There were large tracts where humans and obvious

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interlaced with roads, permanent human settlements or large-scale agricultural developments. There were large tracts where humans, and obvious signs of human presence, were absent. These physical environments partially produced this aspect of the wilderness conception. From the perspective of an individual traveling across these lands, it is easy to understand how these places were in a sense “uninhabited.” They were not uninhabited in the way that Mars is uninhabited. That is, it was not a land completely vacant of people living and making a living from the land. But it was uninhabited in the sense that it was not populated like Europe. The physical environments of the cities and countryside of Europe were dramatically different from the physical environment found in North America. Through interactivity the physical environment of North America shaped the conception of wilderness and defined it as an uninhabited place. In other words, there are multiple meanings of inhabited and uninhabited and can be thought of as constituting a continuum. However, certain cultural beliefs about North America, the indigenous people of this land, and the biblical conception of wilderness also contributed to the conception of wilderness as being uninhabited. For example, many people of European heritage viewed Native Americans as being savage, uncivilized, and lacking the qualities that would grant them full human status. Instead, Native people were thought to be a sub-human type of animal. These beliefs helped to create the conception that wilderness is uninhabited. This is because the people that inhabited these lands were not considered human beings in the same way Europeans were. This belief was both wrong and culturally constructed. We see then that the wilderness conception has been constructed by a combination of culture and interaction with physical environments.
98 Before I move on I would like to again acknowledge a possible objection to the way I have been describing the formation of the wilderness concept. This is in regard to the idea that the structural elements of a wilderness environment will shape the wilderness conception in a way that is not culturally specific. Many would argue that any individual experience of the physical world will bring with it cultural influences and prejudices. That is, there is no way to have a value-free, ahistorical, experience of the physical environment of wilderness. I want to make it clear that this is not what I am saying. I agree that cultural influences are pervasive and will always be a part of each of us and shape the way we see the world. However, I also think that, in regard to conceptions of places, physical environments will also always be one of the factors that contributed to the construction of that concept. Just as we cannot escape the influence of culture, we also cannot escape the influence of physical environments. These two contributors to the wilderness conception, to quote Preston, are two “of several parties operating in the complex set of interactions out of which knowledge and ways of thinking get constructed.” 38

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