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Writers are always trying to find that “hook.” It is that one sentence or caveat that gets a reader’s attention, keeps him or her entertained, and therefore unable to put the book down. I guess you could say Steinberg does exactly that. However, I am not so certain about my incapability of being unable to put the book down, but regardless of the book that is usually the case for me. Furthermore, Steinberg captures one’s attention with the satellite image of Earth and proceeds to explain how U.S. history books begin with an image of the states and ignore the history of how lands moved to form the nation we know today. These history books immediately talk of immigrants who arrived to the lands but hardly ever do these works explain how the land came to be in its current formation. Turn the page and there it is, the exact image of the U.S. that Steinberg warned us about. Does having that image four pages later really make that much of a difference? Is my notice of this trivial to the overall quality of his work? He mentions Pangaea, but then, in my opinion, does almost exactly what he criticizes textbooks of doing. Where is my history of Pangaea? Maybe I am being a bit picky here…
There are positives to Steinberg’s work. While it reads much like a textbook, I think that is helpful in getting historians, specifically younger historians at understanding the role environment plays in U.S. history. Human and environment interactions have been the major topic of this semester’s class. I think Chelsea makes a good point in her post from two weeks ago. She states, “I found it interesting that the conservation movement began when American lawmakers redefined what was considered legitimate uses of the environment.” When humans overstep their boundaries is when conflict between humans and the environment develops. However, humans are not always the ones who overstep a boundary. For instance, Steinberg mentions slavery and its inability to function in a cool climate. Thus, the South had the environment to support such a system. Nature allowed for the system, but it was man who allowed the system to happen.
This entire semester we have been trying to figure out the relationship between humans and nature. And even though I was critical of Steinberg’s introduction, I think he makes his readers understand that history cannot be told without all of the key players, and these key players do not always involve animate actors. The environment is not always the innocent bystander.
For a bit of praise–I commend Steinberg for the amount of information he manages to present in his relatively short “textbook.” Steinberg’s work is useful for grounding the many themes we have talked about this semester. Thankfully he did not do so in eight hundred pages.