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58 - Nature

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 July 2019

Catherine Armstrong
Affiliation:
Loughborough University.
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Summary

If we take it in its broadest sense, nature or the natural world refers to the multifarious physical environment around us. It is often contrasted with man-made phenomena, such as settlements or individual homes, or to our attempts to control the environment such as dams. Nature is strongly linked to travel, as a motivation for travellers, as a key part of travellers’ observations and as a theme in travel literature. The desire to undertake scientific research into the natural world has been a motivating factor for travellers since the seventeenth century (see science). Scientific organizations such as the Royal Society in England encouraged travellers to record their observations of the natural world so that it might be measured, catalogued, understood and perhaps tamed. As early as 1620, Francis Bacon wrote a guide suggesting how travellers might structure their accounts so as to record the most useful information. However, this was also accompanied by a utilitarian understanding of the natural world. Early modern thinking determined that all animals and plants were on earth for man's use and improvement. The idea of conserving the natural world for its own sake would have seemed alien during this period. Instead, natural resources were used to nearextinction, as in the case of the North American beaver on the East coast. One of the most influential works of natural history was Mark Catesby's published in 1734. Catesby believed that ‘London was the centre of all science’, but he also realized the importance of travelling to America to observe ‘as well the animal and vegetable productions in their native countries which were strangers to England’. Catesby (1754, v) wanted to view this wildlife in situ because he could then make observations ‘shewing their several mechanical and other uses as in building, joynery, agriculture and others used for food and medicine’.

The third strand in travellers’ understanding of nature was a religious and spiritual one. Christians in the early modern period believed that the natural world and its climactic phenomenon were evidence of the providence of God. Therefore, a hurricane or an earthquake occurred, or disease was spread because God was displeased with his people. Only through penitential acts such as fasting could these phenomena be prevented from happening again. This religious understanding of the natural world impacted on travellers such as the Puritan migrants to New England in the 1630s (see migration).

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Chapter
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Keywords for Travel Writing Studies
A Critical Glossary
, pp. 169 - 171
Publisher: Anthem Press
Print publication year: 2019

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