Saturday, December 27, 2008
History in the News
Michael Barton of The Dispersal of Darwin got a nice write-up in The Billings Gazette for the work he did at Yellowstone National Park's Heritage and Research Center a while back when he was working as an intern there.
Barton found that use of religious language in descriptions of the park was common during the Romantic movement, a reaction to the 18th century's Enlightenment that stressed science and objectivity. Romanticism was about emotions and imagination. It was a period that produced such American literary giants as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman and Edgar Allen Poe. But it also carried over to the writings of travelers to Yellowstone and is found in newspaper accounts, journal entries and letters sent to family and friends. Barton catalogued the references in more than 50 documents - everything from short journal reminiscences to published books and U.S. Geological Survey writings.
There's no mistaking the references, especially when they were highlighted. Following an 1871 trip to Yellowstone Lake, journalist Calvin Clawson wrote: "We could not help feeling that we were lifted up BETWEEN HEAVEN AND HELL, for while the seething, sulphurous lakes were on each side and far beneath us, the placid sky hung in grandest beauty above us." ...
Barton said he saw scientists in the 1870s steer away from Romanticism and be more descriptive about what they saw, rather than describing sites in emotional terms.
"They started to write more about the height of a geyser, the times of eruptions rather than the raw emotional scenes," he said.
Perhaps the best part of the research, Barton said, was having access to the park's extensive archive collection in its newly built facility, to view the original watercolors of artist Thomas Moran stored there and to travel to some of the places he'd read about.
Via Evolving Complexity