Nature’s History

The Changing Cultural Image of Nature, from Romantic Nationalism to Land Art

  • Angela Miller (Autor/in)


Nature's History identifies a series of episodes in the history of American landscape representation, oriented around the question of evolving environmental attitudes toward nature. Beginning with the destructive impact of the European 'invasion' of the New World, the essay identifies the manner in which nature over the middle decades of the nineteenth century became a stage upon which to enact a range of cultural ambitions, ambitions that took narrative shape in emerging conventions of landscape representation. In contrast to such mainstream cultural tendencies to instrumentalize nature as a spiritual crutch for the nation-state and a means of material and national advancement, Herman Melville and artist Martin Johnson Heade heralded a new more phenomenologically complex and imbricated relationship of the human to the natural world, one that acknowledged the alterity of nature as a realm separate from the human. In the late twentieth century, Robert Smithson explored a nature fundamentally resistant to human motives in a manner that expanded upon the more radical voices of the nineteenth century.