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Journal ArticleDOI

Governing through nature: camps and youth movements in interwar Germany and the United States

01 Apr 2008-cultural geographies (SAGE Publications)-Vol. 15, Iss: 2, pp 173-205
TL;DR: In this article, the authors examine the history of youth camp development in Germany and the United States during the interwar period, arguing not only that such camps played a crucial role in the ways in which national societies dealt with their youth, but also that their history forces us to rethink relations between place-making, nationhood and modern governing.
Abstract: Focusing on youth camp development in Germany and the United States during the interwar period, this article argues not only that such camps played a crucial role in the ways in which national societies dealt with their youth, but also that their history forces us to rethink relations between place-making, nationhood, and modern governing. First, the article addresses the historiography of youth movements in relation to current debates about spatiality, nationalism, and governmentality. The main part of the article examines organized camps, in particular by the German Bunde, the Hitlerjugend (Hitler Youth), and the American Boy Scouts, focusing on their transition from relatively spontaneous activities of particular social movements, to objects of professional design, national-scale planning and intricate management in the interwar period. This development demonstrates how in the seemingly trivial activity of camping, nationalism is interwoven with the project of conducting youth through contact with natu...

Summary (1 min read)

Introduction

  • On 11 October 1913, more than two thousand young Germans came together on the Hohe Mei ner hills near Kassel to set up camp.
  • As such, youth came to be cast as the vanguard of a more ‘natural’ national culture that would reform German society.
  • Like the British, the American youth camps had an immediate success and quickly became the essential means to attain the movement’s objectives – individual character building, citizenship training and selfimprovement.
  • The article concludes by recapitulating how the youth camp, despite the divergent conditions in which it emerged, is embedded in a regime of relations between nature and society – constructions that serve as sources of modern power and means for governing.

Spatiality, Nationalism, and Governmentality

  • Historical study of youth movements is complicated not only by national cultures of history writing, but also by the question of what defines ‘youth’ and ‘movement.’.
  • Led by the persistence of youth camps across national and ideological boundaries, and the lack of spatial analysis in its current historiography, this article therefore focuses on comparing the youth camp developments of two national movements that have been particularly prominent in terms of camp development – namely Germany and the United States.
  • In response to the evocative yet fragmentary state in which Foucault’s theory remained at the time of his death, scholars in many fields have further developed governmentality as a central notion for the analysis of power in modern society.

Conclusion

  • National youth movements of different ideological stripe developed the youth camp as their central pursuit.
  • The analysis of German and United States youth camps has shown how national youth movements became concretely attracted to experiences of nature, how they constructed environments and cultural meanings of nature, and how the social practices of the youth camp came to figure as practices of conduct and control.
  • Youth movements in various Western nation-states during this time were tied to the ideologies of nationhood, coinciding with the gradual extension of national citizenship to the young individual.
  • They assumed responsibilities that were conventionally considered the domain of the nation-state: the education of young citizens, their social unison, and the civic justification of the nation.
  • Yet, despite these differences both movements brought youth in contact with nature, both deployed the natural environment to advance political and societal goals, and in doing so, both aimed at reproducing youth as governable subjects, amenable to the ideology and success of the nation-state.

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Governing through nature: camps and youth
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Cupers, Kenny
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Governing through nature: camps
and youth movements in interwar
Germany and the United States
Kenny Cupers
Harvard University
Focusing on youth camp development in Germany and the United States during the interwar period, this article
argues not only that such camps played a crucial role in the ways in which national societies dealt with their
youth, but also that their history forces us to rethink relations between place-making, nationhood, and modern
governing. First, the article addresses the historiography of youth movements in relation to current debates
about spatiality, nationalism, and governmentality. The main part of the article examines organized camps, in
particular by the German Bünde, the Hitlerjugend (Hitler Youth), and the American Boy Scouts, focusing on their
transition from relatively spontaneous activities of particular social movements, to objects of professional
design, national-scale planning and intricate management in the interwar period. This development demonstrates
how in the seemingly trivial activity of camping, nationalism is interwoven with the project of conducting youth
through contact with nature. Despite divergent contexts and political ideologies, youth camp development in
this period constituted a set of practices in which the natural environment was deployed to improve the nations
youth, and to eventually reproduce them as governable subjects.
Keywords: camps
governmentality
interwar Germany
interwar United States
youth movements
Introduction
O
n 11 October 1913, more than two thousand young Germans came together on the
Hohe Mei
ner hills near Kassel to set up camp. This event, which became famous under
the name Erste Freideutsche Jugendtag (‘first free German youth day’) brought together members
of a variety of youth movements, all of which had emerged over the previous two decades.
One of the main organizers was the Wandervogel migratory movement (‘bird’), an association
of bourgeois youth from Steglitz near Berlin, which had begun to undertake regular hiking
and camping trips in the nearby region. Officially established in 1901, it rapidly instigated a
nationwide movement of splintering and heterogeneous groups, loosely united by the idea of
an unbound experience of nature, and by a critical attitude towards what they saw as the
cultural problems of adult society.
1
Situated in the context of bourgeois anxieties in a
rapidly urbanizing and industrializing nation, this ‘back to nature’ impulse was not necessarily
reactionary: it was conceived as a search for a new modern and more authentic German
culture.
2
The sites for this spiritual search were the nations natural and historic landscapes, yet
it was the organized collective camping trip – symbolized by the Hohe Mei
ner gathering – that
cultural geographies 2008 15: 173–205
© 2008 SAGE Publications 10.1177/1474474007087498

174
cultural geographies 15(2)
provided the means to experience there. As such, youth came to be cast as the vanguard of
a more ‘natural’ national culture that would reform German society.
Around the time German youth movements established a camping tradition, youth camps
in the United States emerged within an entirely different context. After his travel to Britain
where he learned of the British scouting movement, Chicago publisher W.D. Boyce founded
the Boy Scouts of America in 1909 with the support of the YMCA.
3
Like the British, the
American youth camps had an immediate success and quickly became the essential means to
attain the movement’s objectives – individual character building, citizenship training and self-
improvement.
4
Already in 1908 Baden-Powell called the Scout movement ‘a school of
citizenship through woodcraft.
5
At this time however, taking youth into the outdoors was
not an entirely new practice in the United States: YMCA camping trips, as well as private
summer camps – notably in New Hampshire – had been organized since the mid-1880s.
6
Their organizers were motivated by the desire to remove children from the perceived
dangers and ‘moral corruption of the city, a theme that continued to guide them throughout
the Progressive Era.
7
Nevertheless, with the enormous popularity of the Boy Scouts of
America, a different motivation gained prominence, one that was supported by a novel rhet-
oric of generosity and generality: ‘The great aim of the Boy Scouts of America is to make
every boy scout a better citizen. It aims to touch him physically – in the campcraft and wood-
craft of the outdoor life in order that he may have strength in after days to give the best he
has to the city and community in which he lives, as well as to the nation of which he is a
part.
8
For the millions of participating young individuals, the activities of the youth camp –
hiking, putting up tents, preparing food in the open, playing games, listening to camp fire
stories, trails and so on – offered unabashed excitement and adventure away from school and
parents.
These brief episodes demonstrate the variety of ideologies and contexts that led different
national youth organizations at the beginning of the 20th century to collectively venture into
nature. Why were these groups attracted to experiences of nature? Which forms of subjectiv-
ity and collectivity did these experiences invoke? And how did this affect the relationship
between youth and the larger society of which they were a part? In spite of the ubiquity and
triviality of youth camps in contemporary culture, I aim to reveal its historical and theoretical
significance. In this article, I will argue not only that camps play a crucial role in the ways in
which national societies have dealt with their youth, but also that this ubiquitous activity forces
us to rethink relations between place-making, nationhood, and modern governing.
Despite important points of divergence, national youth movements across the Atlantic
were held together by a common set of social activities, many of which revolved around the
experience of the youth camp. Through common practices such as hiking, scouting and
setting up camp in the natural landscape, these voluntary associations – established on a
national scale and gradually under the aegis of the state – linked meanings of adolescence
and youthfulness to experiences of nature, while evoking feelings of community, nation
and/or citizenship. Rather than re-examine the nationalist ideology and nation-building pur-
poses of these youth movements, however, this article focuses instead on the role of their
spatial techniques and methods. Specifically, I am concerned with the social practice and the
designs of youth camps, as they provided the framework for the central formative experi-
ence of youth across the Atlantic. By comparatively examining the development of German

Cupers: Governing through nature
175
and US youth camps in the period between the world wars, I aim to understand the con-
tradiction between their national particularities and their overriding significance to construct
meaningful connections between youth, nation, and nature.
The article begins by addressing the historiography of youth movements in relation to
theoretical debates about spatiality, nationalism, and governmentality. In a second and third
part of the article, I examine youth camps, respectively in Germany and the United States,
from their emergence until the beginning of the Second World War. I focus on their transition
from relatively spontaneous activities of particular social movements, to objects of professional
design, national-scale planning and intricate management. This allows me to analyze the youth
camp as a consciously shaped social practice and as a built environment with a particular
internal logic and organization. The article concludes by recapitulating how the youth camp,
despite the divergent conditions in which it emerged, is embedded in a regime of relations
between nature and society – constructions that serve as sources of modern power and means
for governing.
Spatiality, Nationalism, and Governmentality
Historical study of youth movements is complicated not only by national cultures of history
writing, but also by the question of what defines ‘youth’ and ‘movement. Their history tends
to be divided along two axes, which correspond to differing political ideologies and to
nationally defined areas of study.
Much scholarly attention has been directed towards Germany, where a ‘fin-de-siècle culture
of adolescence’
9
and the imaginary of youthful individuals roaming freely in the natural land-
scape were generally understood as a reaction to the problems of a rapidly industrializing soci-
ety. Such studies tended to conceptualize youth movements as spontaneous associations of
unbounded individuals in the context of a cultural critique against the perceived falsities of bour-
geois society. Despite the fact that several confessional organizations for young individuals already
existed in Germany and other countries – such as the Young Men’s Christian Association – the
German youth movements were perceived to be the first in that they were organizations ‘for
youth, of youth and by youth.
10
This view is legitimated by a specific sociological conception
of a social movement as a voluntary association of free individuals, distinguished from hier-
archically organized or ‘ideologically oriented’ social groupings. As such, youth movements have
entered history as a typically German phenomenon, or at least a phenomenon that originates in
Germany.
11
A logical consequent step has been to align this uniqueness with a more general
German exceptionalism, marked by the specter of National Socialism and the rigidity of its tele-
ology. As such, a central question was whether the völkische
12
ideology of many German youth
movements meant they were direct predecessors of the fascist Hitlerjugend (Hitler Youth), or
whether they remained (innocent) organizations malignly appropriated by the Nazi regime.
13
While
this approach has undoubtedly enabled an subtle understanding of the historical continuities
between the prewar, the Weimar and the Nazi periods, it has also cast modern German history,
and the history of its youth movements, as incomparably different from others.
Other groups of scholars have diversified this history by focusing on different youth move-
ments, mainly from the perspective of national politics and political ideology. Such studies

176
cultural geographies 15(2)
contrast with some of the previous renderings in that they describe national youth move-
ments as hierarchically organized and controlled ‘from above. Questioning the previous defin-
ition of youth movements, they have focused on institutionalization, and have revealed youth
organizations’ disciplinary tendencies, nation-building ideologies, military provenance, and
social agenda. The main focus here has undoubtedly been the scouting movement: the im-
perialist agenda of the British Boy Scouts, the religiously inspired reform efforts of the Scouts
de France, and the character-building ideology of the American movements.
14
This historiography reflects a dichotomy in theoretical approaches to the subject: either
youth movements are defined as emancipatory movements – be they subsequently hijacked –
or they are cast essentially as disciplinary institutions with an agenda of social control,
pacification or reform. more recent scholarly work has provided a more nuanced
rendering of the power relations involved in youth movements, demonstrating among other
things: how masculinity is constructed and normalized in the American scouts movement;
15
how the radical political ideologies of the Hitlerjugend appealed to adolescents in search for
certitudes and attracted by adventure and escape from an often confusing social world;
16
how
Italian fascism effectively eliminated, through organized leisure, ‘any meaningful distinction
between force and consent’;
17
how conflicting agendas of social reform nevertheless gave French
working-class children the opportunity to experience vacations without sorrow.
18
While these historical studies have been remarkably successful in uncovering the complex
histories of various youth movements, further historical research, so I argue, would benefit from
a more conscious engagement with notions of locality, place, and the built environment. Despite
the very located character of these movements’ everyday activities, geographical notions have
figured only marginally in the historical accounts.
19
Recently, scholars have begun to address
this by focusing on the ‘cultural landscapes’ of various youth organizations. The historical
study of American summer camps by Abigail Van Slyck is particularly important in this
respect, since it offers a pioneering account of how their designs were shaped by middle-class
anxieties about modern childhood development, gender roles, class tensions and race relations.
20
Nevertheless, even in this excellent study the youth camp remains a ‘peculiarly American phe-
nomenon and in general, the bulk of existing studies continue to use the built environment
as an illustration – albeit a salient one from time to time – for the sake of a story that is ‘nat-
urally’ located at the national level. Yet, the fact that the youth camp emerges as a located
practice and spatial form in many Western nations during the first half of the 20th century,
calls for an alternative approach. Led by the persistence of youth camps across national and
ideological boundaries, and the lack of spatial analysis in its current historiography, this art-
icle therefore focuses on comparing the youth camp developments of two national movements
that have been particularly prominent in terms of camp development – namely Germany and
the United States.
In what follows, I examine their spatiality by focusing on camp development, techniques
and design, and on cultural constructions of place and nature. I have relied mainly on visual
representations and experiential descriptions for reconstructing this spatial history – leaflets,
publications, plans, and drawings by the youth movements themselves, photos collected by
others, and secondary sources. Despite these limitations, I have attempted to transcend the
representational realm of these sources, and have taken up the recent call for studying actors
and sites of what has been called ‘geographical practice.
21
Hence, I will focus on youth
Admittedly,

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Frequently Asked Questions (16)
Q1. What contributions have the authors mentioned in the paper "Www.ssoar.info governing through nature: camps and youth movements in interwar germany and the united states" ?

For more Information regarding the PEER-project see: http: //www. peerproject. 

discipline, obedience and manliness were the fundamental values of what was called the ‘cultural labor’ in the camp. 

94 Indian ceremonies, sleeping in tepees, and learning to canoe would help bring young white boys back to the land, and turn them into patriotic Americans. 

’30 Rather than a reciprocity between nation and self, the spatio-temporal practice of youth camping suggests that nation-building is but one ofseveral backgrounds against which subjectivities are formed in this process. 

The strict discipline of the British Boy Scouts also became a major influence: the Bünde took over the commandments and the ‘good deeds’ from international Scoutism and the Pfadfinder. 

By comparing youth camps situated in ideologically divergent contexts, the analysis has aimed to complicate the analysis of power in the process of place-making. 

As Philip Deloria, Shari Huhndorf and Susan Scheckel have demonstrated, for the pastcenturies Americans have needed Indians in order to define themselves as Americans.93 

Aimed primarily at boys, the experience of camping during two or three weeks in the summer was to leave an imprint of specific values, and was considered the ideal place for them to take the ritual step towards manhood: 

Of all the emerging youth organizations in Germany around the turn of the 20th century, the bourgeois Wandervogel movement had the strongest emphasis on the individual’s transformative encounter with nature. 

In correspondence with the Nazi notion of Heimatkundliche Schulung (homeland education)66 – for instance the camp fire stories about German battles of the nearby region which aimed to strengthenthe boys’ feelings of attachment to the temporary Heimat of the camp landscape – the hike figured as a form of ‘geographical practice’ aimed to demonstrate Nazi Lebensraum (living space theory). 

while the Boy Scout movement was certainly inspired by such earlier ideas, the modern youth camps of the 1920s were guided by a more comprehensive pedagogical motivation, in which girls had an equally important place and expanded the social meanings of nature and the outdoors. 

It is under this influence that the Bünde transformed the ephemeral camping practices cultivated by the Wandervogel into well-prescribed customs and events: the weekly Fahrt (short excursion), the yearly Gro e Fahrt (a two week hiking trip) with the Zeltlager (communal tent camp), and the rallies featuring sportive competitions between the different Bünde became well-known and popular activities in German public life. 

The Hitlerjugend hikes were goal-oriented and served ultimately as an exercise for the eventual expansion of the German Reich: ‘The important problems for the future of the German border area will always remain merely theoretical if [the German boys] do not actually experience this borderland. 

This process made it possible to simultaneously educate youth, to regulate its conduct, and to discipline its behavior, all while stimulating liberating contacts with nature. 

In the years following World War I, in stark contrast with the elite character of the prewar Wandervogel movement, and under the influence of international scouting movements that intentionally recruited from the lower middle-classes, the German movements gradually entered the domain of an emerging mass culture. 

The ideological differences between German and US youth movements, the divergent rhetoric of their leaders, and the contested meanings of camping have demonstrated that it is not a singular spatial technique, but a heterogeneous set of practices in which multiple relations of power interact.