Date of Award

2009

Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

History

Advisor

Richard W. Judd

Second Committee Member

Jacques Ferland

Third Committee Member

Robert Lilieholm

Abstract

In 1975 Congress passed the Eastern Wilderness Areas Act (EWAA), which established wilderness preserves in national forests east of the hundredth meridian. The EWAA was an addendum to the original Wilderness Act passed in 1964. During the decade in question, roughly 1964-1975, wilderness advocates redefined a notion of wilderness associated with vast primeval nature typical of western landscapes and applied the wilderness concept to fragmented forests in the East that were transformed by generations of use and habitation. Changing social context altered the terms of wilderness advocacy. The debates over the original Wilderness Act reflect the optimism of post-war America. However, in the wake of Vietnam, Watergate, and an emerging environmental consciousness, the wilderness movement changed. The local politics of the EWAA reflect that change, and is a significant democratization of conservation. CHANGE The altered conception of wilderness trumpeted by eastern wilderness advocates represents a deeper environmental ethic - one that is more inclusive and ecologically complex. In recent decades, the wilderness debate -and by extension the wilderness historiography-has polarized. Often in a very heated fashion, academics and activists alike have questioned and defended the historical veracity of the wilderness idea. However, the as the controversies over the EWAA demonstrate, this polarization has been overstated. Nearly 25 years prior to the contemporary wilderness debate, eastern wilderness advocates articulated a subtle redefinition of the concept that accounts for many of the present-day critiques.

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