Subject: Social Studies, Science
Experience and Outcomes: SOC 2-02a, SOC 2-03a, SOC 2-06a, SCN 2-20a, SCN 2-20b
John Muir was an activist and advocate for the protection of nature throughout his life. He is remembered by many for his dedication to protecting beautiful landscapes and unique natural places, and his work has had a lasting impact on ecology and conservation. He is often referred to as 'the father of national parks' in America for his work to protect natural spaces from commercial activity, and he wrote about the importance of being in nature for wellbeing.
Learning activity: historical activists
But John Muir wasn't the only individual campaigning for the protection of nature during 19th century and early 20th century. Other activists and naturalists working at the same time as Muir include:
- Gavin Maxwell (20th century) was born in Scotland and worked as a writer and a spy. He travelled and wrote about the nature he saw on his adventures. He was especially fond of otters and even took some home to live with him. He called his otters Edal, Teko, Mossy and Monday, and had a species of otter named after him.
- John Edmonstone (19th century) was a taxidermist and teacher. A taxidermist was someone who made sculptures out of animals after they died so people could see what they looked like and better understand them. He grew up as a slave and moved to Scotland from South America to build his taxidermy business. He was very successful and taught students (including Charles Darwin) at the University of Edinburgh.
- Mary Rose Hill Burton (19th century) was an artist who lived in the Highlands. She lived in a time when not many women were allowed to go to university but she studied art anyway and travelled to Japan to paint the natural landscape. She protested big businesses who wanted to build over the rivers and forests near her home and drew pictures of the scenery so it would be remembered even if it was destroyed.
Split your class into groups and ask them to research one of these historical figures to see what else they can find out about them. Ask the groups to feedback to the class.
Extension activity: contemporary activists
With climate change, deforestation and destruction of habitats being key issues of the 21st century, there are many individuals and activists working hard to protect nature and our planet.
After researching historical activists and their legacy, ask pupils to research contemporary activists. Pupils may be familiar with figures such as Greta Thunberg, but there are many others working all over the world to protect indigenous communities. Indigenous peoples are among the first to face the direct consequences of climate change, due to their dependence upon, and close relationship with, the environment and its resources. Climate change exacerbates the difficulties already faced by indigenous communities including political and economic marginalization, loss of land and resources, human rights violations, discrimination and unemployment. You can read more about this on the United Nations website.
Books such as We Have a Dream: Meet 30 Young Indigenous People and People of Colour Protecting the Planet or Young Enough to Save the Planet are great places to start when researching contemporary activists.
Other individuals that your pupils could research include:
- Dr Mya Rose-Craig, also known as Birdgirl
- Lesein Mutunkei and his Tree for Goals project
- Dara McAnulty, a conservationist working in Northern Ireland
- Sumak Helena Siren Gualinga, an Amazonian activist fighting against oil companies
Ask pupils to write a short paragraph about the activist they have chosen to research, and share it with the class. Each pupil could share one reason why they like this activist. Why do they find them inspiring? What is their cause and why is it so important? Create a display of all the incredible individuals working hard to protect our planet. End on a class discussion of what pupils have learnt from these individuals, and what they can do to protect the planet.
Reflecting on learning:
- Had learners heard of activists working at the same time as John Muir?
- Were learners aware of the huge diversity of young people working hard to save the planet?
- What did pupils learn about their chosen activist?
- Name historical activists working at the same time as John Muir
- Talk about a diverse range of activists working to protect nature and the planet today
- Have an appreciation of the contribution that individuals are making to scientific discovery and climate change and the impact this has made on society