The Idaho Humanities Council sponsored readings and conversation series on wilderness, marking the 50th anniversary of The Wilderness Act of 1964, combines deep reading in wilderness history and policy with lectures from scholars across the state. Five week sessions in Hailey at the College of Southern Idaho Blaine County Center, at Moscow City Hall, Lewiston City Library and currently at Boise’s Foothill’s Learning Center delve into wilderness imagined, pursued, framed, guarded and the particular wilderness idea in Idaho.

“We will consider how we view wilderness today, from the vantage points of modern-day campsites, canyons and suburban cul-de-sacs, tracing maps that are both material and mythological,” a description of the series reads.

Below, with permission from Idaho Humanities Council, is a hyperlinked version of the syllabus. All effort has been made to find open source versions of the texts, though not all are available online. Feel free to leave links to your favorite wilderness source texts in the comments below.

Theodore Roosevelt and John Burroughs


Theodore Roosevelt and John Burroughs at campsite in Yellowstone Park. [1903?] Theodore Roosevelt Digital Library. Dickinson State University.

Considered: Wilderness Syllabus

Main Text

Michael Lewis, ed., American Wilderness: A New History, 2007.

Michael Lewis, American Wilderness


American Wilderness: A New History, Michael Lewis, ed.

Wilderness Imagined

How has wilderness been imagined in the past, in the context of American history? How does it inform our sense of national and individual identity? What kind of mythology does wilderness offer?

Lisa Brady, “At the Edge of Wilderness: Reflections on the 50th Anniversary of the 1964 Wilderness Act,” Idaho Humanities, Winter 2014.

William Bradford, “Errand into the Wilderness,” ~1620

Henry David Thoreau, “Walking,” 1862 [annotated version]. “I must walk toward Oregon, and not toward Europe.” — Thoreau, “Walking”

John Muir, “The Wild Parks and Forest Reservations of the West,” Ch. 1 of Our National Parks, 1901.

Michael Lewis, “American Wilderness: An Introduction,” in Lewis, 3-14.

Melanie Perreault, “American Wilderness and First Contact,” in Lewis, 15-34.

Mark Stoll, “Religion ‘Irradiates’ the Wilderness,” in Lewis, 35-54.

Wilderness Pursued

How do we, as humans, engage with wilderness? How do we come to know it through observing, hunting, fishing, etc.? What do these literary pieces suggest about the relationship between humans and the wild?

Sarah Orne Jewett, “A White Heron,” originally published 1886.

Theodore Roosevelt, “Wilderness Reserves: Yellowstone Park,” in Constructing Nature: Readings from the American Experience, Richard Jenseth and Edward Lotto, eds.

Ernest Hemingway, “Big Two-Hearted River” (Parts 1 and 2).

Elizabeth Bishop, “The Fish.”

Bradley P. Dean, “Natural History, Romanticism, and Thoreau,” in Lewis, 73-90.

Angela Miller, “The Fate of Wilderness in American Landscape Art: The Dilemmas of ‘Nature’s Nation’” in Lewis, 91-112.

Wilderness Framed

How has wilderness been defined legally over time, and how has management been affected by legislation and public policy? What kind of framework for wilderness does the Wilderness Act of 1964 establish? How have the National Park Service, the Forest Service and other agencies designed the public’s wilderness experience?

Aldo Leopold, “Wilderness as a Form of Land Use,” 1925.

Wallace Stegner, “The Wilderness Letter,” 1960.

The Wilderness Act of 1964

Benjamin Johnson, “Wilderness Parks and Their Discontents,” in Lewis, 113-130.

Char Miller, “A Sylvan Prospect: John Muir, Gifford Pinchot, and Early Twentieth-Century Conservationism,” in Lewis, 131-148.

Paul Sutter, “Putting Wilderness in Context: The Interwar Origins of the Modern Wilderness Idea,” in Lewis, 167-186.

Mark Harvey, “Loving the Wild in Postwar America,” in Lewis, 187-204.

Howard Zahniser, “The Need for Wilderness Areas,” 1956 [doc].

Wilderness Guarded

Pete Fromm, Indian Creek Chronicles


Indian Creek Chronicles, Pete Fromm

What does it mean, on a personal level, to go into the wilderness? How do certain scientific goals and ideas for wilderness – such as salmon restoration, as described in this book – play out on the ground?

Pete Fromm, Indian Creek Chronicles: A Winter Alone in the Wilderness, 2003.

Wilderness Brought Home

How is wilderness mapped in Idaho today?

Owyhee Initiative Agreement

Boulder-White Clouds Monument Issue

Rocky Barker, “Idea for a Boulder White Clouds Monument Makes Custer County Uneasy,” Idaho Statesman, Dec. 15, 2013.

John Freemuth “Monument Proclamation Could be Right Call for Idaho,” Idaho Statesman, Dec. 18, 2013.

John Rember, “Against a Boulder-White Clouds Wilderness,” Boise Weekly, Nov. 13, 2013.

James Morton Turner, “The Politics of Modern Wilderness,” in Lewis, 243-262.

Donald Worster, “Epilogue: Nature, Liberty, and Equality,” in Lewis, 263-272.

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The views and opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of Boise State University, the Center for Idaho History and Politics, or the School of Public Service.

  • John Aiton
  • John Aiton

    The Pristine Myth: The Landscape of the

    Americas in 1492

    William M. Denevan

    Department of Geography, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI 53706

    Abstract. The myth persists that in 1492 the Americas were a sparsely populated wilderness, -a world of barely perceptible human disturbance.- There is substantial evidence, however, that the Native American landscape of the early sixteenth century was a humanized landscape almost everywhere. Populations were large. Forest composition had been modified, grasslands had been created, wildlife disrupted, and erosion was severe in places. Earthworks, roads, fields, and settlements were ubiquitous. With Indian depopulation in the wake of Old World disease, the environment recovered in many areas. A good argument can be made that the human presence was less visible in 1750 than it was in 1492.

    http://jan.ucc.nau.edu/~alcoze/for398/class/pristinemyth.html

  • Gary O. Grimm

    Wilderness Use Ethics Conference Proceedings, 1974 – University of Oregon

    http://books.google.com/books/about/Wilderness_Use_Ethics_Conference_Proceed.html?id=F_YytwAACAAJ

  • Gary O. Grimm

    Wilderness And Individual Freedom Conference Proceedings, 1976 University of Oregon Outdoor Program

    http://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED173023

    David Brower, Willi Unsoeld, Edward Abby and others participated in this national conference organized by active wilderness users participating in the University of Oregon Common Adventure Outdoor Program. The Conference “to examine the public wilderness resource and its impactions for the American citizen’s future” was held at Mt. Hood, Oregon on March 4-6, 1976.

    A fundamental statement of the only philosophy that can really lead to protection of wild lands emerged from the proceedings of the March, 1976 Wilderness and Individual Freedom Conference–there must be more citizen participation in wilderness decisions because there is a great diversity of wilderness users and because we cannot separate what happens in the wilderness from what happens in our lives. Some 113 participants attended the three day conference that featured keynote speakers, panel discussions, small group seminar discussions, and slide presentations. Proceedings of all these events are included in this document. The script of the multi-media slide presentation on wilderness and individual freedom is given. Personal, management and broad perspectives on the historical and philosophical foundations of the American wilderness dream are summarized from a panel discussion on that subject. One keynote address deals with the rights and freedoms that must be protected for the individual citizen’s use of wilderness resources and a subsequent seminar discussion lays the foundation for a charter of essential wilderness freedoms. Other panel discussions and discussion groups work with the problem of individual freedom and wilderness preservation. Proceedings on the final conference day were directed toward the major conference question of “How can we maximize freedom and minimize impact in the wilderness resource?”

  • idahomay

    “The wildness of wilderness is what needs preserving most now, the plants and animals and even geology of a given place’s ability to determine its own fate. ” http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/…/is-there-a…/

  • Gary O. Grimm

    DrawingLines in the Forest: Creating Wilderness Areas in the Pacific Northwest

    by Kevin R. Marsh
    http://www.amazon.com/Drawing-Lines-Forest-Weyerhaeuser-Environmental/dp/0295990112

    “Drawing boundaries around wilderness areas often serves a double purpose: protection of the land within the boundary and release of the land outside the boundary to resource extraction and other development. In Drawing Lines in the Forest, Kevin R. Marsh discusses the roles played by various groups–the Forest Service, the timber industry, recreationists, and environmentalists–in arriving at these boundaries. He shows that pragmatic, rather than ideological, goals were often paramount, with all sides benefiting.”

    I found this interesting quote Marsh made about the French Pete Protest in Oregon in 1969. “Protests in Eugene to preserve French Pete from logging gave that community a national reputation for environmental activism. Bob Wazeka compared Eugene’s role in the wilderness movement of the 1970s to the role of Paris as the center of the Western literary world of the 1920s.”

  • Gary O. Grimm

    Visions of Wilderness – Ecosystem Protection in the Northern Rockies Ecosystem

    https://vimeo.com/9036918

    Produced by Mountain Visions, Katy Flanagan and Gary O. Grimm, with support from the Idaho Conservation League, Recreational Equipment Inc., and The Wilderness Society.

    Received an Idaho Film and Video Nell Shipman Award of Excellence and was also honored to be shown at the 1994 National Wilderness Conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

    Music by Bill Miller, Steve Eaton and Walkin’ Jim Stoltz.

    Narration by Jane Crosby and Chris Ackerman

    Originally produced in 1993 this 3 projector multimedia/video presents slowly dissolving natural images shapes and colors in a “painting with light” format.

  • Gary O. Grimm

    Owyhee Canyonlands – The High Desert Country of Southwest Idaho.

    https://vimeo.com/10888448

    Originally produced by Mountain Visions as a 16 minute 3 projector multimedia show & transferred to video in 1992, this project was shown at many “Town Hall” public meetings and to public and elected officials to help citizens visualize and understand the value of this unique desert area. At that time there was a public controversy about expanding the Air Force Bombing Range in this area. Many organizations and individuals worked together to prevent this expansion. In 2009, The Owyhee Initiative was passed when a coalition of diverse stakeholders agreed to a Lands Management Act that preserved 1/2 million acres of Wilderness, including 55,000 acres that will not be grazed by livestock, and designated 316 miles of Wild and Scenic Rivers.