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

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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.
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Keywords: Belgium; life scientists; literary intellectuals; nature protection

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: May 1, 2012

More about this publication?
  • Environment and History is an interdisciplinary journal which aims to bring scholars in the humanities and biological sciences closer together, with the deliberate intention of constructing long and well-founded perspectives on present day environmental problems.

    Environment and History has a Journal Impact Factor (2019) of 0.698. 5 Year Impact Factor: 0.806.
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