Men in Nature and the Nature of Men: Forging Masculinities Outdoors in the Age of Empire, c. 1870-1970
Nature is and always has been a site for various professional and recreational activities considered to be particularly ‹masculine›. In recent years, a growing body of literature in gender studies has pointed out that what is considered the ‹nature of man› was never just a fixed biological ‹truth›, but rather the result of discursively constructed, historically shifting and contingent notions of masculinity ideals. Men and boys pursuing ‹manly› outdoors activities such as exploring and hunting, exercising or camping were thus themselves influenced by their surroundings in forging their identities. Encounters with other men, animals, environments, or diseases in nature were occasions in which historically evolved ideals of masculinity were being forged, tested, negotiated, challenged and transformed. This proves to be particularly true for colonial outdoor settings, where men met beyond the boundaries of ‹race› and ‹class› in from a European perspective foreign and at times unpredictable environments. On the one hand, struggles to control or distinguish oneself in ‹unknown› outdoor spaces posed a major threat to seemingly hegemonic European masculinities. On the other hand, the construction of collective masculine identities, for example through the ‹effeminization› of indigenous men, proved to be a powerful discursive tool of colonial powers in claiming Western superiority. In gender studies as well as in global history, however, the construction of masculinities has received comparatively little attention so far, despite the fact that a majority of sources about nature in the colonized world reflect male experiences and perspectives.
The panel builds on preliminary discussions in the course of the conference «Forging Masculinities Outdoors. Open-Air Experience and Homosociality in the Age of Empire (c. 1850-1950)», held at ETH Zurich in September 2021. The panelists explore how masculinities were reinforced, challenged and reconstructed in colonized outdoor spaces in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The individual contributions focus on different masculine outdoors activities in the Age of Empire such as hunting, warfare, or sports. Taken together, the contributions investigate the multi-faceted ways in which men of diverse national, ethnic, and class backgrounds negotiated claims to power and identity in and through nature.
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