The National Park Service Act and its consequences : history, law, and the environment

Shutkin, William Andrew, Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia
Mccurdy, Charles, Department of History, University of Virginia

In "Two Tramps in Mud Time" Robert Frost wrote, "My object in living is to unite/ My avocation and my vocation/ As my two eyes make one in sight." On several levels, these lines express the intent and result of this thesis. I delight in history, both the reading and writing of it, and I am deeply interested in nature, the environment. Researching and writing about historical events which concern nature was, therefore, a richly rewarding experience. I was able to join a quasi-vocational activity, writing history, with an avocational interest, the natural environment. Further, my studies raised serious, though simple, questions, both philosophical and practical, about history, historiography, and nature: are they important? What are they? Why

In an attempt to answer these queries, I brought history, embodied in a law, up-to-date. I made it immediate and employed it as a springboard with which to address issues relevant not only to the law but society in general. Here, again, vocation and avocation were united as I joined a legal, pragmatic inquiry with my environmental concerns. More importantly, however, in "using" history I performed a poetic act which, I believe, all historians perform. For I made the history my own by describing it in ways different from others and ultimately creating something out of it, namely, a possible solution to environmental problems. In doing so, I also came to an understanding of history and nature that I did not have before. I came to see that there are many things in life which just are--they admit of little or no further understanding. We see and feel and intellectualize them and then take away from them what we will but that is all. However, when we write about history and nature we recreate them by describing them in our own way. It is this personal, poetic quality of historical writing, indeed all serious writing, which renders the results at once unique and accessible. Thus, as historians we are poets because in writing about events and ideas they become, in a sense, our own, part of us.

It is this poetic ability which I now hope to engender in others by directing their imaginations to nature. Through the spoken word I believe humans can make the environment part of themselves without consuming or appropriating it. And in making nature their own, so to speak, I am certain humans will come to appreciate and protect the environment in a more substantial way for the benefit of the whole of nature understanding, progress

MA (Master of Arts)
United States -- National Park Service -- History, Environmental policy -- United States -- History, National parks and reserves -- United States -- History

Digitization of this thesis was made possible by a generous grant from the Jefferson Trust, 2015.

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