The National Park Service is 100 this year, and the University of Wisconsin Press is 80. John Muir has had a significant influence on both!
A son of Wisconsin pioneers, University of Wisconsin student, inventor, naturalist, and prolific writer—John Muir is one of the most fascinating figures in American history and the nation’s most celebrated advocate for land preservation and national parks. Muir’s writings convinced the U.S. government to create the first national parks at Yosemite, Sequoia, Grand Canyon, and Mt. Rainier. An NPS biographical note states, “Muir’s great contribution to wilderness preservation was to successfully promote the idea that wilderness had spiritual as well as economic value. This revolutionary idea was possible only because Muir was able to publish everything he wrote in the . . . principal monthly magazines read by the American middle class in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.”
The University of Wisconsin Press has been publishing books by and about John Muir for at least 50 years. In 1965, we reissued Muir’s autobiography, The Story of My Boyhood and Youth. (It was first published before he died in 1914.) Muir recounts in vivid detail his early life: his first eleven years in Scotland; the years 1849–1860 in the central Wisconsin wilderness; and two-and-a-half inventive years in Madison as a student at the recently established University of Wisconsin.
We have also published four different biographies of John Muir. Son of the Wilderness: The Life of John Muir by Linnie Marsh Wolfe won the 1946 Pulitzer Prize for biography. UWP obtained rights to it, issuing an edition in 1978 and an expanded edition in 2003. Based in large part on personal interviews with people who knew Muir, it follows Muir his life from Scotland through his teens in rural Marquette County, Wisconsin, to his history-making pilgrimage to California.
The Pathless Way: John Muir and American Wilderness, by scholar Michael P. Cohen, tracks the change in Muir’s aims from personal enlightenment to public advocacy, as he promoted the ecological education of the American public, governmental protection of natural resources, the establishment of the National Parks, and the encouragement of tourism.
The American Conservation Movement: John Muir and His Legacy by Stephen Fox is both a biography—the first to make unrestricted use of all of Muir’s manuscripts and personal papers—and a history of a century of environmental activism. Fox traces the conservation movement from Muir’s successful campaign to establish Yosemite National Park in 1890 to the 1980s concerns of nuclear waste and acid rain.
The Young John Muir: An Environmental Biography by Steven J. Holmes, published in 1999, offered a dramatically new interpretation of Muir’s formative years. Holmes uses rich archival material to show how the natural world confronted the young Muir with practical, emotional, and religious conflicts. Only with the help of his family, his religion, and the extraordinary power of nature itself could Muir in his late twenties find a welcoming vision of nature as home—a vision that would shape his lifelong environmental experience, most immediately in his transformative travels through the South and to the Yosemite Valley.
In the 1970s through the 1990s, UWP was very active in publishing both new collections and reissues of Muir’s writings about his wilderness travels. Some of these are now out of print, but his impassioned work of promotion, Our National Parks, remains a steady seller. Originally published in 1901, its goals were to entice people to visit the newly established parks and to encourage public support for conservation. The book treats Yellowstone, Sequoia, General Grant, and other national parks of the Western U.S., but especially Yosemite.
Articles that Muir wrote for the San Francisco Evening Bulletin in 1874 and 1875 comprise John Muir Summering in the Sierra, edited by Robert E. Engberg. In the course of the articles, Muir grows from a student of the wilderness to its professor and protector.
John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, first published by Knopf in 1938, was reissued by UWP in 1979. John Muir: To Yosemite and Beyond, collected writings from the period 1863 to 1875, was published in 1980. Muir’s book The Yosemite was reissued in 1987, and Letters from Alaska appeared in 1993. All are now out of print with UWP.
In 1998, UWP published Tom and Geraldine Vale’s retracing of Muir’s steps, Walking with Muir across Yosemite, based upon Muir’s journals from his first summer in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. From the foothills through Yosemite Valley and up to the Tuolumne Meadows, the Vales follow the present roads and trails that crossed Muir’s route, imagining his reaction to the landscape while reflecting on the natural world in both his time and our own.
We look forward to publishing a selection of Muir’s writing in A Driftless Area Reader edited by Curt Meine and Keefe Keeley, forthcoming sometime in 2017.
Subscribe to our blog (at right) to read more UWP history throughout the coming year.
Read past 80th anniversary blog posts here.