Margaret Beck Pritchard, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation
America’s exotic landscape and discoveries of unfamiliar peoples, plants and animals fueled Europeans’ imaginations for nearly two centuries prior to the American Revolution. The English and Europeans had long studied the earth’s natural productions as a means to categorize and understand the world in which they lived, and America provided an unspoiled laboratory for learned men across the ocean to substantiate or dispel their own theories and beliefs. American colonists were eager to supply their foreign correspondents with their own observations, specimens and seeds.
While Europeans anxiously sought information and new species of flora and fauna from the New World, they regarded the American environment as hostile, condemning the climate, natives, animals and even immigrants as degenerate. America’s founding fathers, in particular, responded defensively. Conflicting theories about nature were also reflected in the work of artists such as Charles Willson Peale and his sons, Titian and Rembrandt.
After the Revolution, Americans approached their natural environment with a greater sense of confidence. America’s nature and her vast frontier lands began to represent the American Dream. Exploring the western landscape and recording new species of wildlife provided Americans with a sense of national pride. Dr. Pritchard’s talk will describe how Americans recorded and viewed nature and their landscape in ways that amplified their unique beliefs and values.