History ETDs

Publication Date

Spring 5-11-2019


The impacts of national parks do not stop at their borders, and neither should their histories. Located less than a day’s drive from California’s biggest cities, Yosemite National Park remains a product of their combined influences. “Urban in Nature” is a relational history of the park and its nearby metropolitan areas like Merced (70 miles away), Berkeley (180), San Francisco (200), and Los Angeles (300).

Since the advent of the automobile Yosemite has been a mirror of the state’s urban areas, rather than an escape from them. Passenger cars drove Yosemite’s urbanization in two interconnected ways. Firstly, increasing amounts of tourist traffic in the early 1900s forced National Park Service personnel to construct increasingly sophisticated built environment; this process is especially evident in Yosemite Valley, a spectacular chasm containing waterfalls, sheer cliffs, and—most importantly—tens of thousands of humans at any given time. Secondly, automobiles served as cross-pollinators between the park and urban California, facilitating a statewide exchange of ideas, architecture, and political allegiances. In both its physical form and its connections to other cities, Yosemite Valley became “urban in nature.”

This study expands the political, economic, and cultural significance of areas that are often considered escapes from urban industrial society. I argue that, on the contrary, places like Yosemite are integral parts of the world outside their gates. It has become common to bemoan the level of development in America’s national parks, but I argue that we must acknowledge their connections with urban spaces in order to reach a more nuanced understanding of the interdependency between nature and civilization.

Level of Degree


Degree Name


Department Name


First Committee Member (Chair)

Virginia Scharff

Second Committee Member

Jason Scott Smith

Third Committee Member

Fred Gibbs

Fourth Committee Member

Chris Wilson




environmental history, national parks, Yosemite National Park, California history, history of the automobile

Document Type


Included in

History Commons