The American wilderness has long been a battleground for the symbolic struggle between Classicists, who champion progress and industry and Romantics, who advocate reverence and appreciation for nature. While it would seem that the Romantic intentions were in the best interests of the environment, in actuality both ideas were in the self-interest of man. These seemingly opposing views have roots in the same motivation, the need for man to control the environment. They would eventually unite to create the Adirondack park tourist industry. This industry would become a double-edged sword, protecting sections of the wilderness from outright destruction, but simultaneously subjecting it to a slow process of development.
It wasn’t until the agricultural revolution that humanity developed the concept of the wilderness. When they began to cultivate the land they started to realize the differences it had with land that remained untouched. (Short 2005:5) The wilderness was no longer their home and save for the occasional hunting, it was no longer a source of food. The wilderness had ceased to have any necessary function. It was now an entirely separate world. That distinction between wilderness and civilization was perfectly captured in Thomas Cole’s, View from Mount Holyoke. (Fig.1)
This understanding would manifest into two different viewpoints. The first view was to now perceive the wilderness as a place of danger and the unknown. It was a place to be feared and avoided. The second view was that of a place of nostalgic memory. Humanity was now in an agricultural world, tied to the land and bound by the constraints of civilization. The wilderness was for some, the remembrance of a lost way of life that had consisted of leisure, freedom and harmony. (Marx 1967:43)
These opposing views would evolve into what came to be known as, Classical and Romantic ideals. The Classical ideal seeks the progressive cultivation of industry and civilization. The ultimate expression of that goal was the spread of agriculture. To the Classicists, the wilderness was seen as either an enemy that hampered progress or as fodder to fuel its advancement. (Short 2005:19) Its only value was seen in the resources it contained, such as lumber and minerals, which could be used in the building of civilization.
In contrast, the Romantics saw these untouched areas as places to be revered. They viewed progress with regret and for them the wilderness was a link to a simpler, nobler time (Short 2005:6) It also provided a conduit to the spiritual, an idea that would become more deeply expressed by the Transcendentalist movement. The Transcendentalists saw the untouched American wilderness as a sacred place through which the face of God was revealed. It was a place where humanity could physically connect with the creator. To ravage the landscape was to blaspheme against God himself. (Simpson 1992:557)
These concepts would travel along to the New World with our countries first settlers. For...