Phoebe Kropp

Andrew W. Mellon Penn Faculty Fellow in the Humanities

20062007 Forum on Travel

Phoebe Kropp

Associate Professor, History, Penn

Travels in Nature: Camping Out in America

Whether by necessity or pleasure, many kinds of American travelers have camped out. Migrants on the Overland Trail, soldiers in encampments, itinerants without lodging, and many others have found themselves sleeping in tents or under stars out of necessity. Beginning in the late 19th century, camping as a form of travel grew to be a popular leisure pursuit, changing from an elite holiday to a broadly shared cultural taste and state-sponsored activity enjoyed by millions of Americans every summer. The rise of leisure camping incorporated shifting conceptions and confluences of nature and culture, consumption and technology, gender and the family, and travel and tourism in the United States. What do those relationships mean? Why, for example, have cars become the ideal conduit to untrammeled wilderness? Why has specialized gear become necessary to experience nature? And, why has renting a government-owned picnic table and plot of ground become the basis for an excursion into freedom? Do travel experiences reinforce or challenge conceptions of nation, family, and nature? Why are some forms of tourism encouraged, even subsidized by the state? For this book project, Prof. Kropp will address these questions, examining campers as both historical actors in creating camping as a social activity and economy, and as narrators by inscribing the experience with both personal and cultural meaning.