In recent years scholars have begun to question the cultural values underlying our view of Nature. Kevin Dann contributes to this debate by juxtaposing two radically different “Arcadian” experiments founded by Manhattanites seeking cultural renewal through contact with the natural world.
Dann focuses first on initiatives carried out by the American Museum of Natural History and the Eugenics Record Office from 1910 to 1940 within Harriman State Park in the Ramapo Mountains. He argues that these diverse expressions of the early “back-to-nature” movement are united by their biological materialism, or “Naturalism,” which became integral to the popular culture of educated metropolitan Americans in the early twentieth century.
He then compares this activity to the contemporary efforts at nearby Threefold Farm, where anthroposophists--followers of Rudolf Steiner's“spiritual science”--developed a program of natural scientific research and education that directly opposed Darwinian explanations of natural history, social Darwinian views of human society, and reductionist scientific methods. By challenging scientific “fact” with spiritual scientific descriptions of supersensible phenomena, the Threefold Farm initiative offered Americans a new gospel of nature.