More of the Same


Warning: Undefined variable $num in /home/shroutdo/public_html/courses/wp-content/plugins/single-categories/single_categories.php on line 126

Warning: Undefined variable $posts_num in /home/shroutdo/public_html/courses/wp-content/plugins/single-categories/single_categories.php on line 127

I was browsing the news recently and came upon the article, “The Landscape-Scarring, Energy-Sucking, Wildlife-Killing Reality of Pot Farming,” by Josh Harkinson. This article is about “your wilderness on drugs,” and describes how illegal ganja farmers in California nature preserves do great harm to the environment by damming streams, using rodenticides, and intimidating forest service officers. Because pot cultivation is still illegal in California, the government is unable to establish regulations or agricultural infrastructure tailored to the industry’s specific needs. I was drawn to this article because it touches on a lot of the themes we discussed in class this semester. The mostly illegal flow of capital resulting from the expansion of the marijuana industry has changed the landscape of the California wilderness. Like Justin mentioned in his post on Jacoby, the conservation movement in America has been a tale of binaries. In this tradition, we are now seeing a similar binary. The social measures keep marijuana illegal, which is also scientifically antithetical, now threatens scientific considerations in the form of damage to protected ecosystems.  In the future I believe we will see histories much like Jacoby’s on this subject.

Steinburg Does It All


Warning: Undefined variable $num in /home/shroutdo/public_html/courses/wp-content/plugins/single-categories/single_categories.php on line 126

Warning: Undefined variable $posts_num in /home/shroutdo/public_html/courses/wp-content/plugins/single-categories/single_categories.php on line 127

Ted Steinburg’s all-encompassing book Down to Earth: Nature’s Roll in American History is a sweeping environmental history of America. This is worth pointing out as a merit because this is the first we’ve read with so broad a scope, seeking to include pretty much all of the themes we have examined in American environmental history thus far. I like how he begins the book with a geological history of the land spanning back to the formation of North America out of Pangaea, which shows how our landscape is made up of the same stuff as the other continents. This is also cool because Steinburg takes us from there to the BP oil spill.

I would agree with Manish that space is an important theme in both Steinburg’s work and in this course. We saw in Nature’s Metropolis how capitalism spawned the first skyscrapers in Chicago and annihilated space and time to increase efficiency. In Steinburg this has also come to include waste management, which is still an issue of space today (168).

A Subaltern Environmental History


Warning: Undefined variable $num in /home/shroutdo/public_html/courses/wp-content/plugins/single-categories/single_categories.php on line 126

Warning: Undefined variable $posts_num in /home/shroutdo/public_html/courses/wp-content/plugins/single-categories/single_categories.php on line 127

Karl Jacoby’s Crimes Against Nature is a history that strives to take a look at the underbelly of the Conservation movement in American history. His “bottom-up” approach chronicles the evolution of a moral ecology which straddles the fence between official conservation standards and traditional ecological practices. I would say that this reminds me of the populist politics class I took last semester, except the fact these areas being conserved by the government were too sparsely populated for effective populist action. As a result, the conflict was very one sided and Jacoby notes that the history reflects this as an environmental crusade waged by the “pantheon of Conservationist prophets” (1).

Like Wade, I was also reminded of our discussions about the role of capitalism in shaping environments while reading this book. What I found most interesting about Jacoby’s take on this, however, is the unconventional intersection of morality and capitalism. In this class, the focus when discussing capitalism has been primarily the economic and ecological aspects. Unfortunately, the chances of morality and capitalism working together to create a better method of conservation as they remain “separate guiding stars in a dark night sky” (198).

Chicago’s Purifying Flames


Warning: Undefined variable $num in /home/shroutdo/public_html/courses/wp-content/plugins/single-categories/single_categories.php on line 126

Warning: Undefined variable $posts_num in /home/shroutdo/public_html/courses/wp-content/plugins/single-categories/single_categories.php on line 127

In “Faith and Doubt: The Imaginative Dimensions of the Great Chicago Fire,” Carl Smith discusses how two clusters of beliefs arose from the flames of Chicago’s great fire of 1871. From it came a belief in Chicago’s transcendent purpose as a sort of divinely sanctioned landscape with boundless potential and a special place in history. The other belief was a worry that at any moment, places like Chicago could explode into anarchy if the social order weren’t carefully guarded. After the Chicago fire occurred, residents and interested parties across the country recognized the needs for a city to have stable society. For many concerned citizens, the fire was an act of God purifying the city of sin and allowing those left to start anew on moral high ground.

This reading is strongly related to Henry’s in that natural disasters came to be an indication of God’s judgment in the American conscience. Though Smith didn’t mention it, I thought that Henry’s point about Bradford’s “City upon a hill,” and American exceptionalism would have been pertinent. Indeed some citizens believed Chicago to be this “City upon a hill.”: “Bright, Christian capital of lakes and prairies/Heaven had no interest in the scourge and scath;/Thou wert the newest shrine of our religion,/The youngest witness of our faith” (135). In this line of thought, Chicago is no longer unique, and the Great Fire fits into a larger narrative about the relationship between God and America rather than God and Chicago.

War on the Mississippi


Warning: Undefined variable $num in /home/shroutdo/public_html/courses/wp-content/plugins/single-categories/single_categories.php on line 126

Warning: Undefined variable $posts_num in /home/shroutdo/public_html/courses/wp-content/plugins/single-categories/single_categories.php on line 127

In War Upon the Land, Lisa Brady seeks to show us how much nature influenced Northern incursions on Southern soil during the Civil War. According to her, nature influenced Northern strategy in key regions a great deal. For this reason, she labels nature as an historical agent with the power to shape human decisions. She doesn’t go as far as Linda Nash in ascribing some sort of consciousness to nature, but she does manage to tie nature to both strategy and the war’s causes.

Manish’s point about the significance of perceptions of land usage and wilderness ties Lisa Brady’s argument to larger 19th century ideas of progress and industry. These cultural ideas about nature informed the Generals Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan’s strategic planning. This includes the idea that control over nature is possible through the application of science and technology. In this context, agriculture presents a means for improving or civilizing nature. And most important of all, despite these perceived powers over nature, controlling nature is difficult and liable to be undermined in an inexhaustible variety of ways. For example, despite all of the North’s successes in canal building over the course of the 19th century, Sherman wrote of the Siege of Vicksburg, “The Mississippi River was very high and rising, and we began that system of canals on which we expended so much hard work fruitlessly” (43).

William Cronon’s Changes in the Land


Warning: Undefined variable $num in /home/shroutdo/public_html/courses/wp-content/plugins/single-categories/single_categories.php on line 126

Warning: Undefined variable $posts_num in /home/shroutdo/public_html/courses/wp-content/plugins/single-categories/single_categories.php on line 127

In Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England, Cronon uses a two-pronged approach to understand how the ecological and cultural changes in New England during colonization. The changes in modes of production between Indian and European dominance are central to his thesis, which contends that the complex ecological and cultural relationships are tied directly to the influence of capitalism in early America. Capitalism drove the most robust changes in not only how the Europeans treated and organized the land, but also how the New England Indians reacted to these changes. Though, “capitalism and environmental degradation went hand in hand,” Cronon makes it a point to show that the Indians also shaped their environment, for better or for worse, just as the Europeans did. (14)

To construct an ecological history, the backbone of evidence came from descriptions made by travelers and naturalists. Part of the difficulty in using this wealth of information was judging both their naturalist skills and ideological commitments. (6) Also, the patchwork nature of local descriptions means they cannot be perfectly representative of a regional landscape. Another source is court, town, or legislative records, but they are more vague. However, these can still be used for relatively accurate accounts of deforestation, the keeping of livestock, conflicts between Indians and colonists over property boundaries, the extermination of predators such as wolves, and similar matters.

For Cronon, part of the challenge of writing this book was using ecological evidence outside of the historical discipline. For example, Ecologists have analyzed tree rings, charcoal deposits, rotting trunks and stumps to discover the history of New England woodlands. (7) Archaeological evidence can be used to assess human interactions with their environment over time. He does a very convincing job at seamlessly weaving the different disciplines together.

Changes in the Land is split into six different sections pertaining to the ecological transformations of New England. The first section focuses on Indian manipulation of the landscape before European contact. He emphasizes that while Europeans first encountering New England believed that they were seeing forests and habitats unchanged by humans, the environment had in fact been modified by the same people for over 10,000 years. Rather than being passive beneficiaries of a virgin landscape, the Indians (and later the Europeans) “sought to give their landscape a new purposefulness, often by simplifying its seemingly chaotic tangle.”(33) The most significant instance of this was the practice of periodically burning the underbrush to make the topography more manageable on foot. The Indians of Southern New England also practiced agriculture, resulting in an ecological patchwork.

The periodicity of New England’s temperate ecosystem resulted in a mobile way of life for the Indians. However, “English fixity sought to replace Indian mobility.”(53) The Indian way resulted in more ephemeral housing and landscape alterations. When the English settled in what were empty settlements, the Indians returned with the season to find the place they knew was gone. The conflict was over two ways of living and using the seasons of the year, and it expressed itself in how two peoples conceived of property, wealth, and boundaries on the landscape.

The landscape was directly affected by different concepts of property and ownership. The Indian idea of property involved co-ownership, or basically no ownership, and resulted in open forests pockmarked by communal fields tended by the women. The English idea of ownership introduced hedges and fences, and established roads and massive pastures for domesticated animals. The deforestation that went along with the English concept of property ownership and land usage changed the ecosystem where it occurred drastically. The English saw it as the “progress of cultivation” rather than deforestation. (126)

The commodification of resources in New England based on capitalist principles not only brought colonists in large enough numbers to transfer epidemic diseases, but also changed how the Indians hunted. Before the introduction of a demand for furs, Indians took only what they needed because a mobile lifestyle did not lend itself to accumulation of wealth. This created needs and wants which were not present in the Indian mode of production before.

Cronon, William. Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England. New York: Hill and Wang, 1983.

Nouveau Nature


Warning: Undefined variable $num in /home/shroutdo/public_html/courses/wp-content/plugins/single-categories/single_categories.php on line 126

Warning: Undefined variable $posts_num in /home/shroutdo/public_html/courses/wp-content/plugins/single-categories/single_categories.php on line 127

Of the primary source materials related to Davidson’s natural landscape, I thought the most interesting were the black and white photographs showing Davidson in varying states of deforestation. It is difficult to look at the carefully manicured lawn in front of Chambers and imagine it strewn with felled trees and crisscrossed by corduroy roads.

For a while, most of Davidson consisted of empty fields. It wasn’t until the second half of the 20th century that additional buildings were added to the empty land and trees were added to the cross country trails. The way the campus is designed leads one to believe that the campus was molded around nature, that the buildings were built just so in order to be locked in by graceful oaks. Rather, any of the nature on campus is here to replace what was lost when the school first cleared the land. The arboretum on campus is to nature as a museum is to culture.

When did Davidson cease to become truly natural and wild? I think that when the Atlantic, Tennessee, and Ohio railroad was completed in 1860, development began rapidly. Before then, Davidson was out in the middle of nowhere surrounded by wilderness.