historical and present-day developments, emphasizing the profound cultural influence of the places we designate as natural. I define ecocriticism as an inherently interdisciplinary endeavor attuned to the interconnectedness of things. My methodology is to engage texts, images and other expressions of the national parks in a process of extended close reading and comparative analysis. While observing the particular contexts of each case, I attempt to locate these texts amidst the broadest but most essential critical terrain: they each negotiate a dialogical relationship between culture and nature. By setting the stage for examining the human and its relation to the non-human other, the parks have become key sites for displaying the recreation of nature. After my introduction I discuss John Muir's My First Summer in the Sierra, focusing on an episode where Muir risks his life for a view from Yosemite Falls. I also consider Muir's failure to empathize with Native Americans he encountered. In my next chapter I analyze John Wesley Powell's Exploration by focusing on his attempt to assert authority over a region by prioritizing the scientific tone in his writing. Next I synthesize historical and contemporary sources, discussing Mary Colter's Grand Canyon architecture alongside the Grand Canyon Skywalk, a glass-bottom walkway on the Hualapai Indian reservation. In the following chapter I compare the acrophobia-inducing photographs of George Fiske and Emery Kolb. Finally, I discuss transit real and imagined in Grand Canyon and Yosemite, considering the utopian potential of national parks. I close by revisiting questions about our changing environmental discourse and about the future of ecocriticism.