Early Use of the Word Wilderness

The Oxford English Dictionary traces the first recorded use of the word “wilderness” back to c.1200. The word originally suggested wild or uncultivated land but early uses did not always preclude reference to a place in which one might take refuge. Later associations with “pure” or untouched nature, adventure or visions of the “noble savage,” point to a complicated etymology. Small wonder that the word has provided settings for works by numerous artists and authors. By the latter half of the nineteenth century, physical “wilderness” was deemed worthy of preservation. It became a keyword in discussions on the orientation of national parks and remains rich in connotation today, whether in connection with land management or leisure, or indeed biodiversity or evolutionary biology.

Further Readings: 
  • Oelschlaeger, Max. The Idea of Wilderness: From Prehistory to the Age of Ecology. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993.