Guest Authors: Nadia Rassech and Eli McKown-Dawson, with Tarez Samra Graban, Associate Professor of English and Honors Teaching Scholar
This is the last installment of three highlighting the work of students in Special Collections and Archives with HUM 2937/IDH 3109 Sustainable Public Discourse during American Archives Month 2021. You can read the first and second installments on Illuminations.
“Ecospeak: A Coral Reef Preserve vs. The Tourism Industry” – Nadia Rassech
In the words of M. Jimmie Killingsworth and Jacqueline S. Palmer, “government…has become…the key player in the environmental dispute, the institution with the power to regulate ecological research, environmental action, and development of resources.” (1) Although this phrase wasn’t published until 1992, when their book Ecospeak: Rhetoric and Environmental Politics in America was first released, the same truth can be observed much earlier. In observing government figures, one can look to the past—to the beginnings of contemporary environmental rhetoric—to notice how modern discourses between priorities of industry and priorities of nature conservation have developed. Well before climate change discourse became popularized, Florida Governor LeRoy Collins gave a speech on December 10, 1960, as a dedication of the newly installed Key Largo Coral Reef Preserve. (2) Well before the concern of climate change shadowed political candidates like a gray cloud before a storm, there were already other alliances made possible within sustainable public discourse. Killingsworth and Palmer argue that these historical alliances fall somewhere between three fixed categories for environmental rhetoric: nature as object, nature as resource, and nature as spirit.
This analysis will firstly observe the presence of all three perspectives within Collins’s speech, begging the question of how he is able to balance them in order to satisfy a broader range of constituent opinions. In an oversimplification of these opinions—most notably, how nature as spirit intersects with industrial intentions—Collins reveals what can be interpreted as a prioritization of nature as resource. Next, I argue that, given the historical period in which he was writing, this central theme is likely less a reflection on his personal environmental concerns, and more a reflection on cultural contexts. In 1960, industrial efforts were rhetorically intertwined with government necessities—for example, the assurance of national safety in the American “Red Scare” during the Cold War. Collins’s emphasis on tourism could be seen as communicating these sentiments, in turn encouraging the consumption of Western cultural values (a priority that has visibly carried into more contemporary contexts). Finally, I will reveal my own areas of weakness in this analysis, which is that my own modern interpretation of environmentalist versus developmentalist discourse has made me a common victim of “Ecospeak.” The differences in time and culture between myself and LeRoy Collins motivate these biases, making it necessary for any reader of this paper to be aware of such discrepancies.
“Nature as Monument in Governmental Conservation Discourse” – Eli McKown-Dawson
In 1957, the condition of Florida’s outer coral reefs was deteriorating and, as a result, a group of scientists, conservationists, and politicians created a coral preserve to provide for the continued survival of the reef. John Pennekamp, Miami Herald editor and chairman of the Florida Board of Parks and Historic Memorials, approved a 75 square mile section of a coral reef in Key Largo —10% of the entire reef—as a permanent preserve. In 1959, Florida Governor LeRoy Collins and President Dwight Eisenhower approved the transfer of, respectively, the state and federal land ownership rights of this area to the Coral Reef Preserve. (3) The park was eventually named for Mr. Pennekamp and touted as an eternal monument to his commitment to conservation. This treatment of conservationists is reflected through Florida’s environmental history and presents a perspective on nature that may complicate preexisting frameworks.
In Ecospeak: Rhetoric and Environmental Politics in America, M. Jimmie Killingsworth and Jacqueline Palmer identified three overarching perspectives on nature (see Figure in Student Archival Investigations, part II). Respectively, they are nature as object, nature as resource, and nature as spirit. (4) These viewpoints have varying constraints and levels of influence, and together, form an abstract model of how different groups construct perspectives on nature. After exploring a set of archival documents situated at the intersection of government and conservation, (5) I have found what may be an additional perspective on nature with which to supplement Killingsworth and Palmer’s original continuum. In three separate genres—a political speech, a newspaper article, and government correspondence—ranging from the 1940s through the 1970s, I have found reference to nature as monument.
Here, I take this term to mean treating conservation as a trophy or award that is given to specific individuals or groups. It is understood as just another box to check or another accolade for a scientist, donor, or politician to acquire. This perspective does not treat the environment as a value-neutral object. Rather, it opposes the idea that nature is intrinsically spiritual, and the value of nature and conservation in this context comes from the extrinsic benefits it confers. (6)
While adding a fourth perspective to Killingsworth and Palmer’s model may complicate their original argument, the lens utilized in these archival documents is, in my opinion, influential enough to merit the change. However, placing it on the continuum is easier said than done. In one way, nature and conservation are treated as a resource, but instead of the physical resources utilized by business and agriculture, it is more of a societal resource; prestige. On the other hand, while it shares its non-physical status with nature as spirit, the latter tends to view nature as an end in and of itself, while the former sees it as merely a means to generate social capital. All of this is to say that this perspective—if it truly does exist—does not fit neatly on any part of Killingsworth and Palmer’s continuum. It challenges their framework and calls for further examination into how perspectives in nature are constructed and presented. This need is especially salient in the governmental sphere, where these attitudes may be the most impactful.
(1) Killingsworth, M. Jimmie, and Jacqueline S. Palmer. “Introduction.” In Ecospeak: Rhetoric and Environmental Politics in America. Southern Illinois UP, 1992, p. 16
(2) Dedication of Key Largo Coral Reef Preserve, December 10, 1960, Box: 9, Folder: 11. Thomas LeRoy Collins Papers, MSS 1991-012. FSU Special Collections & Archives. http://purl.flvc.org/fsu/fd/FSU_MSS_1991012_B009_F011.
(3) Wilkinson, Jerry. “History of Pennekamp Park.” Keys History, http://www.keyshistory.org/pennekamp.html.
(4) Killingsworth and Palmer, p. 11.
(5) “Askew and Conservation on the Spot Already?,” November 6, 1970, Box: 1, Folder: 03, Item: 07. Daisy Parker Flory Papers, 00-MSS 2005-004. FSU Special Collections & Archives. http://purl.flvc.org/fsu/fd/FSU_MSS_2005004_B001_F003_I007; “Dedication of Key Largo Coral Reef Preserve,” December 10, 1960, Box: 9, Folder: 11. Thomas LeRoy Collins Papers, MSS 1991-012. FSU Special Collections & Archives. http://purl.flvc.org/fsu/fd/FSU_MSS_1991012_B009_F011; “Minutes of the Meeting of Executive Committee,” Everglades National Park Commission Papers, 1946, Box: 145, Folder: 1. Everglades National Park Commission Papers, 01-MSS 1971-102. FSU Special Collections & Archives. http://purl.flvc.org/fsu/fd/FSU_MSS_1971102_B145_F003; “To the Property Owners Within the Everglades National Park Area,” Everglades National Park Commission Papers, 1946, Box: 145, Folder: 1. Everglades National Park Commission Papers, 01-MSS 1971-102. FSU Special Collections & Archives. http://purl.flvc.org/fsu/fd/FSU_MSS_1971102_B145_F003.
(6) Killingsworth and Palmer, p. 13.