Ted Steinberg, Space, and the Greater Themes of this Course

Ted Steinberg’s work Down to Earth: Nature’s Role in American History definitely made me think more about the greater themes in this class, and helped me solidify my constantly fluid opinions I’ve developed this semester. This is a perfect book for our class to finish the semester with, as it ties everything we have studied together with how it connects the environment and the history of the United States.  While one could argue that we should have started the course with this book, I don’t believe I would have appreciated Steinberg’s work as much without having read the previous works in this class.  Steinberg makes a number of bold proclamations about how the environment shaped American history (ie: the environment in Indonesia impacting America, as Brandon mentions below).  I don’t believe I would have bought some of the connections he made when I first entered this course, however, because of how we have looked at environmental history from multiple angles, I was thoroughly convinced by Steinberg’s claims.

While we have spent a lot of time in this class discussing things such as what the term natural means to us and how it has changed, I believe the biggest thing we should take away from this class is a greater understanding of how the natural world and environment (regardless of how you define them) have shaped the world we live in.  People usually worry about the future of the environment (as they should), yet they overlook the role it has had in the past, and we were able to fully appreciate that in this class, especially with Steinberg’s work.

I really enjoyed Manish’s discussion of space in his blog post, as the closing space in the modern world is why the environment is changing drastically so quickly, with human’s ability to close the gap between spaces with advanced transportation.  I found it interesting as the idea of humans closing the gap in their westward expansion and privatization of the land applies specifically to my final paper.  When the government built the Boulder Dam (now Hoover Dam), they felt that they could privatize and expand in Arizona and Nevada despite the desert environments by building a man-made reservoir.  While they were able to help create some semblance of sustainable life, their lack of foresight into how a fully grown city in that area would not be able to thrive in an environment despite what the dam provided.  Just like “King Cotton came back to bite [the South] in the end” (98), the government’s hubris and desire to close the space has resulted in a city that has struggled through water scarcity issues.

While I have (and still do) see nature as an interaction between humans and the environment and cities as a new form of nature, the lack of space complicates this greatly.  I think the modern environment is one in which human’s have a greater role, and cities have developed as a result, however the questions Manish poses and Steinberg doesn’t answer as to “What should we do with things such as trash? Where would pollution go?” are not answerable as long as humans continue to privatize space and insist on a more dominant role in the greater environment.  Human’s greater role in nature is inevitable, but people need to start living in greater harmony with the other elements of the natural world or soon they will feel the consequences. While I don’t have an answer to the issue with the closing amount of space, I don’t believe preserving national parks or doing anything similar that separates humans and the environment completely is a good idea.  Somehow, human’s need to reach a point in which they interact with the environment rather than dominate it, but this is a pipe-dream, and most likely the environment will fight back at some point and human’s will feel the consequences (maybe the crumbling ozone?).

The Political Impact of Natural Disasters

Henry McKiven Jr. studies the political impact that natural disasters have had throughout history in his article “The Political Construction of a Natural Disaster: The Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1853.”  McKiven begins by discussing one of the more recent examples of a natural disaster being used to push a political agenda, Hurricane Katrina, and how the left pushed the idea that the storm revealed entrenched institutional racism.  While Katrina is a well-known example of a national disaster being used in greater politics, McKiven argues that disasters have had this role throughout history, and he presents the example of the Yellow Fever epidemic in nineteenth century New Orleans.

The epidemic occurred at a time of political upheaval in New Orleans local political.  In the 1850s a reform movement was developing, but it was split among those who saw immigrants as the root of political corruption and those who thought the nativist leaders were at fault, while both took issue with the Democrats in power.  The Yellow Fever epidemic broke out during this strife, and the nativist reformers blamed it on the poor hygiene of immigrants while the more open-minded reformers recognized the greater hygienic problem and proposed solutions.  The Democrats in power contended that it was likely to be contained in poor neighborhoods, as the affluent were exempt, but eventually the disease started to spread to all classes.  The government at that point had to act, but it was too late and it hurt their public standing, as McKiven writes “the press shifted its attention from the habits of newcomers and poor German and Irish immigrants to the failure of past governments” (740).  While the split in the reformist movements between nativist and the less bigoted continued, the Young America faction was able to make a difference in the end, and political reform did take place as a result of the disaster.

Tying this natural disaster together with Katrina is easy because they both took place in New Orleans, and there were those who were accused of racist beliefs in both cases.  While McKiven makes a greater argument about the political impact of natural disasters, I found his argument effective, as he traced the developing political opinions during the course of the disaster as new knowledge was learned, and showed how it made direct connections to the developing conflict between the reformers and the Democrats in power.  However, since McKiven was writing in 2007, his argument does not apply a more recent natural disaster in Super Storm Sandy.  I may have just been oblivious to any conflicts that took place, but I saw the disaster as more bringing people together politically than creating conflict, especially with members of opposing parties President Obama and Governor Christie (before more recent embarrassments) working harmoniously.

Like Brandon, I also found the note in Steven Biel’s introduction that there were no wars discussed in his book interesting, especially because I read it after McKiven’s article.  While McKiven’s article was technically not about a war, it was about a conflict that could be described as a political war, and the main point of the piece was that natural disasters were used in these political wars.  While McKiven’s work does not relate specifically to the statement because Biel is talking about literal wars, I still found it interesting as in my mind while reading about the conflict in New Orleans, I thought of it as a kind of war.

Chicago’s Place on the Frontier, and Looking at First and Second Nature

Parts II and III of William Cronon’s Nature’s Metropolis expand upon Cronon’s telling of the story of Chicago from an environmental history perspective.  In part II, Cronon tells the stories of the production, commodification, and transportation of grain, lumber, and meat and how they evolved along with the evolution of Chicago.  In part III, Cronon looks at Chicago geographically, discussing the importance of the city’s location and how the expansion of industrialization westward affected the growing frontier.  I found the organization of these two parts, and his book as a whole, effective.  Cronon tries to tell the story of a city with his book, and the fact he was able to do so while not telling a chronological story is impressive, and in the end made the work more effective as a work of environmental history.

I found Cronon’s further discussion of the railroad impact in the west interesting and a valuable expansion of his discussion in part I.  He discusses the railroad’s impact on Chicago and the surrounding areas in depth in part I, but in part II he writes that the railroads helped instigate the destruction of the bison, something we have already read about in this class.  The railroads made going out and hunting the bison easier, and having a metropolis to bring the bison back and make money only motivated people further to hunt the bison and accelerate their destruction, and at the same time negatively impact Native American life.  He also compares the pre and post railroad worlds in the west, showing how the railroad helped merchants in many ways and wasn’t overwhelming the frontier country but instead bringing them closer together.

Throughout his work, Cronon looks at nature as two types, first and second nature, with first nature being what would exist without any outside intrusion and second nature being the world build upon first nature.  I didn’t love this definition after reading part I, and still don’t after reading parts II and III.  In part II, Cronon does a good job of showing how nature and humans interacted through Chicago with the commodification of elements of nature, but in doing so he weakened the notions of first and second nature.  For Cronon, first nature would be trees in a forest, and humans collecting the trees for lumber and using it commercially would be a result of second nature.  While this is a clear example of humans “dominating” nature and theoretically fits into his classification of nature, as Ian mentioned below, humans worked in harmony with nature in the transportation of the lumber.  By separating nature into two separate spheres, it ignores the concept of humans working in harmony with nature, even if in the example Ian presented humans shaped the environment.  I also agree with Wade in my complaint about this definition, as using first and second nature works in some cases, but it leaves no room for something in between (or Cronon fails to do so) like when something natural becomes a commodity.

Humanity’s Domination of Nature in “Nature Incorporated”

Theodore Steinberg’s Nature Incorporated for me helped further enforce the idea that humanity and nature coexist in his discussion of the industrial growth in New England and its interactions with water.  Steinberg discusses the relationship between nature and society, both economically and legally, and in doing so shows how humans coexisted with nature by controlling it, but despite this control, the nature could counteract it as humans became dependent on it (ie: water/typhoid fever).

Throughout this class we have looked at how nature and humanity have interacted and coexisted, and Steinberg brings in a new perspective.  William Cronon discussed in Nature’s Metropolis the economic relationship between nature and human urbanization with the railroad system, seeing railroads as natural.  Steinberg creates an economic relationship between nature and human urbanization as well, but with a more obvious component of nature (water).  He effectively argues how water instigated economic competition and made water a privatized commodity controlled by man.

At first glance I thought Manish’s connection between War Upon the Land and Nature Incorporated was a stretch, as in the former there was a clear distinction between nature and humanity while in the latter I read the two as one and the same.  However I bought the connection once Manish argued that nature was a setting in Steinberg’s work, not a character, a point I find intelligent that helps explain how humans could try and control nature yet be a part of it.  The idea of nature as a setting rather than a separate actor allows humans to exist within it, even if the human element has negative effects on the prior existing environment.

A lot of this discussion has been centered on human’s “conquering” of nature in Nature Incorporated, and I believe that this “conquering” is just indicative of humanity’s greater role within the environment, not human’s overtaking the environment.  As Emily noted in her post this idea of domination is reinforced with Steinberg’s word choice, yet I interpreted Steinberg’s points as industrialization being another stage of nature’s evolution.  Throughout human history people have used elements of nature to survive, whether it be collecting lumber or hunting for sustenance.  For me, Steinberg’s discussing of humanity and water convinces me further that urbanization and industrialization is nature and that human’s new usage, dependence, and privatization of water is just a new role water is playing relative to societal evolution, and that the domination is a sign of humanity’s greater role within the environment.

As Ian wrote in his discussion of the chapter “Fouled Water,” industrialization had a clear negative impact on the environment through pollution.  The effect on water obviously was a negative one, and Steinberg is critical of this industrialization.  I believe that despite the negative effects human had on the New England environment, that doesn’t mean that the humans moving in and industrializing the area means they are not a part of the environment, but instead a dominant part.

Nature as a separate entity in “War Upon the Land”

Lisa Brady provides a unique perspective on the Civil War with her environmental history War Upon the Land, as she effectively portrays the importance of the landscape during the Civil War as well as how both the Union and Confederacy approached the environment.  However, while her argument is still convincing, I disagree with how she defines nature as a completely separate entity from human society.  In her eyes (as Manish noted) nature no longer exists once altered by humans, and that once human’s affect nature it becomes an “agroecosystem.”  Brady’s definition of nature doesn’t change her argument all too much, as the argument about the control of nature of the North and the coexistence of nature of the South are unaffected, yet as it pertains to this class, I can’t help but be thrown off by how she disregards humans as a part of nature.

As Manish wrote below, the different perceptions of wilderness were a key element to Brady’s work, and I agree with Manish’s assessment that the Union’s control over the landscape was a result of the industrialism in the North.  I disagree that these attempted manipulations of the landscape were a bad thing, however, but instead believe that the North’s manipulation of nature was indicative of the changing landscape of the world and how human’s were playing a greater role within nature than they were previously.  The South may have been in harmony with nature (if you consider them different entities), yet their society was reliant on the widespread production of products grown from the earth (tobacco, cotton, etc.) that were reliant on the archaic institution of slavery.  Slavery is a part of human society, but as humans progressed and began realizing it was wrong in the 19th century (evidenced by countries across Latin America abandoned the institution throughout the century, most of which abandoned it before the US), the rise of industrialism occurred at the same time.  With the South’s coexisting with nature, as humans in rural society’s had done forever, they were also rooted in institutions like slavery.  As humans began to make their mark on the environment with the growth of cities and technology, immoral institutions slowly have disbanded.  I apologize as this paragraph has reached “rant status” so I’ll sum up my thoughts briefly: Brady seems to portray the South’s relationship with nature as a positive thing and the North’s approach to nature (and the toll it takes on the environment) as a negative, where I believe that humanity and nature go hand in hand, and as humans become more involved in nature, humanity has become more moral due to the greater communication and control of the landscape.

The Civil War was a battle between the developing North and the unchanging South, and the result of the war left the much of the Southern landscape in ruin.  I believe that humanity is part of nature, and that the result of the war was just a further expansion of the urbanizing society.  Brady’s work effectively pointed out how the landscape played a role in the War with the different sides, yet her portrayal and definition of nature still bothers me.

The Flawed Methodology with Mythological History

Richard Slotkin’s The Fatal Environment is a study of the myth of the American frontier, as Slotkin analyzes the myth extensively using 19th century literature, setting the frontier up as a divider between Metropolises and the native wilderness.  The study is convincing enough, but Slotkin runs into the same issue that any historian has when studying a cultural myth: how to prove that the myth had an impact over an entire culture rather than specific sections of society.

This is a problem I encountered while writing my thesis last semester.  I attempted to argue that the collapse of the mythological aspect of baseball with the reveal that the Yankee hero Mickey Mantle was an alcoholic and a womanizer, that that helped propel the festering cynicism in the 1960s that began with the JFK, RFK, and MLK assassinations as well as the Vietnam War.  As I began researching, I immediately regretted my undertaking, as proving the cultural impact that a myth has over society is not easy.  Relative to my study, I tried to argue that because of baseball’s place in American culture, the collapse of the mythology affected the greater American public, yet clearly there were Americans who could care less about baseball, or who could care less about the mythological aspects of the game.  For Slotkin, his argument is solid and easy to accept as fact, yet it is also easily contestable because of how he uses literature as representative of American culture.  This undertaking is impossible to do completely, as there were sections of society who had no interest in what was happening in the west (and as Henry pointed out, who could not read), yet Slotkin claims that with the literature, the frontier mythology is encompassing of American culture.

This point is reaffirmed in Henry’s below post, as he concurs that just a snapshot of a culture cannot interpret the national consciousness of America.  I also did not consider the era, as Henry smartly points out the illiteracy in America made the novels and stories of the time even less influential, further weakening Slotkin’s contention.

Unfortunately for Slotkin, if he lessened his claim and stated instead that the literature had some influence, his argument becomes weak, yet because his claim is encompassing, it is currently flawed.  Slotkin does a good job of providing as much evidence as possible, but regardless of how many stories supported his argument, someone could still say that assuming that the frontier mythology represented the whole nation’s consciousness is an over-the-top claim.

While flawed in its methodology, looking past these concerns I found the work rather convincing, and its approach as an environmental history intriguing.  Slotkin adds an interesting wrinkle to the definition of nature, as he creates a polarizing distinction between the wilderness full of savage Indians and the metropolis expanding into the wilderness.  While creating the distinction, as Ian states below it allows for male heroics within nature, therefore allowing humans as actors within nature.

Adding to the definition of nature through “The Destruction of the Bison”

Andrew Isenberg’s The Destruction of the Bison is an interesting in many respects, but I found the most intriguing element to be how Isenberg defined nature. Isenberg discusses defining nature with respect to environmental history in his introduction, in which he acknowledges, “Most environmental historians imagine nonhuman nature as a dynamic agent in human history, inherently prone to unpredictable changes in climate, vegetation, and animal populations” (11). Isenberg believes this is a flawed definition, and with respect to his work, it would mean that humans solely caused the extinction of the bison. He contends in his work that it was much more than humans that led to the extinction of the bison, and in doing so is contradicting the approach of many environmental historians.

In our class, we have discussed at length the definition of nature, whether humans are included in nature, whether cities are another form of nature, and whether natural environments can be defined by a human culture (European settling versus Native American roaming). Isenberg brings in a new wrinkle, and has once again influenced how I would personally define nature. I came into the class believing that Davidson’s campus, full of trees and open spaces, was not natural because humans artificially constructed it. As we have progressed through the class, I have begun to believe that humans themselves are a part of nature and that modern cities are just the advancement of a new type of nature. Isenberg has reinforced this belief in me with his contention that bison became extinct because of environment they lived in as well, the economy, and also the role both Europeans and Native Americans played. By including the environment’s role in the bison’s destruction, it strengthens the notion (at least in my mind) that human’s influence on the harming of natural environments is in itself natural, and a consequence of the advancement of human societies. Also, while some may argue that the colonization and destruction of Native American culture was destroying an environment, by taking into account both the roles of Euroamericans and Native Americans in their destruction, Isenberg displays how by both being involved in the bison’s destruction that the idea that Native American’s lived of the environment more than colonists is overplayed (but still true I would contend). While Isenberg’s main theory is to show that nature is a changing landscape that can be altered without human intervention, he strengthens my belief that humans themselves are equally a part of the environment.

I found Manish’s take on the work rather interesting. The idea that Native Americans were similar in their desire for status debunks many of the points made by Bushman in The Refinement of America, as it shows that the idea of status and refinement may have had European elements for early Americans, but that it is more so human nature than any direct influence that caused the refinement of America. I thought Manish’s description of how the desire for status led to the fall of Native Americans as it led to increased contact with Americans was well done, and makes me think about how greed can both cause cultures to succeed and in the Native Americans’ case, potentially cause them to fall.

Supplementary Reading: “The Accidental City: Improvising New Orleans” by Lawrence Powell

Lawrence Powell’s work The Accidental City: Improvising New Orleans is a comprehensive story of the development of a major American city that had a number of environmental and social factors standing in its way.[1]  The pairing of Richard Bushman’s The Refinement of America: Persons, Houses, Cities and Powell’s work is interesting, as the books both discussed the European influence on cultural growth in America yet, they told rather different stories.[2]  Bushman writes about the refined nature of American culture, while Powell chronicles the unrefined development of a city that arguably should never have developed.  Together, these books add to the historiography of American cultural colonial growth as influenced by the European influence present in the growing new world, but Powell’s is more informative due to his focus on a specific location, which allows him to delve deeper into his research.

Bushman’s work is not an environmental history, but rather a cultural history in which he analyzes the growth of gentility in America, what it meant to members of different social classes, and how it eventually spread among the lower social classes.  Bushman emphasizes the importance class had for wealthy Americans, as it was central to defining who they were and allowed them to identify themselves as superior to those with less money.  Bushman uses descriptions such as “mansions divided society” to further get his point across.[3]  He then goes on to describe how at the turn of the century, ideas of gentility spread among the lower classes, as the idea of showing wealth (or greater wealth than one actually had) was of the utmost importance in American culture.[4]

Powell tells the story of New Orleans in the eighteenth century, exploring how the city came to be and the struggles it went through to become what it was at the beginning of the nineteenth century.  Powell studies the cities origins beginning with the rise to prominence of John Law and Jean Baptiste Le-Moyne, Sieur de Bienville and the decision to make New Orleans the center of the Mississippi Company.  He discusses how essential Bienville was to the growth of New Orleans as a French colony, as Bienville “possessed the political skill and savoir-faire that usually served him well during his almost forty-year span of leadership in French Louisiana.”[5]  Bienville was ambitious in his pursuit of New Orleans’ existence that it “came at the cost of his job, and eventually his lands, though he later regained both.”[6]  Powell continues by writing about how the city came together, and how it was designed to be a place of order and balance influenced by the enlightenment, but that failed along with Bienville’s leadership in the Chickasaw Indian War, which led to his permanent return to France.[7]  Powell then writes about how smuggling and contraband were essential to New Orleans development, straying from the pure ideals the city was supposed to embody.[8]  He then discusses the transition of New Orleans into a Spanish colony, but explained how New Orleans “remained stubbornly French in ethos and identity.”[9]  As the book progresses, Powell focuses more on the racial composition of New Orleans, including the rise of the Creole community.[10]  He also discussed the history of slavery in New Orleans, which “was never static.”[11]  Slavery in New Orleans differed from other parts of America because of the focus on sugar plantations and was further complicated by the slave uprising in Haiti.[12]  Powell analyzes the slave lifestyle as well, providing anecdotes of their experience, like when he says, “the enslaved of the New Orleans region coped with the repressiveness engendered by the revival of the plantation system… through song and religion, and through the community building that ensued from family formation.”[13]  Powell ends his history of New Orleans with the transfer of power from Spain to France, and then from France to the United States, and with the future (with plenty of racial oppression) on the horizon.

The environmental elements of these works are in stark contrast with one another.  Bushman has almost no intention of touching on the physical expansion of the United States but instead focuses on how America progressed culturally.  Powell, on the other hand, is not necessarily trying to create an environmental history, but due to the nature of New Orleans growth, the environment is an essential element.   Powell has a clear affection for New Orleans but is not afraid to be critical of it, as he writes how poor of a location it was to build a city.

Geographers and historians are fond of characterizing New Orleans as ‘the impossible but inevitable city.’  The site was dreadful.  It was prone to flooding and infested with snakes and mosquitoes.  Hurricanes battered it regularly.  Pestilence visited the town almost as often.[14]

Despite all this, New Orleans had a great advantage in terms of its development, and that was its location at the mouth of the Mississippi River, making it an ideal center for trade.  This is one of the central points that Powell attempts to dissect with his study, explaining how New Orleans was seemingly a horrible location to build a city, but the ability for it to become a center of trade allowed it to thrive and grow.  By being at the mouth of the Mississippi River, New Orleans became a cultural hub and overcame the size and swamp-like characteristics that made it such a non-ideal location.  Powell’s work is a genuine piece of environmental history in this way, even if this discussion is a byproduct of Powell’s desire to tell the story of New Orleans.  While Powell touches on the cultural, economic, and environmental growth of New Orleans, Bushman focuses just on the cultural and economic side of American history.  Elements of environmental history linger in The Refinement of America but are subtle and the ideas are not expanded upon.  Early in the work, when discussing the materialism among the gentility, Bushman writes about the contrast between the homes of different social classes: “Weather-beaten to a gray-brown and huddled among a motley assemblage of similarly dulled outbuildings, the predominant log house blended with trees and fields.  The red brick, two-story house by contrast stood out against the land.”[15]  Here Bushman writes about how the ideas of ‘new’ and ‘clean’ represented class, while the natural, weather-beaten houses of old we seen as inferior.  Bushman could have expanded on this idea of artifice being superior to natural, but he chose not to make that a central point.  New Orleans is a city where it is impossible to ignore the environmental factors in its growth, but Bushman’s work misses out on the environmental aspects of gentility that could strengthen his argument.

Powell spends a significant amount of time while focusing on the culture that was trying to be fostered versus the culture that was created during the city’s development.  Powell writes that New Orleans’ development occurred while the French “crown and court were experimenting with visionary projects for reorganizing the economy and addressing the ‘social problem,’” and that the layout of the city originally was “almost a textbook example of the Enlightenment mania for balance, order, and clarity.”[16]  This idea of European culture influencing the creation of a societal hierarchy is shared in The Refinement of America.  A central theme of Bushman’s work is the influence English culture had over America’s developing social ladder, and it is the same influence that the French attempted to translate from their culture into New Orleans.  However, in New Orleans, the intended influence did not last (although it persisted in other ways).  Powell explains that each group of people “had ideas of their own about what constituted a community,” and as a result “utopianism collapsed into a puddle” and that “few in Paris objected when the crown transferred Louisiana to Spain during the waning days of the Seven Years War.”[17]  The European influence failed in the end to impose its societal values on New Orleans, but both Powell and Bushman relate in that they both display how the colonial powers attempted to dictate the formation of American culture.

Powell and Bushman’s works also relate in how they show that the European impact on the developing social hierarchy can only last for so long.  In New Orleans, a number of factors in place prevented the city from embodying the Enlightenment ideals of structure that the French desired.  The growth of the creole culture, the changing ideas towards slavery and development of sugar plantations, and the small size of the city all factored in.  One large factor that Powell discusses is how the original makeup of the city was composed of forced migrants from Paris, and that any city where the population is composed of people who did not arrive willingly will not likely fall into their desired, structured roles.[18]  The hierarchy desired by the upper class as written about by Bushman also failed in its goal to create a distinction between the wealthy and those with less money.  Bushman writes how during the nineteenth century, the middle- and lower-classes focused on creating the appearance of class, as their “desired goal was respectability.”[19]  The importance of gentility that was fostered was intended to separate the wealthy from the supposedly inferior, but as time wore on, the lower classes began creating the illusion of gentility and the separation dissipated.  In both scenarios, the European influence failed to persist, and are examples of how strong a colonial influence can be at first, but how it can fail due to the physical distance in between the colony and parent country.

While studying the growth of American cities, it is almost impossible to ignore the environmental impacts on their growth.  Lawrence Powell wrote The Accidental City because of his passion for New Orleans, and he wanted to give its growth justice.  He embraced the environmental history, discussing how brutal the conditions of New Orleans were but also how its geographic location was essential for trade purposes.  Some of his strongest arguments came in his discussions of race, but if he had avoided the natural aspects, he would have written an incomplete history.  Bushman’s work is still successful, but it is weaker than Powell’s as he does not take advantage of the opportunity to discuss gentility and the environment.  In the end, both works tell stories about colonial influence, but that influence only tells part of the story.


[1] Lawrence N. Powell, The Accidental City: Improvising New Orleans, (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2012)

[2] Richard Bushman, The Refinement of America: Persons, Houses, Cities, (New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1993)

[3] Bushman, 25

[4] Bushman, 207

[5] Powell, 2

[6] Powell, 59

[7] Powell, 60-91

[8] Powell, 164

[9] Powell, 164-165

[10] Powell, 197

[11] Powell, 222

[12] Powell, 249

[13] Powell, 248

[14] Powell, 2

[15] Bushman, 15

[16] Powell, 60

[17] Powell, 92

[18] Powell, 69-70

[19] Bushman, 208

Final Paper Topic

Las Vegas: The Vast Desert of Entertainment

Las Vegas is known for it’s massive Casinos and wild nightlife, and is the biggest city in a state composed almost entirely of desert.  I would like to explore how the city of Las Vegas developed, as it started as a railroad town for people heading west and grew into the monstrous city it is today.  Las Vegas began to grow at a time when Cuba served the role that Las Vegas serves many today, and I would like to explore why it became such a popular replacement to the tropical paradise of Havana.  Also, the Hoover Dam was built in the 1930s and was a massive man-made like, and exploring how this nearby man-made structure helped influence such a massive city of lights would be an intriguing path to study.  There is also the obvious Manhattan Project of the 1940s, and exploring how that altered the outside ecosystem as well as how bringing scientists to the city affected the growth is another element I could research.

Cronon and the “Concrete Jungle”

William Cronon’s Nature’s Metropolis provided a new take on nature that other scholars we have read thus far have strayed away from, that the growth of cities and existence of nature can coexist.  I found William Cronon’s Nature’s Metropolis especially interesting because it expanded on some of the questions I posed as a discussant for The Great New Wilderness Debate.  The first two questions I posed were “Is the ‘concrete jungle’ of cities its own form of wilderness?” and “Is modern society and western culture artificial or just advanced/evolved nature?”  After reading the first part of Nature’s Metropolis it seems apparent that Cronon does believe that Chicago’s metropolis is a “concrete jungle” and that modern society (not necessarily the artificial aspects) is an advanced form of nature.

As Ian stated below, many of Cronon’s points have to be positioned around the idea that cities are the next step in ecological evolution, and that premise alone indicates that Cronon believes that the ‘concrete jungle’ is just a new form of nature.  However, he does not believe that it is artificial.  Cronon’s belief that the surrounding nature and ideal location of Chicago makes the city’s growth an ecological evolution contradicts with the idea that I initially proposed, that a city was artificial.  This goes to Henry’s point below, and how one defines nature.  Henry brings together a key element of Cronon’s argument well: “People generally take nature to refer to features of the earth that are there independent of any manmade processes. However, to Cronon, saying that something is “natural” means it is referring to something that seems to be in its normal place.”  By this definition, nothing in a city is artificial because it is a system of interconnected pieces, and because something is composed of elements initially derived from nature, it is just a further ecological expansion.

Ian makes a good point building off of this, that “So many perceive nature to be something void of human contact and interference, yet there is probably no location on Earth that has not been inhabited by humans at some point in time.”  It is this point that really helps me buy into the idea that a metropolis and nature do not have to be exclusive.  Humans are a part of nature, and the fact that they have advanced further than other natural elements (and have started to use those elements in ways that harm parts of nature) doesn’t make modern society unnatural.  Humans should try and preserve the nature they are harming, but as culture has evolved so has nature, even if for the worse.