Associate Professor Mike Bryson lingered over a book in a Rogers Park neighborhood and happened upon a new topic of research. That book was by Leonard Dubkin, a “Chicago Urban Nature Writer,” as Bryson shares in his blog.
Bryson began an in-depth research project on Dubkin, including interviewing Dubkin’s daughter to flesh out his understanding of the 20th century naturalist writer. The project culminated recently in an article entitled “Empty Lots and Secret Places,” published in the Winter 2011 issue of Interdisciplinary Studies of Literature and the Environment. It’s a fascinating article that discusses Dubkin’s representations of urban nature, as well as Bryson’s concept of “Chicago Wilderness.” Bryson writes,
” . . . the concept of Chicago Wilderness encompasses additional meanings. It embraces the notion of human ecology, in the dual sense that people are recognized to be not just an important component of urban ecosystems, but also an instrumental force in conserving, restoring, and (as in Dubkin’s case) documenting the landscape. It provides a political and rhetorical framework for doing scientific research, developing policy, fostering education and public outreach, and undertaking conservation and restoration work. By including a diverse array of stakeholders in these processes (scientists, politicians, educators, entrepreneurs, students, and citizen volunteers), the activity of Chicago Wilderness breaks down the barriers between professional and amateur, young and old, and city and suburb. Most importantly—and of greatest relevance to Dubkin’s lifelong project of representing Chicago’s natural history—it undercuts the false dichotomy between ‘city’ and ‘nature’ by redefining the wild as an inherent property of urban nature, rather than something antithetical to the city environment.“