Friday, February 27, 2009

American Technological Sublime

"Boulder Dam," by Ansel Adams, 1942

We spoke this morning in class about massive railroad bridges, fills, and other structures like the Hoover Dam being interpreted as examples of the "industrial sublime."

There's a terrific book by David Nye on the topic, in case anyone wants to investigate further. Great topic!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Tallbar review; Krech's arrogance (?) towards religious beliefs

Kimberlly Tallbar (see Tantillo's post) writes a fair review of Krech, and really gets at what Krech was trying to say (as opposed to what she wished he had said, which is what many reviews focus on). Interestingly, she speaks (p3) about how both Krech's book and the criticism thrown at it are almost entirely centered within Euro-American assumptions about natural resources. I find it sad and ironic that even when discussing how the book may have failed Native American interests, most reviews do so from within a White cultural context. Tallbar is really effective at providing the perspective that I certainly can't mimic. I especially like her perspective on the reincarnation ideas (p4) because I thought that Krech was guilty of treating these beliefs with a certain arrogance (though perhaps it just read that way). Do you agree?

Reviews of Krech

Again, some of you may wish to consult one or more reviews of Krech's The Ecological Indian in writing your responses this week.

Here is a link to a pdf of "Shepard Krech's The Ecological Indian: One Indian's Perspective," a particularly even-handed review by Kimberly Tall Bear, writing for the International Institute for Indigenous Resource Management:

"Shepard Krech's The Ecological Indian: One Indian's Perspective"

If any of you locate other book reviews that you think may be of interest, please don't hesitate to post the citation or a link here.

Friday, February 20, 2009

"The Ecological Indian"

Perhaps I just need some clarification, but I found after reading “The Ecological Indian” that I was extremely angry. My anger stems from Krech’s failure to acknowledge some major details that I view as significant to this debate. Just a brief listing of what I believe slipped his mind:

1. Trying to make the claim that all Native Americans were or were not conservationists is a bold attempt. The situation is not black and white (as he demonstrates). Though he alluded to both arguments I still felt as if he were trying to arrive at a huge generalization. An entire society cannot be generalized in this way. No one would ever dare to say, “All Americans are environmentalists,” because they aren’t. Environmentalists are only a small subset of American culture as a whole, as I believe was similar in years past.

2. Aside from the mentioning that the Natives had vast knowledge on plants and animals there was no concession to the fact that Native Americans simply did not have the technology that we have today, nor did they have the ability to have as accurate of expectations for the future. They simply would have no way of understanding (to the extent that we do today) the difference between renewable and nonrenewable resources. Therefore, their “conservation” was merely an act of love for their home. Their lack of conservation was therefore not influenced with knowledge of possible repercussions.

3. Krech mentioned very little regarding the heated debate over why Natives deserve the right to have a control over the land that overpowers the government’s control. Many people argue because they were here first, they deserve that right. Others believe that Americans have worked long and hard for control for a long time now. This information would have strengthen his book and truly given readers a greater ability to take a stance on this issue.

What angered me more was that Krech was clearly trying to persuade readers into believing that Native Americans were not conservationists (despite having explored both sides of the argument, he was constantly coming back to negative aspects of Indian culture); that indigenous is simply not synonymous with conservation, ecology or sustainability .I'm not sure why this made me so upset, but I think it had something to do with Krech pessimistically pressing and criticizing Native Americans, no matter how significant the detail. I guess I am just a little puzzled as to why he believes it is so important to take one stance or another? Have any of you taken a firm stance one way or another?

Monday, February 16, 2009

In The Know: Should Americans Return To A Simpler, Stone Age Lifestyle?

Some primitivist humor from America's number one news source, The Onion.

In The Know: Should Americans Return To A Simpler, Stone Age Lifestyle?
Panelists reminisce about how much better things used to be 10,000 years ago.
September 13, 2007 | Issue 45•07

Saturday, February 14, 2009

More on Bambi

I see a definite conflict if we look at Bambi as another example of the "man vs. nature" dilemma. While I think that Disney's attempt to make the animals and scenery as realistic looking as possible is noble and quite evident in the film's art, by imbuing his characters with human-like expressions, facial characteristics, and movements, he is inherently detracting from the natural world he tried to create. While I understand that no child would want to watch a film where none of the characters speak, and anthropomorphizing Bambi and his friends makes them easier for audiences to relate to, taking man out of nature can no longer apply. The human attributes these animals posess put man back in the forest, and it is for that reason, we are able to feel for and sympathize with these characters. On the other hand, we never see truely see man in the forest although it is suggested. By never actually being able to put a face to the actions, the audience sees man as a savage and unknown presence, just as people used to perceive the wilderness. Man, therefore, symbolizes an older and traditional view of nature while the animals and thicket respresent more modern attitudes. Perhaps this duality or role-reversal was intended to illustrate that there aren't infact two separate worlds, but one that is both dangerous and humane. By recognizing ourselves in each, we are one step closer to reconciling the trouble with wilderness.

Also (and just as an aside), why is it that the hunters dogs dont speak. Is it because the are part of man's world? Its interesting to me that being a componant of the human sphere would prevent the dogs from communicating even though the animals in the wild do.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Anyone see Jeopardy tonight?

The final jeopardy catagory was "classic movie characters" and the question was something along the lines of "His mother is unnamed and his father is known as 'The Prince of The Forest'".

I yelled "Bambi!" so loud my housemates just stared at me.

Moving Panoramas

Hi again everyone,
I probably moved through the last fifteen minutes of lecture a bit too quickly this morning. The Wikipedia entry for "moving panorama" is surprisingly well done and helps provide some more background on the popularity of these canvases during the mid-nineteenth century.

At any rate, a great paper topic!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Thoreau's Wild West

In "Walking" it is clear that Thoreau idealizes the American West (capital W) as a source of redemption, a destination for the serious Walker who desires to discover nature (and to discover himself within nature). Thoreau discusses (I'm paraphrasing) how he feels compelled to take a Westward path, and will only tread East against his better nature. He is explicit in why, using reasoning that harkens back to Lowenthall, about the burdens of European past. Thoreau is inspirational, to be sure (a favorite of mine since high school) and his writings make me want to drop out of school and live in the woods (almost). But to what extent does Thoreau's ideals of nature rely on an unrealistic idealization of the great wide open wild West that Cronon talks about? Moreover, since Thoreau is probably the most commonly used introduction to Transcendentalism, etc used in middle and high school curricula across the country, can we trace his ideas directly into the popular perception of the "wild" that Cronon criticizes? Perhaps the better way to ask: what are the mechanisms (be it high school curricula, children's books, whatever) by which the wide open wild west ideology becomes lodged in each new generation?

Monday, February 9, 2009

Schizophrenic America

I really enjoyed William Cronon's "The Trouble with Wilderness." I think he truly captured the duality that exists when it comes to perceptions of the wilderness, both within the environmental community and in America at large. Lowenthal spoke of American dislike for nostalgia and the past. Early Americans, after all, came to the new world to be "reborn" (so to speak) and make their own mark on history, unencumbered by their European ancestry. The same can be said for immigrants in the early 20th century who came to the US to escape religious persecution, blight, starvation and other forms of suffering in order to make new lives for themselves. Yet despite the freedom that America and the wilderness have come to represent, the very idea of primitivism, returning to nature and the simpler things in life, contradicts this very notion. Thoreau and others have used the wild to reinvent themselves. Their journey into nature was a way to discover the bare essentials that made them human, the very roots of humanity. Our obsession with the past doesn't stop at nature. Just look at the entertainment industry. How many films in recent years have been period pieces? There are more revivals on Broadway than there are fresh new plays. Even the fashion industry is looking towards the past to pave the way for next season's styles. Our vision of wilderness is just as romantic as it is idealistic. We see it as both a place to escape "history and the obligation to take responsibility for our own actions" and somewhere to reminisce about the ol' frontier and commiserate about the problems of modern life. Cronon describes our bipolar attitude with compassion and insight, and suggests the only way to reconcile the two is to invite the wilderness into our world instead of making the journey into it.

The World Without Us

What would happen if humans suddenly disappeared from earth? Based on the popular book by Alan Weisman, this is an interactive time line of The World Without Us. I don't know how much of this is scientifically feasible, but it's definitely interesting to imagine!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Primitivism in Popular Culture

Based on the discussion that we had in class about the concept of Primitivism, and the wonderful song that we heard from The Kinks, I think that it is interesting to see this portrayal in popular culture. I was flipping through the channels to catch a hockey game and came across a show on the travel channel that you may or may not be familiar with. This program outlines an "adventure" that two men had, one being a former soldier and the other a journalist, in which they lived with a tribe that had been unchanged for thousands of years. In fact, the only changes that they had undergone were those associated with missionaries and their new association with Christianity. I just thought it was interesting some of the opinions that the "westerners" had and how they were so boldly in contrast with the dialogue of the tribe(which had seemingly been translated). Take from this what you will but I just found it to be interesting to see how the two groups interacted and some of the conclusions that the outsiders had come to.

This is the link:


The Unicorn Tapestries

After last Friday's class I got really interested in tapestries portraying the hunts in Medieval times. I was especially interested in the famed, Unicorn Tapestries so I did a little research and found a great website with a lot of really cool facts and information about the tapestries. You can look up whatever interests you, from the story behind the hunt itself, to the subjects in it, to the lore behind the legend of the unicorn. The part of the site I liked the best was the mention of what the hunstmen wore on the hunt and all the hidden allegories and allusions in just their clothes! Anyway, have fun exploring the site!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Man vs. Wild

An article that confirms my suspicions of the popular tv show. Man vs. Wild is a good example of society's nostalgia for the return of more primitive times.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Is new growth good enough?

This recent article in the New York Times provides a relevant discussion on the debate about whether new growth forests in tropical areas are ecologically equivalent to primeval rain forests, in terms of their ability to absorb carbon dioxide and provide a suitable habitat for native species, etc. Take a look!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Population: A Taboo Topic

The author of this article points out that although population was a major topic of discussion in the 70's and 80's it is rarely brought up in present debates.

Population control should be considered as a method for reducing strain on natural resources and for increasing the quality of life globally.