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Environment and History

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Environment and History

Writing the Wolf: Canine Tales and North American Environmental-Literary Tradition

Karen Jones

Environment and History 17 (2011): 201-228. doi: 10.3197/096734011X12997574042964

This article considers the construction of the wolf in North American environmental literature and history. Emphasis is placed on illustrating how writings about Canis lupus relate to shifting evaluations of wild nature and ethical responsibilities towards the non-human. It further reflects upon the limits to 'knowing' other species, as well as the struggle between amateurs and professionals in the quest to be seen as authorities in zoological expertise. An intensely symbolic animal, the wolf has always been a popular character in folklore, a creature representative of our fears and our idealisations of wilderness. Although the rehabilitation of the wolf in twentieth-century America is conventionally framed in terms of the rise of ecological science, of the wolf as a keystone predator and integral part of a healthy ecosystem, the naturalist tradition of storytelling remains another key element in this development. Under scrutiny here are those nature stories that have encouraged a positive attitude towards wolves in North America - from Ernest Thompson Seton in the late 1800s to Asta Bowen a century later. Such works suggest an important role for the storyteller as an educator in environmental values and contest the dominant paradigm of scientific observation as the 'saviour' of the wolf.

KEYWORDS: Wolves, literature, environmental awareness, wildlife conservation


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