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Roderick Frazier Nash is a professor emeritus of history and environmental studies at the University of California Santa Barbara. He was the first person to descend the Tuolumne River (using a raft).
Nash received his Bachelor of Arts from Harvard University and his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He is the author of several books and many essays. His dissertation, done under the direction of Merle Curti, became what has come to be seen as one of the foundational texts of the field of environmental history. After witnessing a massive oil spill in Santa Barbara in 1969 he and a number of other faculty members became active within the University and founded an environmental studies program there. Since the initial 12 graduates in 1972, there have been 4,000 graduates within 300 separate majors. Nash is a firm believer in environmental education and is also an avid white-water river rafter.
Wilderness and the American Mind
Nash's study in this book concerns the attitude of Americans' toward the idea of wilderness. He discusses the different attitudes that humans have toward nature. While wilderness – in a strictly physical sense – has provided for the mass of the American economy, wilderness as a philosophical concept has provided America something to rally for and against, to harness and to allow be “untrammeled”. While wilderness has always had a love/hate relationship with civilization, Nash states that if wilderness is to survive, we must, ironically, manage wilderness – at the very least, our behavior towards the wilderness must be managed.
Nash presents America’s anthropocentric view as the main enemy to all wilderness preservation. He argues that an ecocentric view is ideal and may work in the long run, but perhaps the preservation of nature and wilderness for the sake of holding resources out for the preservation of our own species would be more salient. Yet, even this strategy is hard for people to grasp, because it requires us to reach outside the present and look to the future. Still, Nash suggests that maybe the simple preservation of the environment for the sake of our own generation’s recreation and health (oxygen sinks, etc.) could provide the impetus to stow some profiteering.
Nash also talks of how wilderness teaches us the value of humility. The problem is that humanity does not want to be humbled. Humans are a proud species who will do anything to avoid being humbled. To this end, we have ripped the wildness from the wilderness and removed all that causes any threat to our existence.
Nash, who retired to Santa Barbara, California, after a 30-year career as a professor of history and environmental studies, believes that humankind has two choices in the next 1,000 years. We can "trash the planet into a wasteland" or adopt a plan to distill the world's population in 500 "islands" while allowing wilderness to flourish around us.
Nash's book "The Rights of Nature" is an important work in the field of environmental ethics.
Wilderness and the American Mind (1967). New Haven and London: Yale University Press.
- 4th edition (2001), ISBN 978-0-300-09122-9
The American Environment: Readings in the History of Conservation (1968).
The Call of the Wild 1900-1916 (1970).
Environment and Americans: The Problem of Priorities (1972).
The Big Drops: Ten Legendary Rapids of the American West (1989).
The Rights of Nature: A History of Environmental Ethics (1989).
American Environmentalism: Readings in Conservation History (1990).
The Nervous Generation: American Thought, 1917-1930 (1990).
Also by Nash, Roderick:
From These Beginnings: A Biographical Approach to American History, Volume I and II.