Friday, February 13, 2009

Magritte à la sixteenth century

I've laid out my plans for my conference paper (at UCSB) on early modern environmentalism. I know that others will be using Powerpoint, and that frees me up to add some visual arguments (including, yes, counting). Here's a thought for a hook. I want to begin with a problem. Before you can be even precociously environmentalist you need to have a concept of the environment itself. There is some good evidence that this concept was lacking, at least in the early sixteenth century. I thought I might use the changing meaning of the word "desert," which to us signifies a particular environment characterized by lack of water. It once meant something like "uncultivated," though (and Keith Thomas and the OED will back me up on this), a fact which leads to phrases like this one from As You Like It:  “In this desert inaccessible, / Under the shade of melancholly boughes.”  The result would be a slide like this:


  1. I like this hook a lot! I like hooks that deal with how different words had different meanings in different times. How will you segue from the hook to the paper?

  2. The German word for desert (Wüste) stems from the Latin "vastus" (I'm assuming like "vast") and has connotations of depopulated and empty.(deserted). It's related to the term Öde meaning and dull, dreary, bleak place. Nothing specific about dryness, but definitely un or underpopulated...

  3. I think the parallel word in English is "waste," which means wild or uncultivated land (a synonym for "desert," really). What's interesting is that the root of both waste AND vast is supposed to be the Latin "vastus."