A People's History of Leisure Studies: The Great Race and the National Parks and U.S. Forests





Eugenics, Race, Madison Grant, Gifford Pinchot, Charles M. Goethe


For some time, researchers have discussed the relationship of the National Park Service (NPS) and other parks, parks and recreation, and outdoor recreation entities’ cultural engagement through a lens of needed and improved management that emphasizes culturally diverse outreach programming, but that also is aimed at a greater awareness of social marginality and the preponderance of racial preferences. While Santucci, Floyd, Bocarro, and Henderson (2014) particularly explored the potential influence of the organizational culture of the NPS for maintaining a traditional culture resistant to diversity-related changes as an effort on truly diversifying its staffing, programming, and outreach, there has never been a call to examine the historical influences of the culture of the NPS, the United States Forest Service (USFS), the overall environmental movement, and even our very conception of outdoor recreation within the leisure studies and recreation service provision literature. What is presented here is a discourse-historical approach of authored texts as primary sources of conservationist, preservationist, and interpretation legends, Gifford Pinchot, Madison Grant, and Charles M. Goethe (among others). The article calls into question as to how their natural history, biological anthropology, and preservationist ideological lens influenced their philosophical articulation of conservation, preservation, and interpretation. In particular, Grant worked on matters of preservation synergistically in tandem with his eugenics beliefs, as chiefly articulated in the eugenicist tome, The Passing of the Great Race (1916a). This seminal eugenics text informed Western interests in racial nativism, and highlighted the intersection of conserving “the best” in nature and among humanity. While Grant and Goethe’s relationship with eugenics has had more exposure, there has not been a reckoning of their views, as well as the views of Pinchot within leisure research and recreation practice. It is evident in taking a discourse-historical approach in examining these primary sources that the purity of race, enforced reproductive encouragement of the fit and the reproductive restriction of the unfit along racialized gender lines, were the most important factors in determining the fate of populations and the environment (The National Conservation Commission, 1909). The aim here is to highlight Pinchot, Grant, and Goethe and to focus on the social injustices that they advocated as a basis to highlight the calls of social justice through this special issue and by way of the work of others who have championed the need for social justice perspectives within leisure studies and parks and recreation service delivery against their various ideals. 

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Author Biography

Rasul A. Mowatt, Recreation, Park, & Tourism Studies, Indiana University

Recreation, Park, and Tourism Studies

Associate Professor





Special Issue: Social Justice Issues in Park and Recreation