John Burroughs (1837-1921) was one of the most popular and influential authors of his day and is credited with creating the modern nature essay. Through his writings and friendships with national leaders such as U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, Burroughs had a profound impact on the emerging conservation movement of the early twentieth century. Award-winning Rice University historian and author Douglas Brinkley will give his first public talk on the famed literary naturalist when he discusses "John Burroughs and Wild America" on Thursday, June 27, at 7:30 pm in Taylor Hall room 203. This free public event is co-sponsored by the Department of Earth Science and Geography and the John Burroughs Association.
Using easily understood prose Burroughs brought the natural world to his readers, encouraging them in the art of observation. More than three hundred of Burroughs' essays were published in leading magazines and twenty-seven books. He wrote about his region, the Catskills and Mid-Hudson Valley of New York State, describing nature that was familiar and local and sharing with his readers a sense of place and purpose in the land. His writings about travels with friends were also widely known and celebrated. He wrote the narrative of the 1899 Harriman Expedition to Alaska, "tramped" in the wilderness of Yellowstone with President Theodore Roosevelt, hiked the Grand Canyon and Yosemite with John Muir, and camped across the Eastern United States with his industrialist friends Henry Ford, Thomas Edison and Harvey Firestone.
In 1894 Burroughs purchased a tract of land near his riverfront home in West Park, NY, and built a two-story cabin where he could write and entertain. He constructed much of the cabin himself using the rough bark-covered slabs from the first cuts of trees and named it "Slabsides." Burroughs drew inspiration for many of his essays from the wild land around Slabsides, which Burroughs named “Whitman Land” after his good friend Walt Whitman. Through works written there about nature close at hand Burroughs inspired both generations of readers to head out of doors and national leaders to preserve land and its wildlife. Slabsides is also now a National Historic Landmark.
About Douglas Brinkley
Brinkley is professor of history at Rice University, a CBS News commentator, and a contributing editor at Vanity Fair magazine. Brinkley’s work on conservation history includes the books Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America, and The Quiet World: Saving Alaska's Wilderness Kingdom, 1879-1960, and he is currently writing Franklin D. Roosevelt: The Renewal of America. Chris Matthews of NBC News has referred to Brinkley as “one of the greatest living historians.”
About the Department of Earth Science and Geography
The department is unique at Vassar in combining both the natural and social sciences. By exploring the physical processes shaping our planet, Earth Science illuminates the possibilities and constraints of human activity. By examining societies in their spatial and regional contexts, Geography addresses the human dimensions of global change. Faculty members share many interdisciplinary research and teaching interests, such as water resources, soils and food, climate change, resource conservation, political ecology, environmental justice, historic preservation, urbanization, natural hazards, and sustainable development.
About the John Burroughs Association
The John Burroughs Association is a membership organization founded in 1921 that brings to life the legacy, writing, and natural world of its namesake (http://research.amnh.org/burroughs/). Administered out of offices at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, the association owns and maintains the 200-acre John Burroughs Sanctuary at West Park, a pristine and rugged parcel where Slabsides is located, and which now also includes a network of popular hiking trails that are part of the Hudson River Greenway Trail. To encourage writing about the natural world the association also annually awards the John Burroughs Medal for the best nature book, as well as recognizing the best nature writing in essays and books for young readers.
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