Senior Honors Theses
History Department Honors Program

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Thesis or dissertation

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A Senior Thesis Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for Honors in History.
Faculty Advisor: Kathy Peiss


This thesis explores the concept of "biocentrism" within the context of American environmental thought at the turn of the twentieth century. Biocentrism is the view that all life and elements of the universe are equally valuable and that humanity is not the center of existence. It encourages people to view themselves as part of the greater ecosystem rather than as conquerors of nature. The development of this alternative world view in America begins in mid-nineteenth to early twentieth century, during a period of rapid industrialization and urbanization as some Americans began to notice the destruction they wrought on the environment and their growing disconnect with nature. Several individuals during this time introduced the revolutionary idea of biocentrism including: John Muir, Liberty Hyde Bailey, Nathaniel Southgate Shaler and Edward Payson Evans. This thesis traces the development of their biocentrism philosophies, attributing it to several factors: more mainstream reactions to the changes including the Conservation movement and Preservation movements, new spiritual and religious approaches towards nature, and Darwin's theory of evolution which spurred the development of the field of ecology and the concept of evolving ethics. It draws upon the personal papers, unpublished and published works of thinkers that participated in this dialogue to show how the concept emerged and fits into the greater context of American environmentalism.


biocentrism, ecocentrism, environmental history, American perceptions of nature, John Muir, Liberty Hyde Bailey, Nathaniel Southgate Shaler, Edward Payson Evans, Anna Comstock, Jeanne C. Carr, Charles Darwin, Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson, Hetch-Hetchy, Conservation, Preservation, George Perkins Marsh, Theodore Roosevelt, Frederick Jackson Turner, Gifford Pinchot, Deep Ecology

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Date Posted: 06 June 2007