The rise of environmental studies is an acknowledgment that the surround plays a larger and more fundamental role in human history than previously understood. Nonetheless the meaning of ‘environment’ and of its representations is far from settled. One point of contestation is the significance attributed to the discourses of nature, and in particular American naturism as a body of writings and conceptual frame for the environmental humanities. This article argues that the conceptualization of space provides a useful corrective to the predominant understandings of literary naturism in the United States. It re-contextualizes naturism in light of the geo-historical development of western societies and explores the development of American environmentalist thought through a re-reading of works by Frederick Jackson Turner and Roderick Nash.