Virtual Exhibitions 2013, no. 1

If one wishes to save wilderness, or sets out to recreate or rewild it, what does this mean in places where people predominantly speak Dutch or Finnish or Greek or Nez Percé, and where wilderness does not exist—cannot exist—at least by the same name? What does it mean to protect or bring back any of the following … Wildernis, erämaa, ερημιά or titoqanót wétes?

This exhibit collects wilderness-equivalent terms and describes them in a few short paragraphs, discussing how they may be similar to or different from the wilderness that native English speakers know and admire. The subtleties of meanings encompassed by the above terms, say, between human presence or absence, or between love and fear for the wild regions, is what we hope to explore. Our focus in these webpages is less the history of wilderness than the linguistics of wilderness, even though word meanings have their own histories. Even across the English-speaking countries, a reference to “wilderness” may evoke different feelings, images, and sounds.

You may use the map to steer to your favorite language and see how it portrays wilderness, or offer your own comments and contributions there. We hope to expand our Wilderness Babel into a large and useful collection of ideas for land managers, policy makers, environmental theorists, outdoor recreators, and nature enthusiasts.