Seeing the Woods

A blog by the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society


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Book Shelf Special Feature Part 1: National Park Science by Jane Carruthers

Jane at opening of A

We were delighted to welcome Jane Carruthers back to the Rachel Carson Center this autumn. Jane has a longstanding relationship with the RCC; she served on its advisory board for six years, the latter three as its chair, and was a great influence on the center in its formative years. She was made an honorary Carson fellow in 2014 in recognition of her enormous contribution to the work of the center. After all the support the RCC has had from Jane, it was a great pleasure for us to host a celebration of the publication of her latest book National Park Science: A Century of Research in South Africa (Cambridge University Press, 2017) here in Munich.

Jane spoke about her book to staff and students as part of our Tuesday Discussion series, and was joined by two other influential environmental historians, Bernhard Gißibl and Libby Robin, who talked us through the contribution that her book makes to the field. We are pleased to present written versions of the three scholars’ remarks on the new book on Seeing the Woods. A full review of National Park Science by Bernhard Gißibl will appear in an upcoming issue of the journal Environment and History, an edited draft of which will be featured here on Seeing the Woods next week.

(*These are edited versions of the talks presented at the Tuesday Discussion. All photos are courtesy of Jane Carruthers.)

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Making Tracks: Gregg Mitman

By Gregg Mitman

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In Sequoia National Park on a family trip. Photo courtesy of author.

My journey to the Rachel Carson Center began in 1967 in the backseat of a blue Dodge sedan, packed with my father’s engineering precision, headed west on the American interstate highway system. It was a momentous trip in the eyes of my six-year old self, who had spent the better part of his early childhood in doctors’ offices and hospital oxygen tents struggling to breathe. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century in America, many an asthmatic had left the East coast and headed West in search of health. But this was not what drove our family to the painted deserts of Arizona, to the giant sequoias of Yosemite, and to the geysers of Yellowstone. We had come from Pennsylvania across the Continental Divide to see the splendor of America’s national parks. For the next six weeks, home was a car, canvas tent, Coleman cook stove, and campgrounds on and off the beaten path. I didn’t know it then, but we were living a textbook chapter in American environmental history, one focused on the history of leisure, a growing middle-class, and the consumption of nature in postwar America.  Continue reading


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Snapshot: View from the Top

“Environment and Society Doctoral Students Explore the Bavarian Forest National Park”

by Annka Liepold

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Group shot on top of the Lusen.

On 4 July 2016 the members of the Doctoral Program Environment and Society took a field trip to the Bavarian Forest National Park. Marco Heurich, deputy head of the Park’s Department of Conservation and Research, gave the group an introduction to the history of the Bavarian Forest NP and pointed out some of its unique features. Founded in 1970, the Bavarian Forest NP is Germany’s oldest national park and has a sister national park in the Czech Republic—the Šumava National Park—which shares its ecosphere. Continue reading


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Worldview: Watch Your Step!

“Moss Conservation in Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland”

By Katrin Kleemann

All photographs were taken by Katrin Kleemann and used here with her express permission.
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View of the southwest half of the Laki fissure from Mount Laki.

Lakagígar is a fissure volcano in Iceland’s remote highlands that erupted in 1783–84 and left behind a landscape full of lava fields, now covered in lush green moss. Tourists can travel to the Laki fissure only with a four-wheel drive because the terrain is very rough and you have to cross several rivers to reach it. Most of the year, routes to the area are impassable due to the harsh climatic conditions, so visitors can only gain access during the summer months (mid-June to mid-September). Continue reading


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Making Tracks: Patrick Kupper

In the “Making Tracks” series, RCC fellows and alumni present their experiences in environmental humanities, retracing the paths that led them to the Rachel Carson Center. For more information, please click here.

Question the Obvious: On the Benefits of Transnational Research
By Patrick Kupper

For the past few years I have been working on the global history of national parks. It has been a time of fruitful research. But why national parks? Why did I choose that topic? In fact, it was not me that chose the topic; rather, the topic chose me.

National park history first approached me in the spring of 2006 in the person of Thomas Scheurer, secretary of the Swiss National Park’s scientific research commission. Thomas wanted to discuss the possibilities of investigating the history of the Swiss National Park. The background was the park’s centennial forthcoming in 2014. Thomas was exceptionally forward-thinking—in 2006 the centennial was still eight years away! By being well ahead of the celebration, he wanted to make sure that the investigation was independent, based only on scientific rationale, and not constrained or directed by any needs for representation or popularization. Such a scientific approach seemed all the more appropriate as the Swiss National Park (unlike other national parks) had been driven by research throughout its history. Park research, however, had been concentrating on the sciences; the humanities had barely been involved and historical investigations were lacking.

Sign in National Park. Photo: Patrick Kupper.

Sign in Swiss National Park. Photo: Patrick Kupper.

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Notes From the Field

By Jessica DeWitt

Originally published for the University of Kentucky Political Ecology Group

Outsider. Insider. My academic journey thus far often seems like a tightrope act between these two desires. My background and passion for state parks and nature has led me to become an environmental historian who focuses on parks. My dissertation is a comparative history of the development and management of state and provincial parks in the United States and Canada. I grew up “one mile up the hill, South on Route 36” from Cook Forest State Park in Western Pennsylvania. My parents owned rental cabins for over twenty years. Our cabins were authentic relics of an earlier era, built by hand from trees felled on the property in the 1920s. Rejecting the common path their middle-class backgrounds had paved for them, my parents took the cabins over after years of neglect in the early 1980s. My childhood was admittedly idyllic and largely spent meandering through the woods, alone with just myself, my dogs, and my nature. Even as a youngster I understood the deep divide that stood between my family and our renters; our tight knit community of small business owners and the droves of tourists; the insiders and outsiders. Continue reading