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Inescapable Ecologies

Inescapable Ecologies: A History of Environment, Disease, and Knowledge

Copyright Date: 2006
Edition: 1
Pages: 346
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  • Book Info
    Inescapable Ecologies
    Book Description:

    Among the most far-reaching effects of the modern environmental movement was the widespread acknowledgment that human beings were inescapably part of a larger ecosystem. With this book, Linda Nash gives us a wholly original and much longer history of "ecological" ideas of the body as that history unfolded in California's Central Valley. Taking us from nineteenth-century fears of miasmas and faith in wilderness cures to the recent era of chemical pollution and cancer clusters, Nash charts how Americans have connected their diseases to race and place as well as dirt and germs. In this account, the rise of germ theory and the pushing aside of an earlier environmental approach to illness constituted not a clear triumph of modern biomedicine but rather a brief period of modern amnesia. As Nash shows us, place-based accounts of illness re-emerged in the postwar decades, galvanizing environmental protest against smog and toxic chemicals. Carefully researched and richly conceptual,Inescapable Ecologiesbrings critically important insights to the histories of environment, culture, and public health, while offering a provocative commentary on the human relationship to the larger world.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93999-8
    Subjects: Environmental Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-15)

    One of the major cultural developments of the late twentieth century was the reenvisioning of human beings’ place in the world. In many ways the most radical notion to emerge from the modern environmental movement was the idea that people were inescapably part of a larger ecosystem. The genesis of this popular understanding is typically traced to the publication of Rachel Carson’sSilent Springin 1962. The influence of Carson’s book is undeniable.Silent Springmade the science of ecology accessible to a broad public and helped galvanize a generation of environmental activists who would push through several groundbreaking political...

  6. 1 Body and Environment in an Era of Colonization
    (pp. 16-48)

    It is typical to think of the colonization of western North America as a process in which Europeans and Americans remade the land by reworking natural environments into forms that were both aesthetically pleasing and materially useful. This is surely true, but it is also true that in earlier eras Americans understood colonization as involving bodily transformation as well. The process could work both ways. Places could alter bodies as much as bodies could alter places. Despite the political and cultural rhetoric of conquest, those engaged in colonizing western North America recognized that the effort often brought substantial physical risks....

  7. 2 Placing Health and Disease
    (pp. 49-81)

    Understandings of environment and health in the nineteenth century were shaped by broad cultural and political currents—European medical geography, debates between contagionists and anticontagionists, transatlantic racial theories, American expansionism, the political crisis over slavery. But they were also shaped by the physical experience of individuals and the material realities encountered in specific places. Laypersons and physicians alike believed that both disease and cure could be understood only in their specific contexts. Diseases were often unique to their localities, and a treatment that worked in one place could all too often fail in another.

    Although considerable emphasis has been placed...

  8. 3 Producing a Sanitary Landscape
    (pp. 82-126)

    In 1903 the incoming secretary of the California State Board of Health, Dr. N.K. Foster, complained that his organization had neither a permanent office nor adequate furniture. The only equipment the board could claim as its own was a single bookcase, two file cabinets, a mimeograph machine, and a typewriter. The secretary himself had but a borrowed desk in the lieutenant governor’s office. Given this situation, it is hardly surprising that few of the board’s records from the period survive. As Foster no doubt recognized, his own lack of office space was symptomatic of the board’s lack of power. Although...

  9. 4 Modern Landscapes and Ecological Bodies
    (pp. 127-169)

    On July 8, 1949, several crews of farmworkers arrived at a pear orchard in the Sacramento Valley near the town of Marysville. They had come to harvest. The day was hot and humid with little wind. Shortly after lunch a few of the men fell ill. By midafternoon, at least a dozen pickers were too sick to work. Some laid down in the fields where they had been working; others walked off the job. Soon the sick men were dripping with sweat, and most were also retching violently. Others found their arms and legs twitching uncontrollably. All were taken to...

  10. 5 Contesting the Space of Disease
    (pp. 170-208)

    By the early 1970s the ecological challenge of Rachel Carson and the United Farm Workers had been met by a reassertion of existing public health strategies. Even as the concept of environmental quarantine was being promulgated, however, the problem of a toxic landscape was exceeding its solution. Chemicals were not stationary, and property lines and the posting of metal signs did not stop pesticides from moving into soil, water, air, and human bodies. In 1979 the discovery of a highly toxic pesticide in the Central Valley’s groundwater raised new fears about the regional landscape. Further monitoring would soon reveal that...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 209-216)

    The people who have inhabited California have reshaped the landscape in countless ways. The evidence of human-induced change is everywhere; indeed, it is overwhelming. The Central Valley, like all of North America, is now a complicated mixture of human and nonhuman elements, a hybrid landscape: aquifers and aqueducts, soils and chemicals, native plants and commercial crops. But change did not occur in only one direction. As people have shaped the landscape, the landscape has shaped the bodies of its inhabitants. To the extent that health is dependent on the water that people drink, the food that they eat, the air...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 217-272)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 273-320)
  14. Index
    (pp. 321-332)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 333-333)