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Mediating politics and culture through parks in North America and Scandinavia

Fri, April 1, 8:30 to 10:00am, Westin Seattle Hotel, Cascade 1C

Session Submission Type: Panel

Abstract

Environmental historians have long recognized that parks, particularly national parks, can be fruitfully analyzed as windows into cultural and political attitudes. Contemporary parks are a concrete amalgamation of generations of interwoven environmental policy, recreational desires, and attitudes toward nature. The aim of this panel is to examine how the value of parks have been understood at particular historical moments – and particular geographical contexts – with a focus on how that value has been locally negotiated rather than imprinted from a universal template. Alyssa D. Warrick illuminates the history of Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky. Warrick positions Mammoth Cave in the center of mid-twentieth century debates between conservation, preservation, and definitions of wilderness, while addressing the enduring frame provided by archetypical western parks like Yellowstone and Yosemite. Paula Saari examines the influence of Yellowstone and the greater American national park system on the development of the national park idea in Finland. Saari demonstrates that the Finnish park story, which has been neglected by environmental historians, shows the importance of international influences to the process of creating and defining national parks. Peder Roberts examines why national parks were unsuccessfully proposed for the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard during the 1920s and 30s, with a subtext of articulating Norway’s political authority, but became an attractive means of exercising geopolitical power in the early 1970s as the discourse of the “fragile Arctic” shifted the political calculation. Jessica DeWitt widens the panel’s coverage to include parks at the state and provincial level. Focusing on several Canadian and American park systems, DeWitt examines why state and provincial parks have been largely ignored by historians and argues that they have played underappreciated roles as instruments of ecological restoration and recreational democratization.

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