The Evolution of Space

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Ted Steinberg’s book Down to Earth: Natures Role in American History is a fascinating text that explores a period stretching over millions of years all the way up to the present day. The number of themes and ideas that Steinberg touches upon is staggering and can leave the reader feeling slightly overwhelmed upon the conclusion of the book. However, Steinberg’s goal of reminding humanity of nature’s influence on the development of our societies and cultures is commendable and somewhat justifies his need to present what feels like every detail of American history.

In many ways Steinberg’s perspective on nature and landscape is the opposite of what Lisa Brady presented in her book. As Emily noted in her post “Brady’s notion of ‘landscape’ is a helpful way to think about how humans shaped the environment.” Steinberg on the other hand chose to explore how nature and the landscape shaped human history.

He begins from the very beginning with the formation of multiple landmasses during the period when the original landscape was called Pangea. I really liked how Steinberg provided this perspective to begin his narrative for it helped strike home how much of human history was the result of a random division of the landscape that led to the formation of our current continents. If Pangea had not divided the way it did with the separation of North America away from the central continents then the story of the Old and New Worlds that we are all familiar with would never have taken place.

This transcendent perspective also reminded me of how open the world was. There was so much space that possessed unlimited possibilities. The theme of space would come to be an important theme throughout this book and its evolution in human history would be a more subtle narrative that ran its course throughout the book. This narrative began with the competition of the land between Indians and settlers. Privatization and commoditization of the land led quickly to overuse and the need for more was what helped spur movements westward. The development of new technologies in transportation also helped change the American perspective on space. No longer were spaces located long distances away an afterthought. They became viable opportunities for the invention of things such as the railway made those spaces more easily accessible.

The improvement in the transportation of water and power furthered American’s abilities to interact with new spaces. Suddenly what seemed like inhospitable areas became habitable. These spaces were made even more attractive thanks to the invention of the automobile by Henry Ford. Mechanized transportation was finally individualized and allowed people to travel at their leisure. The growth of highways only served to grow the popularity of the automobile. The invention of the car made it possible for people to live in places outside of cities but remain connected to the industrialized world. The sphere within which workers needed to live in order to get to work had expanded. Suburbs developed and the wastelands between cities became populated. No longer was there any untouchable space. All space now could be consumed and shaped to benefit humans.

However, the lack of space now posed a new problem to humans. Suddenly we find ourselves with no more areas to expand into. What would we do with things such as trash? Where would our pollution go? It is at this point that we find the narrative of space merging into Steinberg’s greater narrative on responsibility. Throughout human history space and nature had always been viewed as something to commodify. Our want to exploit everything without thought to the consequences has led us to a place where the benefits of our actions no longer outweigh the negatives. The world no longer seems like a great space of unlimited opportunities. Instead we find ourselves in a growing crisis. Steinberg is unable to provide any solutions to the situation but perhaps the history of “space” in human thought can be used to predict the next step in human history. We have always found ways to utilize open space and so the next step seems like a logical leap. What better place to find “space” than in space?

The Myths of Conservationism

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After reading Karl Jacoby’s Crimes Against Nature: Squatters, Poachers, Thieves, and the Hidden History of American Conservation I reached a similar conclusion as Brandon. In his post Brandon talks about how Jacoby was able to successfully present a viable alternative narrative to both the ideas of wilderness in relationship to mankind and the conservation movement as a whole. This alternative view was one that was put forward by middle and low income individuals rather than elites who had usually dominated the conversation. This dominance by elites was a major reason why the stories and beliefs of the lower class members of society were largey overlooked in historical analysis and is why Jacoby’s book was particularly attractive to me.

What I really appreciated about his book were the myths of the conservation movement that he presented in the epilogue. The conservation movement many times is labeled as an honorable movement. While many acknowledged that it was never as successful as was originally hoped, the original goals were pure. However, Jacoby with his myth busting aims helps the reader understand some of the flaws in the foundation of conservasionism.

The first myth was that the belief that rural folk who were squatting or poaching on the land “did as they pleased with the natural world.” (193) This was not true. Jacoby argued that these rural folk has a greater understanding of ecological preservation than those in the cities gave them credit for. They established systems so as not to harm beyond repair the environments on which they relied upon. This did not mean that rural folks did no harm or that their systems successfully brought order to  chaotic situation. Instead Jacoby asserted that these rural folks should not be labeled as the enemy to the movement.

Another important myth that Jacoby tries to debunk is the idea of conserved spaces as natural. This is an idea that we have talked about on multiple ocassions this semester. Jacoby does a good job of revealing the manufactured nature of these “natural” conservatories. While conservationists argued that the protection of spaces from industrial and commercial interests would keep those spaces natural, Jacoby argued that the imposition of legal rules and the managerial role of state made the space inherently unnatural. The environment in these places was controlled and thus the natural processes of the area were not allowed to flow unimpeded.

The final myth that Jacoby discusses has to do with the belief that science and the state need to be used to protect the environment from the rural folk. Jacoby however, saw this flawed belief as revealing  a hidden theme in conservation history. This was the promotion of environmental justice over social justice. The needs of people such as the squatters were overlooked in exchange for the protection of abstract notions such as wilderness and nature, ideas that can be perceived differerntly throughout the nation. It is also ironic that science was being promoted as a possible solution to natural degredation, for the rise of industrialism ( a result of both the natural and social sciences) was a major contributor to the deterioization of the environement that prompted a conservasion movement. With this perspective it should not have been the rural folk who were restricted but those who actually created the problem. By exploring these myths and presenting alternative perspectives Jacoby has done a good job of painting a greater picture of conservatism and revealing the unstudied aspect of the subject.

Ecology of Fear Chapter 1

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What is a disaster and what makes a disaster a disaster? These are two of the most difficult questions to answer about nature. Disasters are very unpredictable occurrences and how they relate to humans are difficult to determine. As Steven Biel notes in his article many see disasters as the antithesis to everyday life (5). Others such as Jonathan Bergman believe that disasters have a profound influence on our everyday lives. For Mississippians disaster was what forced them to develop their coast into a major tourist attraction thus establishing a stable component of their economy.

Bergman’s ideas seem to speak to a similar idea that Justin brought up in his post from last week. Justin talks about the interconnectedness of nature and humanity. One could not exist without the other. He also makes an interesting comment when he speaks about the constant reworking and repositioning of man’s relationship with nature.

When it comes to natural disasters humanity has two options. One, It can adapt like the Mississippians. For Bergman disasters operate as a check on human society. It provides them with opportunities to expand but also warns against overextension.  It can act as a framework that allows us to build society on a strong and stable foundation. The second option is to try and build independently of nature. As Biel notes in his article “disasters evoke the defense of established ways…” (5) Despite what nature may deem necessary, man reverts back to the established ways.

This second option is what Mike Davis argues was the course for Southern California in the first chapter of his book Ecology of Fear. The goal of Davis in this chapter was to try and understand SoCal’s relationship to disaster and how this shaped the development of its cities and society. He begins the chapter by highlighting several of the natural disasters that hit the region. Despite these disasters Californians continued to present their state as the Mediterranean on the Pacific. It was supposed to be a perfect land that would see a disaster only once or twice a decade. According to Davis however, this belief in consistency was a flawed belief. The perfect nature of California landscape was a myth and that the perfectness of the landscape was overemphasized.

Due to this flawed understanding of the environment Californians constructed their societies without much thought to the tremendous power of natural disasters such as earthquakes. When they did devote some thought to safety they based their safety procedure on a limited and shortsighted disaster record. They assumed that the frequency and magnitude of these disasters would hold constant in the future. Recent science has indicated differently and has portrayed current patterns of disasters as an anomaly.

Most likely the future will bring about greater disasters and consequences. Regardless of these warnings politicians and businessmen have been unwilling to refit the structures of their buildings for they believed the cost to be too high. They have also failed to develop an effective enough emergency services program and so when disaster does strike the response will be relatively ineffective in comparison to what it should have been. Davis’ ultimate criticism of Southern California in this chapter was that politicians and industrialists have overlooked the power of disasters. They have expanded beyond the check that nature institutes on society. Even when science has indicated that a change is necessary, no change has occurred. Instead the established ways are reaffirmed which in time will reap a heavy price.

Supplementary Reading: The Response to Industrialism 1885-1914 by Samuel P. Hays

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Samuel P. Hays’ book Response to Industrialism 1885- 1914 offers a comprehensive look at the history of American industrialism starting in the post Civil War era through the beginnings of the first world war. It is the third book in a series of four that relates the history of this country from its founding through the beginning of the Cold War.[1] The main goal of Hays book is to examine how industrialization affected all aspects of American society as well as the nation as a whole. He does not just focus on the positive effects of industrialization but also the negative consequences that were just as present. These negative consequences inspired societal responses to industrialism known as the Progressive and Populist Movements. While many saw industrialism as being crucial to American success on the world stage, Hays attempts to help the reader understand the downsides to industrialism and the resulting counter movement that helped reorganize American politics, society and economy.

While the book is divided into nine chapters there seem to be three distinct sections that outline different influences of industrialization. The first section is directed at the structural changes that industrialism brought to the American landscape and society. He focuses on changes such as transportation and communication. He argues that the improvement of technology in these fields was a major catalyst for the growth economically of America. The building of railroads created a mass market and allowed for mass production. The invention of the telephone created knowledgeable consumers and allowed for quicker business decisions.[2]

As a result of these improvements there were several resulting consequences. The agricultural sphere became commercialized as railroads allowed for foodstuffs to be transported greater distances, granting consumers access to greater choice. Industrialization also increased the importance of cities. As factories came to dominate the urban landscape, cities became the nerve centers of the country.  Industrialization also transformed American government. Hays believed that government reflected the attitude of the people. People initially valued the promise of wealth that industrialization created, which led government to become a pro business advocate.

Despite these changes, of which many people saw as positive, the second section of the book deals with the negative influences that industrialization had on different spheres of American society. This section is by far the longest and reflects Hays belief that industrialization had significantly negative impacts on average Americans of all regions. He begins with a general analysis of the perception of wealth. Originally, the economic growth of the country created a hope in all Americans that they could overcome their economic restrictions. Industrialization was the vehicle that would allow them to rise above their social class and experience what the wealthy already knew.

However, the pursuit of wealth along with the growing income disparity led many to finally realize the harsh reality. The pursuit of wealth was leading to a deterioration of societal norms such as good morals. Material success reduced the role of religion in society. No longer were people concerned with pursuing a righteous path. While the morality of American society was jeopardized, it also economically destabilized the lives of many citizens throughout the nation. Farmers in the South and the West were now forced to compete with commercial farms. They became concerned about their well being when they realized that their cost of production was higher than the prices that their products could be sold due to competition from the industrial farms.

In the urban sphere similar concerns were forming. The urban sphere was the area of the country most boosted by industrialism. The number of factories made cities an attractive region for both Americans and immigrants looking for work. Factories offered them a source of consistent labor and a more secure source of income. Unfortunately, factory work provided almost no possibility of upward mobility. The increase in immigration also increased competition thus providing business owner’s power over their employees. The ability for employers to limit wages created dire situations in cities for the vast majority of the growing population in cities. The increase in poverty was a major factor in the moral degradation of the urban environment.[3]

As a result of these conditions that were the result of industrialization, it forced American society into action. In the agricultural realm local farmers banded together to pressure the political parties into action. They formed labor forces whose presence was a threat to the business agriculture of the region. The farmer collective was the start of the greater conflict that took place between big business and labor that would be contested throughout the nation.[4] Just as the farmers unionized, a similar phenomenon was taking place within the cities. For too long big business dominated its employees. By the late 1800’s those in the cities began collectively organizing in order to increase their rights, for the situation had gotten to the point that urban life for the lower classes was no longer tolerable.[5] The income disparity was obvious and the wealthy made no attempts to hide it.

The second section ends with an analysis of the rural and urban spheres fight back against those who most benefitted from industrialism by attempting to reform the political sphere. This came to be known as the Progressive Movement. With the rise of industrialism, political machines had arisen in order to protect the interests of business. However, by the end of the 19th century reformers decided that enough was enough and directed their attentions at modifying the political sphere to look out more for the interests of laborers.[6] The conflict within the political sphere grew so heated that the debate reached the Supreme Court, which was required to make some monumental rulings on the relationship between business and the American public.[7] Samuel P. Hays is very critical of industrialism. It unleashed many negative effects on the American society and inspired a countermovement that unleashed a battle between ordinary labor and big business that would come to define the period.

Despite these criticisms Hays concludes his book with a final section devoted to the greater success that industrialism made possible for each region as well as the nation as a whole. While he acknowledges that the East was by far the greatest beneficiary of industrialism, Hays believed that as a region both the South and West received positive benefits as well. The West was greatly improved thanks to the construction of railroads, dams and aqueducts. The South was revamped and as a result became described as the “New South” that still had agricultural roots but now possessed increased mechanization to allow improved efficiency.[8] An interesting argument that Hay puts forward at this point was the idea that though industrialism had benefitted the South and West, the greatest benefit was still felt in the East for the South and West were in part Eastern colonies.[9]  Regardless of if one does or does not agree with this statement the result of these improvements in all regions of the nation, was the emergence of the United States as a world power. With these substantial resources the US was primed to become competitive in the world. Thus the next step was to expand outwards and compete imperially with Europeans nations. The end of the 19th century saw a significant rise in the external conflicts that the US became involved in leading into the First World War.

Samuel P. Hays’ book is a great source for understanding the impact of industrialism on American society during the second half of the 19th century. He does a particularly good job of complicating the typical narrative of industrialism. That narrative was one that only focused upon the overall success of industrialism. It ignored the consequences for society. Hays’ narrative focuses on those consequences and helps the reader understand the sacrifice that Americans had to make in order to progress. While industrialism brought many benefits to Americans it threatened their way of life and so they needed to respond. This is what prompted the Progressive countermovement that would come to dramatically change many aspects of American society.

The overall purpose of the book is commendable but there are a couple of shortcomings. First, Hays makes very little reference to any other historical work. The editor praises Hay in his use of the “rich storehouse of recent scholarship”[10] yet this scholarship is presented in a very limited manner throughout the text. A second criticism has to do with the book’s relationship to the environment. Hay states “industrialism was less important in changing the motives of Americans than in profoundly altering the environment…”[11] Despite this claim Hay spends very little time exploring the alteration of the American landscape. Instead he narrows his focus to the people who worked the environment and their perceptions of the changes that took place due to industrialism. The only point in his book where Hay explicitly references the land was during his analysis of the change in the political sphere. With the election of Theodore Roosevelt there was the rise of the conservation movement but Hay spends only a few moments on the topic proclaiming it a generally unsuccessful movement.[12]

William Cronon’s book Nature’s Metropolis is a book very similar to Samuel P. Hays. Both books analyze the affects of industrialism on the development of American society. Cronon’s book is a little more specific in its focus by looking only at Chicago. Still they approach industrialism in a similar manner to try and reveal how industrial improvements affected different spheres of society. Unlike Hays however, Cronon takes a greater interest in analyzing industrialism’s affect on the environment. He traces how human perceptions of land have changed. They moved away from seeing the land as simply a natural setting and instead began to commoditize all aspects of the land such as prairies, forests, animals and water. This type of analysis is missing from Hays book and if present could have added an interesting dimension to his argument.

My final criticism of Hays’ book is that he attempts to analyze too many different aspects of a changing American society. Whether it is economically, socially, religiously or some other aspect, Hays attempts to provide some sort of commentary. This is very useful if a reader is using the book to gain some general knowledge on a subject but unfortunately the breadth of the project meant that many of his commentaries are shallow in their analysis. An example of this can be seen with his description of the decrease in religiosity. He spends only a moment describing the regression of religion from society but does not fully explain what religion’s role had originally been in society or why this was changing. Hays general neglect of topics such as this does not hamper his overall narrative but it does leave the reader with further questions. As a work in general Samuel P. Hays efforts should be applauded for he does a good job of highlighting the different influences that industrialism had on different spheres of American society and though he devotes little attention to its influence on the environment, his narrative is useful in our understanding of catalysts of change during this period.



Cronon, William. Nature’s Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West (New York: WW Norton &

Company, 1991).



Hays, Samuel P. The Response to Industrialism 1885-1914 (Chicago: University of Chicago

Press, 1957).


[1] Each book in the series was written by a different author.

[2] Samuel P. Hays, The Response to Industrialism 1885-1914 (Chicago: University of Chicago

Press, 1957), 5-9.

[3] Hays, 20-24.

[4] Hays, 44.

[5] Hays, 32.

[6] Hay, 106.

[7] Hay, 158.

[8] Hay, 124.

[9] Hay, 126.

[10] Hay, viii.

[11] Hays, 190.

[12] Hays, 157.

Nature Incorporated: Has Industry Allowed Man to Control Nature?

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Theodore Steinberg’s Nature Incorporated is a fitting book to read after Lisa Brady’s War Upon the Land for both texts discuss how Americans attempted to control nature in order to achieve some greater goal. This idea of attempted control over nature was something that Chelsea noted in her post from last week. While these two texts share the assumption that Americans believed they could control nature they differ on other ideas such as nature as an actor. Unlike Brady, Steinberg portrays nature much more as a setting rather than a character. It is not something with a consciousness but rather a resource or platform upon which man acts.

For the most part in the early stages of the book Steinberg seems to believe that humans could exert control over the land. He believed that human history “is defined by the transformation and control of nature.” (12) The larger question that he wants to address is how industrial transformation affected human society as well as alter human’s relationship with the natural world. He attempts to answer this question by pursuing three goals. First, examine industrial capitalism through an environmental perspective. Second, examine the competition over nature. Finally, explore the legal history of water in New England.

In my opinion Steinberg has done a good job overall in trying to properly understand the ideas that he poses. The layout of the book sets up an interesting narrative that makes clear the development of industry in New England, the transformation of a natural feature into a resource to be privatized, the resulting competition and the legal precedence that allowed for water to become a foundation upon which industry would rise and dominate the surrounding region and eventually the nation.

While the overall work is one that should be commended, I did find some areas that confused me. On page 69 Steinberg describes how the Boston Associates succeeded in altering the perception of the relationship between man and nature. Originally, nature was something that restrained humanity and limited opportunities. However, with the rise of industry this relationship was reversed and humans were longer dependent on ecology. Humanity had become independent allowing for unlimited opportunity.

However, later in his book Steinberg speaks about how cities are not divorced from the natural world.  Cities in my mind are the epitome of industrialism. The urban sprawl is the heartland of industry and innovation. Despite cities being “monuments to human ingenuity” (220) Steinberg believed that they remained as dependent on the natural world as any community in the wilderness.

The second to last section of the book entitled “Fouled Water” speaks about how the water turned against those who had “control” over it. In November 1905 typhoid fever killed more people in Lowell than in all of Boston due to the pathogens that were pumped into the town thanks to the river which had been the source of economic success for so long.

The differing presentations of nature (one which was subjugated to man vs. one that man was completely reliant upon) make it seem as if Steinberg himself is not quite convinced that industrialization had completely “conquered” nature. While man can exert some control over nature he cannot ever divorce himself away from it. The relationship between man and nature is best when man demonstrates a balance. He can utilize nature as a resource for his own benefit but he must take caution for abuse of the land can lead nature to grave repercussions such as illness. Man must also be aware of his over consumption for not only does it change the environment for the worse but over consumption will also threaten social stability as demonstrated in all of the legal cases discussed throughout the book.

War Upon the Land: The Differing Perceptions of Nature by the North and the South

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There can be no doubt that wilderness played a very important role in the American Civil War. Lisa M. Brady’s War Upon the Land focuses on nature’s role in the conflict and the differing conceptions of nature by the North and the South. In order to understand this difference a definition of nature is needed. Brady utilizes Steven Stole’s definition in her narrative. Wilderness is “defined places and times when humans did not yet control their environment or where they had lost control.” This definition is similar to one that Brandon put forward in his post when analyzing the perspectives presented in Robert Marshall’s essay. “The Problem of the Wilderness,” is an area without permanent inhabitants, impossible to cross by mechanical means, and so vast that a person attempting to cross it must sleep out.  In short, the wilderness is an escape from civilization.”

Both these definitions are very similar in that they portray nature as something that is separate from human control. While humans can interact with nature they cannot ever tame it. For my purposes I see nature as its own person. When considering the Civil War there is the Union and the Confederacy but I believe that nature/ wilderness is a third party that played an integral role in the struggle. This would be an idea that Brady would appear to agree with. Nature would fill a role similar to American Indians during the Revolutionary War, a group that had their own interests separate from the two main parties.

What I believe to be one of Brady’s most important arguments is the idea that the North and the South had dramatically different perceptions of wilderness and this reflected each regions placed importance on the agriculture and the land in general. For the Union Army, led by General Sherman, the land was something that was destined to be tamed and controlled. This mindset was reflected throughtout the war with Grant’s army and their refusal to abide by the limitations that nature placed. “Even more than reenvisioning the landscape in military terms, however, Sherman’s operations were predicated on gaining control over the landscape. Control- over nature, labor, and territory- formed the basis of the campaign.” (95) In some ways this mindset could be the result of northern industrialism where every aspect of the culture was controlled and able to be manipulated. The land itself was very much undervalued and the concepts of civilization led many to see anything “uncivilized” as an opportunity to civilize and demonstrate industrial strength over agriculture. Could this also be a reflection of Union exceptionalism?

On the other side the Southern states reliance on the land led to a very different relationship with nature. They did not see it as something that simply could be controlled. Their close interactions with nature made them understand that the best benefits could be contrived when living in harmony with nature instead of trying to overcome it. Those living in Vicksburg understood this idea. Where the Union Army tried to change the Mississippi River’s flow, the confederates understood that this was impossible and that was a major reason why Vicksburg was located where it was. The city of Savannah was another city that was built in harmony with nature. As a result nature provided the city many natural defenses that allowed the confederates to hold out for a considerable amount of time.

It is clear that the north and the south held very different perceptions on nature. Unfortunately, the North prevailed through their destruction of the land. The south was greatly devastetd for their reliance on nature was so great that they had failed to establish indpendent means for survival. Still despite the North’s victory, the Union still failed to understand the true identity of nature. While protectionism grew in the later part of the 19th century, most in the north never understood the benefits of living with nature instead of trying to isolate it through a paternalist mindset. In some ways this failure to understand coexistence may have set the US on the path of greater environmental destruction through unsustainable means being justified by the fact that a limited part of nature was being protected.

How the pursuit of wealth by natives not only helped decimate the bison population but native society as well

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Richard Bushman’s Refinement of America focuses on the societal want for gentility and wealth. As Ian noticed in his post “starting in the early 17th century, American people, specifically in the South, began to covet the ‘high society’ lifestyle and culture that existed with numerous European countries.” After reading Andrew C. Isenberg’s The Destruction of the Bison it became apparent to me that that the want for wealth and status was not a movement restricted solely to Americans. While the major goal of the book was to explore the decimation of the bison populations and examine the major factors for the decimation, a secondary crisis can be observed. This crisis was the destruction of the midwestern native societies. “The trade in bison robes was destructive both to the herds and to the nomadic societies.” (107)

Just like with the lower classes in American society the natives themselves began to strive to rise up and emmulate the wealthy gentility for wealth not only gave the upper class comfort but also afforded them status. The idea of status came to appeal highly to many of the nomadic tribes and thus by the mid 1800’s there emerged a great competition for the limited resource of bison. Origninally, the move to bison hunting was a self contained process and one which was sustainable. However, the beginnings of trade with Euroamericans helped the natives realize the economic value that bison pelts held and this began the movement into an unsustainable competition with each hunter being motivated by the thoughts of elevating his own status as well as some other vices.

With the popularity of bison skins reaching their peak by the end of the nineteenth century nomadic native societies began to unravel mostly due to three reasons. The first was the threat that bison depopulation had on nomadic livelihood. These tribes had given up their agrarian roots in order to wholly embrace the hunt but the immense competition left limited resources that effected the tribes  ecnomically but also physically for food became scarcer.

Second, the limited bison population led to increased warfare between different tribes. No longer was it possible to maintain a large village and so thanks to the bison hunt smaller tribes were formed in order to be more flexible in movement as well as requiring fewer resources to maintain the community. With a multitude of bison available tribes were able to respect each others hunting grounds but with the decimation of the bison warfare grew out of control attracting the attention of US federal authorities. Not only did increased warfare provide an excuse for the US government to intervene but it also fed the stereotypes about natives as savages.

Finally, the growing relationship between native bison hunters and American pelt merchants brought natives into closer confines with Americans for longer periods of time. This was a major reason why disease began to spread effectively throughout the small nomadic communities. Before, there was limited contact between nomads and Americans. Also the small nomadic societies usually remained apart and so disaese was rarely able to be transported to other groups. By the late 1800’s these groups began to report to the same trading hubs in order to trade with the Euroamerican traders. The more frequent interactions with a common group of people with more conditioned immune systems helped disease take on a greater role in native culture and helped break native societies both in physical population but mental strength as well.  While the decimation of the bison was a tragic tale, a parallel path was being taken by native societies in part due to the thirst for status and wealth first showcased by upper class Americans.

Chicago: A City in Tune with Nature or an Artificial Terminus Serving the Needs of the East

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William Cronon states the thesis of his book in the prologue on pg.8. “This book, then is a series of historical  journeys between  city and country in an effort to understand the city’s place in nature.”  Sean asked the question in his post as well as in his discussion questions several weeks ago of whether the concrete jungle should be considered a part of nature. The way that Cronon phrases his statement indicates that he believes that cities are in fact a part of nature and that conditions around Chicago led to its natural creation and growth. I am spectical of this idea. Henry, in his post characterizes my skeptism to a certain extent. He talks about how some of the features of the land such as Lake Michigan and the canals were natural features of Chicago but then the more industrialized aspects of the city such as railroads seemed to counteract the idea of the city as natural.

Railroads are perhaps one of the greatest developments for this country in terms of creating a unified nation along with radically altering the economy. However, I think it is a difficult argument to make that railroads can be defined as natural as Cronon tries to do. Cronon argues that railroads can be considered a second nature that is in sync with first nature to the point that they cease to be separate. I find this idea counterintuitive for railroads were not confined to the natural limits placed by nature that had previously restricted human movement. Cronon makes note of this idea on pg. 74 when he speaks about how railroads were able to go virtually anywhere for they became independent from the environment. In many ways railroads reshaped the environment through means such as tunnels through mountains and bridges across rivers. No longer were we limited by in transportation but we were free to traverse the world in an artificial manner.

The fact that Chicago became a desirable destination and a terminus in the center of the country was not because it was a natural location that possessed the perfect conditions. It was an artificial terminus created by those in the east because it afforded many advantages some of which were natural such as the canals and the lake yet others which were separate from nature. Chicago was not a city that had all roads naturally lead to it. If for example a river or natural boundaries such as mountains formed a path from the west through the east through Chicago then it would be a stronger argument that the city was  predestined. Instead Chicago was an area of Illinois that possessed some favorable conditions but its biggest draw was the general geographic location in regards to the east and the west coast. As a result those in the east manufactured the city of Chicago to serve their needs and facilitate a connection with the west but this connection was completely artificial. While Cronon would argue that many would come to see the railroads and city as essential parts of American nature it doesn’t seem to me possible to reconcile the first and second degree natures to work in harmony as Cronon believed they did. Both were artificial creations destined to exploit nature so as to mostly benefit a small portion of society.

Ecological Imperialism: Mean Nature

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In her last post Chelsea Creta (chcreta) quoted Ralph Waldo Emerson on his description of nature. “Nature never wears a mean appearance” (28) After reading Alfred W. Crosby’s book Ecological Imperialism I would strongly have to disagree. Nature is an unforgiving force that always poses a potentially deadly threat. One of the major focuses of the book is the impact that European imperialists had on the Neo-European lands both ecologically and socially on the indigenous cultures. When thinking about impacts of Old World civilization on Neo-European lands the impact of Old World diseases must be at the forefront of that discussion. Disease was such an important factor in the decimation of many indigenous populations in the Neo-Europes. Crosby makes a very good point in describing the successful spread of disease as a dual team effort. Europeans would plant crops or import items that would assist in the spread of foreign pathogens. However, the benefit of their actions outweighed the cost of refraining from their actions, which was to the mutual benefit of the pathogens as well.

In retrospect it would have been to the benefit of many of the indigenous populations to attempt to isolate themselves and retain their native identities for their immune systems lacked exposure to the vast majority of pathogens that the Europeans had endured for hundreds of years. In some ways the Neolithic revolution in the old worlds had prepared the Europeans well to become the leading imperialists in the world. Old World history had conditioned European civilizations and individuals to withstand some of nature’s harshest obstacles.

Unfortunately, the natives of Neo-European lands lacked the same conditioning. Even worse the circumstances of the natives helped amplify the effects of the epidemics that would come to play an important role in their histories. While European efforts to improve their circumstances paved the way for the spreading and cultivation of pathogens in the foreign lands the native embracement of European ideals and practices brought them into closer contact with the foreign pathogens that would lay waste to major percentages of the native population. Crosby uses the example of the Maori in New Zealand to illustrate this point. To some extent the Christian missionaries are responsible for encouraging the Maori to strive to become more European.

The success of the Pakeha lifestyles further prompted a want to become “European” but placed the natives within closer confines with both European immigrants as well as European pathogens resulting in deadly consequences. In a strange manner the Maori acceptance of Europeans perhaps was the most beneficial occurrence for European success. Not only did they adopt many of the ecological habits and customs of Europeans such as the farming of certain plants and raising of old world livestock but their want to be closer to Europeans helped eliminate competition due their decimation by disease. That allowed the Europeans to further flourish. Nature can be a leveling factor in the conquering of one civilization over another and in the case of European imperialism the Neolithic Revolution was an important factor is providing the Old World inhabitants with biological tools that made them most suitable to world expansion. In the several examples of Neo-Europe that Crosby discussed nature has played a crucial role in permitting Europeans to succeed and it would not be a stretch to say that nature can have the meanest of appearances.

True Wilderness

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Part IV: Beyond the Wilderness Idea

According to Aldo Leopold and Jack Turner there are multiple ways to consider the wilderness. The first is a physical conception of the wild that has specific requirements in order to be considered a true wilderness. Leopold cites two absolute necessities that must be present in order for an environment to qualify. First an environment cannot be ordered. He uses the example of German forests to illustrate this point. Germany has a beautiful landscape with many gorgeous forests and meadows but it is not wild because the landscape has been arranged in a geometrical manner that reflects the organization of the Germans but is unnatural for nature. The transition from forest to farmland is abrupt and linear. Nothing is allowed to grow without being amended to fit the “cubist’s” mind. The landscape should also be allowed to remain vast and uncompromised. The larger a wilderness is the easier it is to remove oneself from the artificial world.  Second for Leopold an environment must possess birds and animals of prey in order for it to be wild. Again the German landscape lacks this quality. Predators add the savagery to an environment that is necessary to be a wilderness. Safety is a concept that must be absent in order for a landscape to be wild. The harsh reality of the wild is that death is a constant worry for all organisms. It is a truly Darwinian existence.

Turner agrees strongly with Leopold’s physical description of nature but in his essay he chooses to analyze the psychological impact that a true wilderness should have on us. A true wilderness is not a place for recreation. It is not a place where we can go to have fun and escape from what we call work. It is not a place that can be visited and understood only through a short exposure to it. The wild is something deeper, more mysterious and more instinctive. It should capture our imaginations but not only in a pleasureable way. There is something frightening about places that are truly wild. They should strike awe in us. It is a place where we are so far removed from society and human intervention that no safety net exists and it is simply the individual looking out for self. It is only when an individual is left to rely solely on himself that a true understanding of the wild can be gained.

The only way according to Turner to get to this point is to live in and by nature so as to create that personal interaction. When this happens the wild can truly inspire the human mind and allows us to create art that can capture some essence of the wilderness. A true understanding of the wilderness also helps provide us with the most pure reason for protecting the environment. The fad of environmentalism is not a proper reason. It should not be a passing concern that is driven through popular consent. Instead a true understanding of the wilderness helps reveal essential aspects of human nature and shows us how we are best suited to live in and by nature and this will help us understand why altering or destroying the wilderness must be avoided.