Historian to discuss friendship between Theodore Roosevelt and writer John Burroughs that shaped the emerging U.S. conservation movement, on July 15

Longtime Mid-Hudson Valley resident John Burroughs is credited with creating the modern nature essay and was one of the most popular and influential authors of his day. Burroughs had a profound impact on the emerging conservation movement of the early twentieth century through both his writings and his friendships with national leaders, such as his decades-long relationship with U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt. Award-winning historian and author Douglas Brinkley will discuss "John Burroughs, Theodore Roosevelt, and the American Conservation Movement" on Tuesday, July 15, at 7:30 pm in Taylor Hall room 203. This free public event is co-sponsored by the Environmental Studies program and the John Burroughs Association.

Burroughs (1837-1921) used easily understood prose to bring the natural world to his readers and encourage them in the art of observation. More than three hundred of his essays were published in leading magazines and twenty-seven books. He lived in West Park, NY for 50 years and wrote about its region, describing nature that was familiar and local and sharing a sense of place and purpose in the land.  His writings about travels with friends were also widely known and celebrated.  He wrote the narrative of the 1899 Harriman Expedition to Alaska, "tramped" in the wilderness of Yellowstone with President Theodore Roosevelt, hiked the Grand Canyon and Yosemite with John Muir, and camped across the Eastern United States with his friends Henry Ford, Thomas Edison and Harvey Firestone. 

In 1894 Burroughs did much of the work to build himself a two-story cabin for writing and entertaining nearby his riverfront home. He named it "Slabsides" after the rough bark-covered slabs from the first cuts of trees. Burroughs drew inspiration for many of his essays from the wild land around Slabsides, which he named “Whitman Land” after another good friend, writer Walt Whitman. Through works written at Slabsides about nature close at hand Burroughs inspired generations of readers to spend time out of door, while also encouraging the nation’s leaders to preserve land and wildlife. [Slabsides is also now a National Historic Landmark.]

About Douglas Brinkley

Brinkley is a professor of history at Rice University, a CBS News commentator, and a contributing editor at Vanity Fair magazine. Brinkley’s work on conservation history includes the books Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America, and The Quiet World: Saving Alaska's Wilderness Kingdom, 1879-1960, and he is currently writing Rightful Heritage: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Land of America.  Chris Matthews of NBC News has referred to Brinkley as “one of the greatest living historians.” 

About the Program in Environmental Studies  

Environmental Studies at Vassar explores the relationships between people and the totality of their environments -- natural, built, and social. It is a fully multidisciplinary program that involves the natural and social sciences as well as the arts and humanities. The major is designed around the guiding principle that the study of the environment should involve all areas of the curriculum. At the same time the college believes that such a major develops best from a deep knowledge of individual disciplines. Majors have their disciplinary homes all over the campus as any Vassar department, from Biology to Art History, may provide a concentration. Knowledge of the natural sciences and their methods is an important part of any study of the environment, and therefore all majors must reach at least the intermediate level in biology, chemistry, or earth science.


About the John Burroughs Association

The John Burroughs Association was founded in 1921 and today brings together the literary legacy of its namesake and the natural world he embraced, joining the written word of nature essays with real-life experience in nature ( The Association makes available to the public Burroughs’ historic property in West Park, NY and the surrounding Nature Sanctuary. It preserves and interprets “Slabsides,” his iconic rustic cabin, as well as offering educational programs and field trips. The Association also presents national literary awards to encourage nature writing. These include the John Burroughs Medal, Essay Award, and Riverby Award for natural history written for young readers.

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Posted by Office of Communications Tuesday, July 8, 2014