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BH-50618-14

SUNY Research Foundation, College at Cortland (Cortland, NY 13045-0900)
Kevin Sheets (Project Director: 03/05/2014 to present)

Forever Wild: The Adirondacks in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era

Two one-week workshops for seventy-two school teachers using the Adirondacks to understand the meaning and influence of wilderness environments in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century America.

This workshop, directed by historians Kevin Sheets and Randi Storch (State University of New York College of Cortland [SUNY Cortland]), explores the social, cultural, political, and economic relevance of the Adirondack wilderness to the history of the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era, which is taught with an urban focus. Participants learn on-site at three Adirondack Great Camps (Camp Huntington, which now belongs to SUNY Cortland, and those of the Vanderbilts and J.P. Morgan) and two museums (Adirondack Museum and 1890 House Museum), as well as on contrasting walking tours in urban Cortland and on Adirondack camp trails. Monday's focus on "Innovation, Industrialization and Domestic Life of the Gilded Age" takes Cortland as a case study for understanding life in a nineteenth-century manufacturing town. Participants work with collections at the 1890 House Museum, modeling historians' process of inquiry and interpretation. Discussing novels (by Theodore Dreiser and, more recently, by Jennifer Donnelly) that fictionalize the 1906 murder of Cortland factory worker Grace Brown, they explore the interpretation of historical events through literature. The focus on Tuesday is the cultural and aesthetic ideal of the wilderness and how Americans of the era defined "wilderness" and "nature" in contrast with the urban experience. Primary source texts and period photographs in the archive and library at Camp Huntington help illuminate the role of "wilderness" in Gilded Age ideas of masculinity, class, and nation building. Wednesday's theme, "From Enchanted Forest to Lumber Mill," focuses on the economic interdependence of city and wilderness. Adirondack Museum curators guide participants through exhibits on the region's industries and help them engage with the museum's collections and historic structures, ranging from a nineteenth-century one-room log cabin hotel to a luxurious early-twentieth-century Pullman railcar. Thursday's topic turns to "Domesticating the Wild," with study of the Great Camps that industrialists built as "civilized" retreats in the wilderness for their leisure pursuits. On Friday, "wilderness" is considered as a focus of political conflict, most notably in the 1894 debate over protecting the Adirondack forest preserve as "forever wild" in the revised state constitution. Historian Rebecca Edwards (Vassar College) situates these contentions among industrialists, reformers, and naturalists in their Progressive-Era political context. Workshop readings include excerpts from primary sources of the era, as well as such secondary works as William Cronon's essay "The Trouble with Wilderness," and selections from book-length studies by Philip Terrie, Forever Wild: A Cultural History of Wilderness in the Adirondacks, and Gail Bederman, Manliness and Civilization: A Cultural History of Gender and Race in the United States, 1880-1917.

[Media coverage]

Project fields:
U.S. History

Program:
Landmarks of American History

Division:
Education Programs

Total amounts:
$178,809 (approved)
$178,809 (awarded)

Grant period:
10/1/2014 – 12/31/2015