The Sustainability Issues in Thomas Nuttall’s Natural History Writings

By Li-Ru Lu.

Published by The Sustainability Collection

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As the array of environmental crises worsened and as public awareness of them broadened during the past several decades, the culture has prepared for new kinds of writing about the world. “Nature writing,” most eco-critics believe, has become arguably the most vital literary movement in America in the late- twentieth and early-twenty-first centuries, and its purpose is fundamentally subversive -- that is, it takes on the work of critiquing the culture’s predominately anthropocentric and exploitative relationship to the physical environment. In fact, the roots of American nature writing can be traced back to the natural history writings in early late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth America; however, only a few critics are aware that the manifestations of a less anthropocentric ethic and the idea of sustainability has already appeared in the natural history writings composed by early American natural historians. Thomas Nuttall (1786-1859), one of these natural historians, is a pioneering figure in America’s nature writing tradition and plays a crucial but still largely unexamined part in American literature. In his lifetime, Nuttall composed many works of natural history, such as A Journal of Travels into the Arkansas Territory during the Year 1819 (1821), A Manuel of the Ornithology of the United States and Canada (1832), and The North American Sylva (1857). In this paper, I shall closely analyze Nuttall’s works of natural history and examine the following questions: What is natural history writing? What is the relationship between Nuttall’s natural historical discourse and the issues of sustainability -- our ability to sustain natural resources? How does Nuttall introduce the sustainability issues and a humbler, less purely anthropocentric, somewhat more biocentric ethic to the American public? How do Nuttall’s representations of the relationship between human and nonhuman nature introduce a tradition of proto-ecological thinking into American environmental history?

Keywords: Natural History Writing, The Issues of Sustainability, Thomas Nuttall, A Journal of Travels into the Arkansas Territory during the Year 1819, A Manuel of the Ornithology of the United States and Canada, The North American Sylva

The International Journal of Environmental, Cultural, Economic and Social Sustainability, Volume 6, Issue 1, pp.165-176. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 687.521KB).

Li-Ru Lu

Associate Professor, The Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures and the Graduate Institute of Foreign Languages and Literatures, Huafan University, Xin Dian City, Taipei County, Taiwan

I come from Taipei, Taiwan. Majoring in English and American Literatures, I obtained my doctorate degree in national Taiwan University. My Research interests are early American environmental writings and ecological criticism. Currently, I am a full-time associate professor in Huafan University. I wrote a book entitled “Writing the Wilderness Environment: The Discourse of Wilderness Preservation in the Texts of American Environmental Writers” (published by Bookman Publishing Company in 2005) and sixteenth journal papers, such as “Hector St. John de Crevecoeur as Early American Natural History Writer” (published by a journal entitled ‘Tamkang Review’ in 2007), “The Burgeoning of American National Parks: The Creation of a Tradition of Environmental Concern and the Construction of National Culture in Early American Natural History Writings,” (published by ‘Languages, Literary Studies and International Studies: An International Journal’ in 2006 ), “Constructing National Subjectivity: the Preservation of Wilderness Environment and the Construction of National Identity in the Writings of John James Audubon” (published by ‘Huafan Journal of Humanities’ in 2006), ”William Cullen Bryant as Early American Environmental Writer” (published by a journal entitled ‘Humanitas Taiwanica’ in 2005), “The Contradictory and Controversial Qualities in the Notion of National Park: the Development of National Park Idea in American Cultural History” (published by ‘Chung Wai Literary Monthly’ in 2005), “The’Invention’of National Park in America: The American Wilderness, Nationalism, and Imperialism” (published by ‘Huafan Journal of Humanities’ in 2005), “Toward American National Literature: Walt Whitman’s Establishment of New Poetics and National Identity in ‘Leaves of Grass’” (published by ‘Soochow Journal of Foreign Languages and Cultures’ in 2004), and so forth.


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