Cultivating the Wild :
William Bartram's Travels
A Documentary for Television
More than two centuries have passed since the publication, in 1791, of botanist William Bartram's Travels. Many consider the book the first great example of American literature. Travels fostered the development of a truly American strain of natural history, transcending scientific boundaries to deeply influence the writers and intellectuals of the time. Bartram’s text continues to ignite the imaginations of those who love nature and the thrill of discovering its character and mystery.
From 1773 to 1777 William Bartram traveled across the Southeast, from North Carolina south to Florida and west to the Mississippi, finding a landscape that would be almost incomprehensible today. Far more than a mere catalog of the region’s flora and fauna, Bartram observed both the landscape and early American society. A Pennsylvania Quaker considered the “South’s Thoreau," Bartram possessed a reverence for all aspects of nature. The opening lines of Travels demonstrate Bartram’s style and worldview.
“The attention of a traveler, should be particularly turned, in the first place, to the various works of Nature, to mark the distinctions of the climates he may explore, and to offer such useful observations on the different productions as may occur. Men and manners undoubtedly hold the first rank--whatever may contribute to our existence is also of equal importance, whether it be found in the animal or vegetable kingdoms; neither are the various articles, which tend to promote the happiness and convenience of mankind, to be disregarded.”
Wolves, deer, bears, panthers, and alligators populated the landscapes of Bartram’s Travels. He canoed along sparkling rivers, traversed savannas decorated by vast expanses of wildflowers, and marveled at birds everywhere, noting them as “the study of priests and philosophers."
Bartram’s writings and observations, however, were not limited to cataloging plants and animals. Travels contains some of the earliest descriptions of the culture of both the Cherokee and Creek Indians. A moral visionary, he wrote on the lives of the south’s Native Americans, countering the notion of the “savage” in need of civilization.
The documentary film Cultivating The Wild: William Bartram’s Travels is both a scholarly examination of the scientist’s life and work as well as a meditation on what has come to pass in the more than two hundred and twenty years since Travels was written. Today, the south’s natural resources suffer mightily from neglect and exploitation. The film, by focusing on both Bartram and select “modern day Bartrams", the people today who continue his work and philosophies, will make a committed stand for our living but vanishing world.
Production, Part I (completed)
Seeded by a $5000 grant from the Wormsloe Institute for Environmental History in Savannah, Georgia, production began in 2015. Preliminary interviews were conducted with the following noteworthy Bartram scholars, authors, and naturalists.
Dr. Casey Blanton - Professor Emeritus, Daytona State College
Author, Travel Writing: The Self And The World (Routledge Press) Editor, Journal of Florida Studies, Daytona Beach, Florida
Dr. Kathryn E. Holland Braund – Hollifield Professor of History, Auburn University
Author, William Bartram on The Southeastern Indians; and Deerskins and Duffels: The Creek Indian Trade with Anglo-America, 1685-1815 (University of Nebraska Press)
Sam Carr – Chair, Putnam County Bartram Trail
Coordinator, Bartram Trail Conference, Palatka 2015
Dorinda G. Dallmeyer - Director, Environmental Ethics Certificate Program, University of Georgia
Editor and contributor, Bartram’s Living Legacy: The Travels and Nature of The South (Mercer University Press); Past President, Bartram Trail Conference
Dr. Thomas Hallock - Associate Professor, University of South Florida St. Petersburg
Editor (with Nancy E. Hoffmann), William Bartram, The Search for Nature's Design: Selected Art, Letters, and Unpublished Writings (University of Georgia Press)
Dr. Nancy Hoffmann - Department of English, Villanova University
Editor (with Thomas Hallock), William Bartram, The Search for Nature's Design: Selected Art, Letters, and Unpublished Writings (University of Georgia Press); Editor (with John C. Van Horne) America's Curious Botanist: A Tercentennial Reappraisal of John Bartram (1699-1777)(American Philosophical Society)
Andrea Wulf - Garden writer, New York and Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, Sunday Times
Author, The Brother Gardeners: Botany, Empire and the Birth of an Obsession; Founding Gardeners: The Revolutionary Generation, Nature, and the Shaping of the American Nation; and Chasing Venus: The Race to Measure the Heavens (all from Knopf).
Production, Part II
(Winter 2016-Spring 2017)
During this time the production will document the work, lives and philosophies of scientists, naturalists, artists, and scholars, filmed on location in and around the Bartram Trail in Florida, Georgia and Alabama. The effort is to prompt viewers to consider what has been gained and lost in the 225 years since Travels was first published. During this location production phase, the following individuals will be profiled:
- James Holland – Environmentalist, Darien, Georgia
James Holland spent years on Georgia’s Altamaha River fishing, hunting, and working its coastal reaches as a commercial crabber. In 1999, he began serving as the first Altamaha Riverkeeper, finding new purpose in protecting the river and raising awareness about its plight.
In 2005 Holland was named River Conservationist of the Year by the Georgia River Network, and one of the Most Influential Georgians by Georgia Trend magazine.
- Philip Juras - Artist and essayist, Athens, GA
A native of Augusta, Georgia, Philip Juras has long been interested in the natural landscape. In 1990 he received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in drawing and painting and in 1997 a Master of Landscape Architecture degree, both from the University of Georgia. Now living in Athens, Georgia, Philip focuses primarily on remnant natural landscapes that offer a glimpse of the Southeast before European settlement.
In 2011 his paintings were published in Philip Juras: The Southern Frontier, Landscapes Inspired by Bartram’s Travels. The book earned Philip the Georgia Author of the Year Award in the Specialty Book category from the Georgia Writers Association.
- Dr. J. Drew Lanham - Professor of Wildlife Biology, Clemson University, Clemson, South Carolina
J. Drew Lanham is a native of Edgefield and Aiken, South Carolina. In his twenty years at Clemson University he’s worked to understand how forest management impacts wildlife and how human beings think about nature. Dr. Lanham holds an endowed chair as an Alumni Distinguished Professor and was named an Alumni Master Teacher in 2012.
As a Black American he’s intrigued with how culture and ethnic prisms can bend perceptions of nature and its care. His “connecting the conservation dots” and “coloring the conservation conversation” messages have been delivered internationally.
- Janisse Ray - Author, naturalist, and environmental activist, Reidsville, Georgia
Writer, naturalist and activist Janisse Ray is the author of six books. She holds an MFA from the University of Montana, and has been awarded two honorary doctorates, one from Unity College in Maine and the other from LaGrange College in Georgia. In 2015 she was inducted into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame.
Her memoir Ecology of a Cracker Childhood, about growing up in a junkyard on a ruined longleaf pine ecosystem, was published by Milkweed Editions in 1999. Essayist Wendell Berry called the book “well done and deeply moving.” Anne Raver of The New York Times said of Ray, “The forests of the South find their Rachel Carson.”
(Fall 2017 - Spring 2018)
Post-production will take place in Florida and Georgia and includes:
- transcription and logging of all footage
- review of interviews and dialogue by the producers
- dialogue editing, review by producers
- design and creation of animations, titles and graphics illustrating the narratives and passages of Travels
- fine cut, sound mix