Friday, 17 June 2011

Unnatural Histories: Yellowstone

This excellent series continues with the domestication of what was to become Yellowstone National Park.
  • As the world's first national park, Yellowstone has long served as a model for the protection of wilderness around the world. For Americans it has become a source of great national pride, not least because it encapsulates all our popular notions of what a wilderness should be - vast, uninhabited, with spectacular scenery and teeming with wildlife. But Yellowstone has not always been so. At the time of its creation in 1872, it was renowned only for its extraordinary geysers, and far from being an uninhabited wilderness it was home to several American Indian tribes.

    This film reveals how a remote Indian homeland became the world's first great wilderness. It was the ambitions of railroad barons, not conservationists, that paved the way for a brand new vision of the wild, a vision that took native peoples out of the picture. Iconic landscape paintings show how European Romanticism crossed the Atlantic and recast the American wilderness, not as a satanic place to be tamed and cultivated, but as a place to experience the raw power of God in nature. Forged in Yellowstone, this potent new version of wilderness as untouched and deserving of protection has since been exported to all corners of the globe.
Two things stood out for me; firstly the health and vitality evident in the images of the early indigenous peoples compared to those from the modern day, and secondly, rise of ecology which brought a realisation that if man 'defeats' the wild (which seemed to manifest in reckless hunting and ultimately the extermination of predators), he ruins an ecosystem.  Thus initial (misguided) efforts towards conservation and management of Yellowstone were directed towards firstly a ban on hunting and poaching, and later, to exterminate wolves.  Eventually the place of both these species in the ecology of Yellowstone was recognised and redress made.

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