Woods Voices, Woods Knowledge: Work and Recreation in the Popular Literature of the Northeastern Forest, 1850-1963
Date of Award
Level of Access Assigned by Author
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Second Committee Member
Third Committee Member
Since the nineteenth century, popular literature has presented two competing views of the northeastern forest, one depicting a working landscape of local labor and the other, a recreational landscape for outsider's use. These two perspectives are closely related to long-standing themes in environmental thought. Recent scholars recognize these points of view with reference to the north woods, although they have not necessarily addressed the historical, cultural, and environmental contexts of these works and how writers from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries viewed each perspective. This study seeks to situate nationally-published writers within the local settings of Maine, exploring each author's connections to the landscape and its people. By combining environmental history with the study of American popular literature, and using Maine as a case study, it is possible to trace the presentation of working and recreation landscapes, noting how, from the 1850s through the 1950s, images of the north woods changed from two distinct representations in the nineteenth century to a more complex melding of perspectives in the twentieth century. In the 1850s and the 1860s, writers John S. Springer and Henry David Thoreau established the criteria for presenting working and recreation landscapes in Maine. Springer outlined the parameters of a labor perspective in Forest Life and Forest Trees (1851), showing noble workers' capacity to modify a sometimes adversarial forest through logging. By contrast, Henry David Thoreau foreshadowed a landscape of recreation in his work, Maine Woods (1864), where nature became a noble, transformative force and a spiritual sanctuary, while labor in the forest, consequently, became intrusive. As literary scholar Bernard W. Quetchenbach writes, these two works established a precedent, emphasizing one perspective or the other for a century, often while the forest supported both environments at the same time.1 In the twentieth century, Maine-born and culturally-sensitive non-Maine writers reconciled the two environments, thus showing the importance of combining local, traditional knowledge with a more urbane intellectual tradition. This process became important for fostering popular concepts of the natural world and reflecting the popular acceptance of environmental thought on the eve of the modern environmental movement in the 1960s.
Potts, Dale E., "Woods Voices, Woods Knowledge: Work and Recreation in the Popular Literature of the Northeastern Forest, 1850-1963" (2007). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 957.
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