English’s Matthew Wynn Sivils authors book on early-American environmental literature

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Matthew Wynn Sivils

Iowa State University’s Matthew Wynn Sivils is the author of a new book on early-American environmental literature.

In “American Environmental Fiction, 1782–1847” (Ashgate 2014), Sivils demonstrates that environmental conservation developed in U.S. popular culture early in the nation’s history. Nineteenth-century writers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau are perhaps best known for early environmental writing. But Sivils, an associate professor of English, said many earlier works addressed environmental concerns.

“Writers from even the first years of U.S. literary history expressed a genuine, if still developing, concern about the human impact upon the natural world, what we might today term an environmental consciousness,” Sivils said. “Anxieties about deforestation, destructive farming practices, the humane treatment of animals, and resource use in general were very much on the minds of writers of this period.”

Sivils said many important writings from the early years of American history were understudied by past scholars, and to an extent, still are understudied today. Many of these works had a “profoundly environmental focus” including much juvenile literature.

“In late 18th- and early 19th-century America, there was a huge trade in books meant for a juvenile audience, and these books were extremely influential in the environmental education of young readers,” Sivils said.

Many of the early-period authors that Sivils studied were already discussing environmental problems still being dealt with today.

“The goal of my book is to illuminate this early stretch in the nation’s larger environmental journey, so that we can learn from the past while we work to address the environmental challenges of the present-day.”

The Department of English at ISU is an academic unit in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

NEWS RELEASE College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Iowa State University

Contacts: Matt Sivils, (515) 294-2180, sivils@iastate.edu Steve Jones, Liberal Arts and Sciences Communications, (515) 294-0461, jones@iastate.edu