Picturesque America, Romanticism, and the Development of Karst Science


  • Robert Brinkmann Hofstra University


The romantic movement heavily influenced the development of science in 19th century America. The Hudson River School of art, which idealized epic landscapes and grand vistas, had a big impact on the field of geology by providing tableaus on which geologists could imagine themselves as scientific interpreters of the heroic images. Within this context, the New York Publisher D. Appleton and Company produced a two-volume set of books in the early 1870’s that contained dozens of chapters and hundreds of images representing a number of places in America. The result, Picturesque America, was the first true geographical representation of the region after the devastating Civil War. Meant to highlight the best attributes of the cities and landscapes, the books contain some of the most romantic geographical images and texts ever published. The steel and wood engravings were done by some of the most noted artists of the time. An analysis of the images of karst landforms in the volumes is presented that suggests that most karst landscapes were not romantic enough to be of interest to the artists and writers. Instead, the focus was on the more dramatic landscapes such as canyons, waterfalls, and mountains. It is suggested that the unromantic character of karst landforms slowed the development of karst science.

Author Biography

Robert Brinkmann, Hofstra University

Director of Sustainability Studies, Department of Geography and Global Studies

Director of Sustainability Research, National Center for Suburban Studies