Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Dana D. Nelson


The American environment is a mythic narrative that has served to mystify the social and economic relationships linking people and place. This study examines the early writing of the environment, from the 1637 Pequot War to the creation of the first national parks in the late nineteenth century. Chapter 1 draws on the work of Michel Foucault and Edward Said to theorize "literary environmentalism" as a knowledge-power formation that functions as a domestic Orientalism. Chapter 2 theorizes the narratological and psychosociological bases of environmental constructions generally before analyzing two colonial texts whose literary environmentalism is paradigmatic: John Underhill's Newes from America (1638), which writes the New England wilderness via tropes of gender and race that explicitly link the environment's description to its possession, and Mary Rowlandson's The Soveraignty and Goodness of God (1682), which recapitulates but also complicates these figures. Chapter 3 analyzes James Fenimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans (1826), paying particular attention to how its wilderness serves to naturalize the regeneration of a racially "pure" American civilization. Chapter 4 analyzes three works related by their linked constructions of Yosemite Valley. Lafayette Bunnell's account of the Mariposa Indian War (1851-1852), The History of the Discovery of the Yosemite, utilizes an aesthetic discourse to justify the ethnic cleansing that accompanied the "discovery" of Yosemite. Frederick Law Olmsted's 1865 management report on the new Yosemite Park implicates the national park idea in an urban-industrial ideology of "social sanitation through outdoor recreation." Clarence King's Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada (1872) links environmentalism and literary realism to the exigencies of a fast-maturing corporate capitalism. My concluding chapter analyzes the idea of the "postnatural" in two contemporary ecocritical texts, Bill McKibben's The End of Nature and Rebecca Solnit's Savage Dreams. McKibben's work recapitulates the early colonialist and capitalist trope of the "virgin wilderness," while Savage Dreams refuses the concept of an originary nature and adopts a more promising mode for a genuinely revisionist environmental writing, one that refuses to seek in nature the sorts of lessons and remedies available only through a conscious engagement with this nation's own cultures.