Southern California Conferences for Undergraduate Research

Southern California Conferences for Undergraduate Research

Transcendentalist strains in the U.S. Conservation Movement: A historical look at the soul-crossed trinity of Emerson, Muir, and Pinchot


Michael Li


Brian Waddington, Professor of History and Honors Coordinator, Citrus College

But for the transcendentalism, there might not have been a conservation movement in the US. To see how important this philosophical movement is to the history of the conservation, it's necessary to look at how Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Muir, and Gifford Pinchot lived and crossed each other's paths. Before Emerson published his landmark essay, Nature, he visit Paris and her botanical garden Jardin des Plantes. After this trip, science and nature became one for Emerson, and it is from this close encounter with nature transcendentalism was born. In other words, the curation in the garden allowed Emerson to see how divine nature is. Science became a dutiful minister that helped guide the philosopher closer to nature. John Muir, whom many consider the father of the conservation movement in America, shared the same insight. And the kinship between Muir and Emerson was apparent when their meet in Yosemite and correspondence afterward is considered. Gifford Pinchot, whom many consider the father of the national forests, also met John Muir. But Pinchot’s kinship to transcendentalism was developed through the science of forestry. Much like Emerson, science charted the way for Pinchot’s conservationist verve. Pinchot and Muir are often discussed in histories of the conservation movement. Both are portrayed as shakers of the movement, but their kinship to transcendentalism is seldom given weight. But they are closely related to the transcendentalist ethos. Pinchot saw science as the means to bring about the greatest good from nature while Muir stressed the inherit divinity in nature.Several histories of the conservation history are considered as well as one on the Nature religion in the US.

Presented by:

Michael Li


Saturday, November 17, 2012


2:15 PM — 2:30 PM


Bell Tower 2424

Presentation Type:

Oral Presentation