graphing wildlife and wild life

Last year, in the process of writing an article for Environmental History titled “From Wild Lives to Wildlife and Back,”  I created something like the chart below by hand in order to visualize changes in the usage of the terms “wild life” (two words) and “wildlife” (one word) over the twentieth century. The chart didn’t end up surviving into the published article, but it definitely helped me formulate my argument. Making it was painstaking, though — lots of cutting and pasting search results into an Excel worksheet. The Google Books Ngram Viewer, which went public as I was putting the finishing touches on the EH piece, makes this sort of thing much easier. Continue reading “graphing wildlife and wild life”

on wild lives and “wildlife”

A year or two ago Peter Alagona, an environmental historian at UC-Santa Barbara, had the great idea of using the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Peter Matthiessen’s classic Wildlife in America as an excuse to get a group of historians to collectively reflect on the history of wildlife conservation. The half-dozen or so short articles that resulted will appear in print in Environmental History this summer, but they’re already starting to trickle out online as they work their way through the publishing process.

My piece is a little etymology, a little cultural history, and a little animal studies; it argues that the term “wildlife” is a twentieth-century invention that obscured a richer (though not unproblematic) nineteenth-century discourse about “wild lives.” Though several people helped me with it, I’m especially grateful to Leo Marx, whose work on the term “technology” provided inspiration and who asked some pointed and extremely helpful questions about one of my earliest (and much longer) drafts. I’m quite sure that I still haven’t answered some of Leo’s questions, but the piece is much better for them.