Savage Country: Humanity’s Changing Relationship to the Idea of Wilderness


Wilderness is a term often used to describe natural areas that seem to be untouched by humans and conjures up images of towering mountains and untouched forests. This course examines the history of this controversial idea and debates about wilderness in a time of environmental crisis. Through a study of history, literature, philosophy, painting, and photography, it explores why we see certain landscapes as wilderness and how these ideas have created our romantic views of landscapes. We explore past and present debates about whether wilderness suggests humans should be separated from nature and some natural areas and how it can ignore human histories. We will also examine contemporary arguments about rewilding conservation and this includes a field trip to the Knepp Rewilding Estate in Sussex, and ask whether wilderness is a useful or helpful concept when arguably no areas are wild, pristine places untouched by human hands.

This course is part of the Inspiring Oxford summer school.

Programme details

Seminars meet each weekday morning, with afternoons free for course-related field trips, individual study, or exploring the many places of interest in and around the city.


What is wilderness? 

In this first session we will explore the history of the idea of ‘wilderness’ and why it is controversial amongst environmentalists, historians, and philosophers. We will discuss and dissect a selection of key examples of supposed wilderness areas from historical, literary, artistic and ecological perspectives as well as trace the use of the term. Going back to old ideas, in biblical tales and medieval maps, of the wildernesses as remote, barbaric places, we will trace the idea to the present day where wilderness has become valued and romanticised. 


Romantic landscapes and remote lands 

In this session we will explore how the image of a wilderness was constructed at particular moments by painters, writers and photographers. From travellers such as William Wordsworth who wrote accounts of the Scottish Highlands to photographers such as Ansel Adams who captured vast American landscapes, romantic visions of landscape made wilderness something valued and valuable. At the same time, we will explore how such images may have ignored other human histories in these places by imagining them as remote and empty.  


Humans and Wilderness 

Wilderness has come to be associated with areas set aside for nature, as well as recreation, such as the national parks in the US and other conservation areas. In this session we will look at the history of wilderness areas, studying topics such as the 1964 Wilderness Act in the US and the writings of John Muir, and examining the contemporary reality of wilderness tourism. We will explore debates about whether nature (seen as the living/non-human world) should be separate from culture (the human world), and if wilderness can only be protected if it is pristine. 


Restoring wilderness  

With a field trip to the rewilding estate of Knepp, Sussex we will explore how some contemporary conservation efforts are focusing on rewilding initiatives that aim to restore lost wilderness. We will discuss what idea of wilderness they want to restore (what plants and animals are brought back for example), as we visit the site, and discuss debates about whether rewilding is excluding people from the landscape or if it is helping the living world recover.


Wilderness in age of environmental crisis 

In the final session we will discuss what wilderness might mean in an age of environmental crisis and what new wilderness areas might be created in what is known as the Anthropocene. Several commentators have said there are no real wilderness areas left in the current crisis whilst others have said we can imagine new “post-human” wildernesses left by abandoned industrial sites and crumbling ruins where nature is recovering.  

Field Trip
Destination: Knepp Rewilding Estate 


Excursion Rating: Moderate - up to two hours' walk on even ground or up to an hour's walk on rough and/or steep ground or up lots of stairs and steps. 


Description Costs
Fee option 1 (single en suite accom and meals per person) £2370.00
Fee option 2 (single standard accom and meals per person) £2040.00
Fee option 3 (twin en suite accom and meals per person) £2220.00
Fee option 4 (no accom; incl lunch and dinner per person) £1685.00


Please note there are no sources of funding (scholarships, bursaries, etc) available for applicants.


All fees are charged on a per week, per person basis.

Please be aware that all payments made via non-UK credit/debit cards and bank accounts are subject to the exchange rate on the day they are processed.

Payment terms

If enrolling online: full payment by credit/debit card at the time of booking.

If submitting an enrolment form: full payment online by credit/debit card or via bank transfer within 30 days of invoice date.

Extended stay fee

Participants staying multiple, consecutive weeks will be charged an additional bed and breakfast fee for the cost of the Saturday night between courses.

Cancellations and refunds

1. Cancellation by you

Participants who wish to cancel must inform the Programme Administrator in writing: by email to, or by post to Inspiring Oxford, OUDCE, 1 Wellington Square, OXFORD, OX1 2JA, UK.

The following cancellation and refund policy applies in all cases:

  • Cancellation within 14 days of online enrolment / payment of fees – full refund of all fees paid. 

  • Cancellations received up to and including 30 April 2024 – OUDCE will retain an administration fee of £100 per week booked; all other fees paid will be refunded.
  • Cancellations received between 1-31 May 2024 – OUDCE will retain 60% of the fees paid; the remaining 40% of fees paid will be refunded.
  • Cancellations received on and after 1 June 2024 - no refunds will be made under any circumstances.

Where course fees have been paid in currencies other than pounds sterling, refunds will be subject to the exchange rate on the day they are processed.

2. Cancellation by us

Where there is good reason, OUDCE reserves the right to cancel a course by giving you notice in writing at any time before the course is due to start. In these cases, we will endeavour to offer a transfer to another available course if practical and acceptable to you, subject to payment or refund of any difference in course fees. Alternatively, we will refund the course fees that you have already paid. If we cancel a course, our liability is limited to the fees that we have received from you; this means that we will not compensate you for any pre-booked travel costs or any other expenses incurred. The status of this course will be reviewed on 1 May 2024. If it is likely that the course may be cancelled, anyone affected will be notified by email within 7 days; if you have not heard from OUDCE by 8 May 2024, you should assume that your course will be running. You may wish to delay finalising your travel arrangements until after this date.

OUDCE reserves the right to cancel a course at short notice in exceptional circumstances that would prevent the course from being delivered e.g. tutor illness. In these rare instances, and if we are unable to find a replacement tutor, we will notify you as soon as possible and arrange a transfer to another available Inspiring Oxford course. If we cancel a course, our liability is limited to the fees that we have received from you; this means that we will not compensate you for any pre-booked travel costs or any other expenses incurred.

Where course fees have been paid in currencies other than pounds sterling, refunds will be subject to the exchange rate on the day they are processed.

3. Travel insurance

All participants must purchase travel insurance to cover the programme fee, travel costs, and any other expenses incurred. OUDCE cannot be held responsible for any costs you may incur in relation to travel or accommodation bookings as a result of a course cancellation, or if you are unable to attend the course for any other reason. 


Dr Kat Hill


Dr Hill is a historian with particular interests in cultural histories of movement, environment, place and belonging. This has ranged from thinking about religious radicalism in the early modern world to global Mennonite migrations from the sixteenth to twenty-first centuries. Her current work is an interdisciplinary examination of the history and culture of bothies and mountain shelters in conversation with current debates about environmentalism, rewilding, land use and sustainability. Her work has been supported by grants and awards from the British Academy, the AHRC and the Leverhulme, including a Leverhulme Leadership Award. Her publications include the prize-winning book Baptism, Brotherhood and Belief (OUP 2015) and articles in numerous journals including Past and Present and German History. Recently she published a piece in Arcadia entitled ‘Golden Grains: Environmental Implications of Mennonite Migration to Kansas in the Late Nineteenth Century’ and has just completed forthcoming book called Bothy: In Search of Simple Shelter on the history and contemporary culture of mountain bothies (out spring 2024 with William Collins). She is also a Community Engagement officer for Highlands Rewilding.  

Teaching methods

Participants will be taught in seminar groups of up to 16 people, teaching methods used during this course may include:

  • Short lectures/Presentations
  • Physical handouts
  • Seminars/group discussions
  • Student presentations
  • Video recordings
  • Audio recordings
  • Field Trip

Assessment methods

There are no assessments for this course.


Registration closes on 22 May 2024. Courses can fill up fast so early registration is recommended.

Single accommodation may be booked online by clicking on the “Book now” button in the “Course details” box at the top right-hand side of the course page. 

If you would like a twin en suite room, please send us a completed enrolment form that names the other course participant you will be sharing with. Please note these rooms have limited availability.

If you experience any difficulties enrolling online please contact the Programme Administrator at

Level and demands

Inspiring Oxford is aimed at non-specialists: no prior knowledge is required, and classes are pitched at an introductory level. The courses are designed for an international audience aged 18 and over.


During your course you will stay in typical Oxford student accommodation at Brasenose College, in the heart of the city in buildings overlooked by the iconic Radcliffe Camera. Please note that bedrooms are modestly-furnished and do not have air-conditioning. 

You can find out more about Brasenose by visiting their website.

The following types of accommodation are available:

  • Single en suite
  • Twin en suite: shared between participants that apply to the programme together
  • Standard single: bathrooms are shared between, on average, four participants
  • a non-residential basis whereby participants can take classes and have lunch and dinner at Brasenose, having arranged their own accommodation elsewhere.

    Non-residential participants are encouraged to attend all aspects of the academic and social programme, and they have equal access to Brasenose as residential participants.

En suite rooms include private bathroom facilities (shower, washbasin and toilet).