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Wilderness

  • By: Cheryl Morse Dunkley
  • In: Encyclopedia of Geography
  • Edited by: Barney Warf
  • Subject:General Geography, Earth & Environmental Science

Wilderness is understood as a region that exists in its original, natural state with few or no human inhabitants. It may contain distinctive geographic features, rare ecosystems, or plant and animal species that require vast expanses of land for habitat. Since the 1970s, geographers and environmental historians have closely examined the definition of wilderness. They found that its meaning has changed significantly over time, especially in the North American context. As its definitions have changed, wilderness areas have become contested sites.

During the settlement era, Euro-Americans often feared the wilderness, as it was home to dangerous creatures and seemingly dangerous “others,” the indigenous peoples of the continent. In the 19th century, several influences reworked the meaning of wilderness. The aesthetic and spiritual ideas of Romanticism and ...

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