Imagining nature and erasing class and race: Carleton Watkins, John Muir, and the construction of wilderness

Kevin Michael DeLuca, Anne T. Demo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

35 Scopus citations


The rhetoric of white wilderness practiced by Watkins, Muir, their peers, and their corporate and political backers established the arc of environmentalism for its first century. The successes of wilderness advocacy have been great and its cultural impact impressive. Yet in taking as their task wilderness preservation, mainstream environmental groups rescued themselves from the responsibility of protecting urban and inhabited rural areas and of critiquing industrial consumer society in general. Starting with the emergence of pollution as an "environmental" issue in the 1960s, and now with the growth of environmental justice activism, environmental groups, to their credit, have begun to engage issues outside the bounds of their traditional focus. Environmental groups' move beyond wilderness will always be haphazard as long as the concept of wilderness is left undisturbed. In this move, scholarly efforts to deconstruct and historicize wilderness can be of vital significance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)541-560
Number of pages20
JournalEnvironmental History
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jan 1 2001


All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • History
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)

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