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Out Of The Woods

Out Of The Woods: Essays in Environmental History

Char Miller
Hal Rothman
Copyright Date: 1997
Pages: 368
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  • Book Info
    Out Of The Woods
    Book Description:

    Through the pages ofEnvironmental History Review,nowEnvironmental History, an entire discipline has been created and defined over time through the publication of the finest scholarship by humanists, social and natural scientists, and other professionals concerned with the complex relationship between people and our global environment.Out of the Woodsgathers together the best of this scholarship.

    Covering a broad array of topics and reflecting the continuing diversity within the field of environmental history,Out of the Woodsbegins with three theoretical pieces by William Cronon, Carolyn Merchant, and Donald Worster probing the assumptions that underlie the words and ideas historians use to analyze human interaction with the physical world. One of these - the concept of place - is the subject of a second group of essays. The political context is picked up in the third section, followed by a selection of some of the journal's most recent contributions discussing the intersection between urban and environmental history. Water's role in defining the contours of the human and natural landscape is undeniable and forms the focus of the fifth section. Finally, the global character of environmental issues emerges in three compelling articles by Alfred Crosby, Thomas Dunlap, and Stephen Pyne.

    Of interest to a wide range of scholars in environmental history, law, and politics,Out of the Woodsis intended as a reader for course use and a benchmark for the field of environmental history as it continues to develop into the next century.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-8073-5
    Subjects: History, Environmental Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xvi)

    While a graduate student at Yale University in the late 1960s, Donald Worster was hazed by classmates puzzled by his fascination with the hitherto unknown field of environmental history; his peers, Worster would recall nearly thirty years later, regarded him and his scholarly interest in the relationship between humanity and the natural world as “something of a joke.” Did his historical approach mean, one fellow student asked while sharing a table in the Yale Commons, that Worster intended to look at history from the point of view of bears?

    It was hard to grasp what Worster and the handful of...


    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 1-2)

      Environmental history did not burst onto the intellectual scene in the early 1970s complete with theoretical models or precise methodological foci: it was, and is, a field of scholarship the very nature of which seems to defy theoretical impress. Take as an example one of its many charges, the attempt to reconstruct and then interpret humanity’s shifting relationship to the physical world in which it lives. To pursue this kind of analysis, scholars must necessarily be flexible toward and responsive to an ever-changing set of historical variables and cultural perspectives. They, like the environment they study, have not been, nor...

    • The Ecology of Order and Chaos
      (pp. 3-17)

      The science of ecology has had a popular impact unlike that of any other academic field of research. Consider the extraordinary ubiquity of the word itself: it has appeared in the most everyday places and the most astonishing, on Day-Glo T-shirts, in corporate advertising, and on bridge abutments. It has changed the language of politics and philosophy—springing up in a number of countries are political groups that are self-identified as “Ecology Parties.” Yet who ever proposed forming a political party named after comparative linguistics or advanced paleontology? On several continents we have a philosophical movement termed “Deep Ecology,” but...

    • The Theoretical Structure of Ecological Revolutions
      (pp. 18-27)

      Environmental history has reached a point in its evolution in which explicit attention to the theories that underlie its various interpretations is called for. Theories about the social construction of science and nature that have emerged over the past decade in the wake of Thomas Kuhn’sStructure of Scientific Revolutionsis one such approach. It accepts the relativist stance toward science set forth in the first edition of his book. (Kuhn backed away from that position toward a view of the progress of knowledge in a second edition.) Marxist theories that attempt to understand history as constructions of the material-social...

    • The Trouble with Wilderness: Or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature
      (pp. 28-50)

      The time has come to rethink wilderness.

      This will seem a heretical claim to many environmentalists, since the idea of wilderness has for decades been a fundamental tenet—indeed, a passion—of the environmental movement, especially in the United States. For many Americans, wilderness stands as the last remaining place where civilization, that all too human disease, has not fully infected the earth. It is an island in the polluted sea of urban-industrial modernity, the one place we can turn for escape from our own too-muchness. Seen in this way, wilderness presents itself as the best antidote to our human...


    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 51-52)

      We know ourselves in part by the land on which we live. Its shapes and contours mold our existence, our sense of place. But place is also what we make of it: we help structure specific forms of landscape—whether rural or suburban or urban, agrarian or industrial—and then impute meaning to them, helping us to understand why we live as we do. Our relationship to these terrains is like that of an ocean wave, whose watery form is partly determined by the very landmass its grinding power will transform.

      The importance of this reciprocity emerges in the following...

    • The Earliest Cultural Landscapes of England
      (pp. 53-63)
      I. G. SIMMONS

      Even to the casual observer, the English landscape has historical depth. Every piece of terrain speaks of a history in which environmental processes, whether natural or human-induced, have changed the face of the land more than once. Sometimes remnants of an earlier state show through, like a palimpsest; in other places the latest environment seems all-pervasive and appears to blot out all that went before it. But that is rarely the case, because somewhere in a sediment or an archive or a memory will be interpretable knowledge of the history of that piece of terrain.¹

      From my study window, for...

    • Landschaft and Linearity: Two Archetypes of Landscape
      (pp. 64-78)

      Older Americans dislike the man-made environment. They call it monotonous, homogenized, commercial, or chaotic. Their adjectives presume a standard of judgment with which contemporary “built space” is compared and found vexingly inferior. The standard is a remembered spatial order so complete and so perfectly reflective of the good life that it survives as an unqualified archetype in the national memory.¹ It is the primary essence of landscape.

      Landscapeis a slippery word. In the sixteenth centurylandschaftdefined a compact territory extensively modified by permanent inhabitants. Alandschaftwas not a town exactly, nor a manor or a village, but...

    • Environmental Change in Colonial New Mexico
      (pp. 79-98)

      In recent years scholars of North American history have paid increasing attention to the interrelationship between human societies and their physical and natural worlds. Their studies analyze the various ways in which people interact with their surrounding environment and how their choices affect not only the human community but the larger ecosystem as well. Just as nature shapes human society, humans, in significant and far-reaching ways, shape nature.

      Exemplary works by William Cronon and Richard White have focused, from an ecological perspective, upon the English frontier experience in North America. Cronon, in his seminal book,Changes in the Land: Indians,...


    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 99-100)

      Although there is no “Green” party in the United States to advance an environmentalist platform, as is the pattern of partisan organizations in several western European countries, the environment has become a powerful factor in our elections. Its influence has become increasingly evident since World War II, initially exploding during controversies over the preservation of scenic landmarks such as Echo Park and in the subsequent spawning of special interest groups dedicated to the creation of wilderness legislation, including the Wilderness and Endangered Species Acts, laws that sparked additional legislative, judicial, and cultural debate. All this occurred without the presence of...

    • From Conservation to Environment: Environmental Politics in the United States Since World War II
      (pp. 101-126)

      The historical significance of the rise of environmental affairs in the United States in recent decades lies in the changes which have taken place in American society since World War II. Important antecedents of those changes, to be sure, can be identified in earlier years as “background” conditions on the order of historical forerunners. But the intensity and force, and most of the substantive direction of the new environmental social and political phenomenon can be understood only through the massive changes which occurred after the end of the war—and not just in the United States but throughout advanced industrial...

    • The Evolution of Public Environmental Policy: The Case of “No-Significant Deterioration”
      (pp. 127-143)

      The technological complexities of our industrial society have come to permeate nearly every facet of public policy during the past twenty years. The development of environmental regulatory policies particularly reflects this concrescence of technology, law, and the industrial economy. A case in point is the evolution of “no-significant deterioration” as a controversial premise of federal air pollution control. Significant deterioration refers to the degree to which air, cleaner than the national standards mandated by the 1970 Clean Air Act, shall be further degraded by industrial pollutants. This matter became a serious problem of public policy in May, 1972, when Federal...

    • Reconstructing Environmentalism: Complex Movements, Diverse Roots
      (pp. 144-160)

      There was a great deal of anticipation in the conference room at the Washington Court Hotel on Capitol Hill when Dana Alston began her address before the first National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit in October 1991. Conference delegates included grassroots environmental activists from across the country: African-Americans from the petrochemical industry corridor in Louisiana; Latinos from urban and rural areas of the Southwest; Native American activists like the Western Shoshone protesting underground nuclear testing on their lands; organizers of multi-racial coalitions in places like Albany, New York, and San Francisco. The purpose of the Summit was to begin...


    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 161-162)

      The intersection between environmental and urban history has only recently been platted, or so some have argued—an argument whose source draws upon the field’s historic emphasis on wilderness, a natural terrain generally thought to be the antithesis of the human-created cityscape. This sense of incompatibility represents a venerable cultural tension that has deflected our attention from acknowledging the degree to which we seek to be at home with both landscapes. The distinction between environmental and urban historiographies, in short, has been overdone.

      The distinction, in any event, first was challenged in the spring 1979 issue ofEnvironmental Review, which...

    • Searching for a “Sink” for an Industrial Waste
      (pp. 163-180)
      JOEL A. TARR

      The creation of wastes from any process, be it a natural, consumer, or production process, requires location of a place of deposit or a “sink” for disposal. Much of the history of industrial waste disposal, as well as the disposal of wastes from other sources such as an urban population, involves the search for a “sink” in which wastes could be disposed of in the cheapest and most convenient manner possible.¹ Often, however, such sinks proved only temporary, and substances placed in them created severe pollution, interacted with other substances to produce serious nuisance and health consequences, or leaked out...

    • Personal Boundaries in the Urban Environment: The Legal Attack on Noise, 1865–1930
      (pp. 181-193)

      After the Civil War, Americans found themselves living in surroundings that were drastically different from their notions of what constituted an ideal way of life. Cities had always been a part of the American experience. However, the swift and unrelenting process of urbanization produced what amounted to an entirely new environment. The urban environment seemed hostile, frustrating, and bewildering. Adjusting to that new environment required a dramatic shift in perception. More importantly, it demanded a reevaluation of the individual’s relationship to society. Living at the doorstep of a foundry or next to a stranger with widely different tastes and habits...

    • Equity, Eco-racism, and Environmental History
      (pp. 194-212)

      Influenced by European Romanticism, Americans have thought and written about their relationship to the natural world at least since the beginning of the nineteenth century. The earliest works of environmental history—concerning the United States at least—were written primarily in the 1930s and 1940s and focused on the West.¹ But, American environmental history as a distinct field of study—possessing a wide range of nuance and topic—did not take shape until the late 1960s with the emergence of the modern environmental movement.

      Although it drew enthusiastic support from college students and others caught up in the political and...


    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 213-214)

      The human thirst for water is unquenchable, and we expend enormous amounts of time and energy in pursuing it; water is critical to the survival of human civilization. Its flow is essential to the life of the body politic, too: who controls or regulates access to water, and how these forces are manifest in the social order and economic systems are issues of considerable import. Follow the movement of water in any given society and you will learn a great deal about how it is organized.

      Two assessments of antebellum America bear this out. In his careful examination of the...

    • Rice, Water, and Power: Landscapes of Domination and Resistance in the Lowcountry, 1790–1880
      (pp. 215-226)

      The production of one of the American antebellum South’s chief export commodities, rice, which was grown on plantations in tidewater South Carolina and Georgia, required the large-scale manipulation of the lowcountry environment. The well-engineered rice plantation, one South Carolina planter explained, was a “huge hydraulic machine.” “The whole apparatus of levels, floodgates, trunks, canals, banks, and ditches is of the most extensive kind,” he said, “requiring skill and unity of purpose to keep in order.”¹ The “machines,” in their most developed form, were massive engineering achievements that reshaped portions of the tidewater environment and required enormous investments of well-organized labor...

    • “Dammed at Both Ends and Cursed in the Middle”: The “Flowage” of the Concord River Meadows, 1798–1862
      (pp. 227-242)

      The Great Meadows bordering the placid Sudbury and Concord Rivers of Eastern Massachusetts are a quiet wilderness today. The narrow channel winds along in a broad floodplain of sedges, buttonbush, black willow, and purple loosestrife, a ribbon of wild marshland through the suburbs twenty miles west of Boston, troubled only by a few canoes. For the past century, the Concord River has been famous mainly for its birds and for the naturalists who have watched them, following one another in the ripples of Henry Thoreau’s rowboat: William Brewster, Ludlow Griscom, Edwin Way Teale.¹ Through alert conservation, the river has become...

    • Irrigation, Water Rights, and the Betrayal of Indian Allotment
      (pp. 243-260)

      Alvin Josephy, Jr., published a searing article in June 1970 for the new conservation section ofAmerican Heritagemagazine. The essay, “Here in Nevada a Terrible Crime,” was a tract for the times. Pyramid Lake, the second largest desert body of water in the United States and one of the nation’s natural wonders, was drying up. Non-Indian farmers had systematically diverted more than half of the Truckee River, the lake’s major source of water, into the Truckee-Carson Irrigation Project sixty miles east of Reno. Unlike nearby Lake Tahoe, already a sacrifice to the gods of gambling and tourism, Pyramid Lake...


    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 261-262)

      Bumper stickers demand that we think globally, but to do so requires a scientific language, ecological insight, and political will that did not begin to emerge until early in the twentieth century. Only in the century’s last years has such a perspective become influential enough to blossom as a staple of automotive sloganeering.

      Conceiving of the world as a series of discrete yet overlapping environments of air, water, land, flora, and fauna, is one thing, but it is another to construct a global and interdisciplinary approach to the study of these complex ecosystems and their historical contexts. Alfred Crosby, among...

    • Biotic Change in Nineteenth-Century New Zealand
      (pp. 263-272)

      The descendants of Europeans live in large numbers outside of Eurasia, which requires explanation. In the Americas north of the Rio Grande and south of Paraguay, and in Australia and New Zealand, the Europeans or, if you prefer, neo-Europeans constitute from 80 percent to close to 100 percent of the population. These neo-European majorities are not simply the product of military conquest, a phenomenon common throughout history, but usually without replacement of the conquered people. India is Indian, despite Kipling. Poland remains Polish, despite all sorts of tramping back and forth by neighbors. Zimbabwe is about as Black as it...

    • Australian Nature, European Culture: Anglo Settlers in Australia
      (pp. 273-289)

      The story of whites and the natural environment of Australia is the tale of a European culture in a non-European land. Recent studies—Geoffrey Bolton’sSpoils and Spoilers: Australians Make Their Environment, 1788–1980(1981), Derek Whitelock’sConquest to Conservation: History of Human Impact on the South Australian Environment(1985), and William J. Lines’sTaming the Great South Land: A History of the Conquest of Nature in Australia(1991)—concentrate, as their titles and subtitles indicate, on one overwhelming fact of that history: the changes Europeans made in Australia.¹ For Bolton the settlers made all: the built environment by construction,...

    • Nataraja: India’s Cycle of Fire
      (pp. 290-308)

      In the center dances Shiva, a drum in one hand and a torch in the other, while all around flames inscribe an endless cycle of fire.

      This—thenataraja, the Lord of the Dance—is more than one of Hinduism’s favored icons. It is a near-perfect symbol of Indian fire history. The drum represents the rhythm of life; the torch, death; the wheel of flame, the mandala of birth, death, and rebirth that fire epitomizes and makes possible. In this confrontation of opposites the dance replaces the dialectic; Shiva holds, not reconciles, both drum and torch. Considered ecologically thenataraja...