George Perkins Marsh was a 19th-century American diplomat, author, lawyer, scholar, and congressman. Many have credited him with founding the science of ecology.
Marsh was born in Woodstock, Vermont, in 1801. He took an early interest in
observation and in nature and, throughout his life, wrote about the importance of seeing what is present before the observer.
He adopted this principle himself and, later in his life while an ambassador to both Italy and Turkey, he observed over-grazed and deforested lands. This was the inspiration for his famous book, Man and Nature: Physical Geography as Modified by Human Action. This book emphasizes the effect of humans on the environment. In Marsh's view,
every human move disturbs some aspect of nature, thus producing an unfit home for its inhabitants.
However, despite his view of humans as agents of destruction, Marsh was a humanist and suggested that humans use their power over nature in a productive way. He sought to emphasize the importance of restoring the harmonies of nature.
Marsh had a large impact on American governmental proceedings at this time. His views on deforestation convinced the U.S. Congress to establish a
federal forest commission. Similarly, on the issue of irrigation, Marsh's efforts led to the creation of the Bureau of Reclamation, while his pleas for land preservation influenced later environmentalists, such as John Muir and Aldo Leopold, in their campaign for wilderness areas.
Marsh was one of the first to realize the negative effects that humans can have on the environment. He
conveyed his concerns through his writing and his influence on governmental organizations, thus laying the foundation for future restoration and preservation efforts. Marsh died in 1882.
The George Perkins Marsh Institute