William Bartram: The Search for Nature’s Design – Selected Art, Letters, and Unpublished Writings
Edited by Thomas Hallock and Nancy E. Hoffman
The University of Georgia Press, 2010, 520 pages

Reviewed by Claudia Broman

William Bartram: The Search for Nature's DesignWilliam Bartram (1739-1823) was much more than a botanist.  He was an influential philosopher and thinker in colonial America whose unorthodox views of life’s interconnectedness filtered through his interests in nature and exploration.

Thomas Hallock, assistant professor of English at the University of South Florida, and Nancy E. Hoffman, adjunct professor at Villanova University, explore these lesser-known aspects of William Bartram in William Bartram: The Search for Nature’s Design.

The book, which presents previously unpublished material by Bartram, results in a more complete picture of the man behind many, if not most, of the botanical observations made in North America in the 1700s.

Bartram was the son of a self-taught botanist and lived on a farm in Kingsessing township in Pennsylvania.  For four years in the 1770s Bartram gathered botanical specimens on an exploratory tour of the southeastern United States.  His observations were published in the book Travels in 1791.

Correspondence included in The Search for Nature’s Design traces Bartram’s botanical adventures in chronology.  His previously unpublished papers cover botany, medicine, geography, gardening, native culture, slavery, environmental protection, commerce, aesthetics, philosophy, and religion.  Illuminated journal entries and botanical illustrations depict the natural detail of the 18th-century America Bartram observed.

William Bartram: The Search for Nature’s Design provides contextual depth for a man who continues to influence the nature writing, botanical, and horticultural movements in the United States today.

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Learn more about William Bartram by reading Lucy Rowland’s article, “America’s ‘First’ Rare Plant: The Franklin Tree” from Terrain.org Issue No. 18.

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Claudia Broman lives in Ashland, Wisconsin. Her poetry has appeared in Writing Nature: An Annual of Fine Nature Writing and Drawing.

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