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Environment and History

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Environment and History

Landscapes of Nostalgia: Life Scientists and Literary Intellectuals Protecting Belgium's 'Wilderness', 1900-1940

Raf de Bont and Rajesh Heynickx

Environment and History 18 (2012): 237-260. doi: 10.3197/096734012X13303670112858

The nature protection movement in early twentieth-century Belgium mobilised activists of diverse backgrounds. Among these, two circles stand out. On the one hand, there was a group of life scientists, who gathered in the Belgian League for the Protection of Nature; on the other, a group of literary intellectuals, who organised themselves in the Society for Natural and Urban Beauty. In this article, the discursive strategies employed by both groups are compared. The article argues that, despite the differences in background, both groups ascribed value to unspoiled nature by staging it as a place of knowledge production, a source of aesthetic experience, and a space of reconnection with the far-off past. The differences between the two groups, thus, have to be sought not in the interests, rhetoric or ideas of the respective scientists and intellectuals, but rather in the instrumentalisation of their ideas. Unlike the literary intellectuals, the biologists were able to combine their activism with concrete inventories of places to protect, based on scientific surveys. This does not detract from the fact that, once the inventory was made, they defended it with the same topoi as their non-scientific colleagues.

KEYWORDS: Nature protection, Belgium, life scientists, literary intellectuals

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