Dr. Timothy Lewis
The Navigator

Weighed down by the heartless workings of global capitalism, a food supply increasingly subject to genetic modification, and a popular culture equal parts violent and vacuous, some people today choose a radical alternative. They have gone ‘back to the land,’ with the aim of building a simpler, healthier, more authentic life in a rural setting. Yet this desire to escape the evils of modernity for the humble simplicity of the countryside is nothing new. The history of North America from the colonial era to the present day is replete with ‘back to the land’ movements.

Dr. Anna Atkinson and Dr. Toni Smith of the VIU Department of English will explore this topic when they kick off the fifth year of VIU’s popular Arts and Humanities Colloquium Series on Friday, September 27 from 10am-11:30am in the Malaspina Theatre (bldg 310). Their free public lecture entitled “Back Before We Got There: North American Back-to-the-Land Narratives” will focus on the wide variety of past and present writings that work to idealize the ‘good life’ in the backcountry.

Atkinson and Smith point to prominent 19th-century American poet/philosopher Henry David Thoreau’s influential book, Walden; or, Life in the Woods as a prime example of a written work that popularized the idea that a stripped-down agrarian existence held the key to restoring our essential humanity. However, Atkinson and Smith believe that scholars need to “interrogate the nostalgia for a simpler, pre-industrial past” that lies at the heart of North America’s many back-to-the-land narratives. They also wish to turn a critical eye toward other factors that have inspired North Americans, past and present, to seek out the rural hinterland in search of renewal.

For example, Atkinson says we need to explore “the motivations of those who have sought to build rural-based, utopian religious communities.” Similarly, Smith finds the on-going appeal of the “idyllic, Little House on the Prairie model of the homestead” particularly intriguing, especially in light of its “colonial roots and questionable ecological soundness.”

A time for questions and discussion will follow Atkinson and Smith’s presentation. Everyone is welcome to attend and join in the conversation. Refreshments will be provided, and, again, there is no admission charge.

The Arts and Humanities Colloquium Series highlights the impressive research being done by VIU faculty through the presentation of admission free public lectures open to students and the general public. The series continues on Friday, October 18 when Professor Jay Ruzesky from the Department of Creative Writing and Journalism will present “Amundsen Then and Now: The End of Heroic Exploration 1912,” a reflection on the Antarctic journey taken by Ruzesky in 2012 in honour of the groundbreaking expedition that his ancestor Roald Amundsen had undertaken one hundred years earlier.

For more information on the Arts and Humanities Colloquium Series, contact Dr. Timothy Lewis at 250-753-3245, local 2114 or Timothy.Lewis@viu.ca