The concept of nature and the terms that are associated with it are, in many senses, historical. Their meanings—and the words themselves—are historically constructed and change over time, at once reflecting and constituting social change. As Raymond Williams noted, not only does “the idea of nature [contain], though often unnoticed, an extraordinary amount of human history,” but it also contains the very “idea of man in society, indeed the ideas of kinds of societies” (Williams 1980, 67–71). Take the English word “wilderness,” for example: from signifying the barren and uncultivated “waste” of the eighteenth-century English landscape, awaiting enclosure and improvement, by the end of the nineteenth century it had become one of the most celebrated concepts in U.S. culture, associated with the aesthetic of the sublime and with national identity (Cronon 1995). A consideration of how people engage the idea of wilderness around the globe reveals that many cultures understand it in significantly different ways while others do not appear to use an equivalent concept at all (see the entry “Translation” in this volume).

This essay may be found on page 132 of the printed volume.

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