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American Environmental History

American Environmental History: An Introduction

Carolyn Merchant
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 504
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  • Book Info
    American Environmental History
    Book Description:

    By studying the many ways diverse peoples have changed, shaped, and conserved the natural world over time, environmental historians provide insight into humanity's unique relationship with nature and, more importantly, are better able to understand the origins of our current environmental crisis. Beginning with the precolonial land-use practice of Native Americans and concluding with our twenty-first century concerns over our global ecological crisis, American Environmental History addresses contentious issues such as the preservation of the wilderness, the expulsion of native peoples from national parks, and population growth, and considers the formative forces of gender, race, and class. Entries address a range of topics, from the impact of rice cultivation, slavery, and the growth of the automobile suburb to the effects of the Russian sea otter trade, Columbia River salmon fisheries, the environmental justice movement, and globalization. This illustrated reference is an essential companion for students interested in the ongoing transformation of the American landscape and the conflicts over its resources and conservation. It makes rich use of the tools and resources (climatic and geological data, court records, archaeological digs, and the writings of naturalists) that environmental historians rely on to conduct their research. The volume also includes a compendium of significant people, concepts, events, agencies, and legislation, and an extensive bibliography of critical films, books, and Web sites.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51238-1
    Subjects: History, Environmental Science, History of Science & Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-IV)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. V-X)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. XI-XII)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. XIII-XIV)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. XV-XXIV)

    American Environmental History introduces the many dimensions of human interaction with nature over time. As people have lived and spread out over the planet, they have modified its forests, plains, and deserts. Those changes in turn have affected the ways in which people organize their social and religious systems. American Environmental History offers the reader a brief history of that interaction as it took place in the lands that constitute the present United States; a mini-encyclopedia of concepts, laws, agencies, and people pertinent to the field; a timeline of important events; and a set of print, visual, and electronic resources...

  6. PART I: Historical Overview—: Topics and Themes

    • CHAPTER ONE The American Environment and Native-European Encounters, 1000–1875
      (pp. 3-23)

      The North American environment contains rich natural resources that, over time, have supported a succession of modes of living on the land. A core topic in environmental history is how different peoples at different times have used, perceived, managed, and conserved their environments. Native Americans developed several forms of land use appropriate to the resources of different regions of the United States. This chapter compares three patterns of Native American subsistence and the processes by which European settlers colonized particular North American landscapes: southwestern horticulture; northeastern hunting and gathering; and the Great Plains buffalo and horse cultures.

      The physical environment...

    • CHAPTER TWO The New England Wilderness Transformed, 1600–1850
      (pp. 24-38)

      The environmental history of the New England forests focuses on three stages of use: Indian subsistence; the colonial forest economy; and wilderness appreciation. It also explores two core themes—the human labor needed to extract useful commodities, and the transformation of the idea of wilderness. Indians used the forest for hunting and cleared openings for horticulture. Colonists introduced European livestock and crops and established permanent settlements, while extracting forest products for overseas trade. Human settlement and resource depletion brought about ecological changes in the forest, fostering a transformation in the perception of wilderness from savage to sublime. This chapter investigates...

    • CHAPTER THREE The Tobacco and Cotton South, 1600–1900
      (pp. 39-61)

      The study of the Tobacco and Cotton South from the perspective of environmental history considers the relationships among soil, slavery, and the plantation and sharecropping systems. In the southern United States, human activity profoundly affected an environment of long growing seasons, fertile soils, and abundant rainfall. These advantages resulted in massive outputs of staple crops, primarily tobacco and cotton, as well as rice and sugar. This chapter examines changes in the land that occurred in the Chesapeake and low country under tobacco and rice cultivation in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and in the Deep South as cotton production spread...

    • CHAPTER FOUR Nature and the Market Economy, 1750–1850
      (pp. 62-84)

      By the eighteenth century in America, two types of economies existed in interaction but also independently of each other—a coastal exporting economy along the eastern seaboard and an inland subsistence-oriented economy, where access to transportation and export markets was limited and costly. During the nineteenth century, a dynamic market-oriented economy arose throughout the United States westward to the Mississippi River that integrated the two sectors. This chapter explores the transition from the coastal exporting and inland subsistence-oriented economies of the eighteenth century to the market economy of the nineteenth century. It investigates the ways writers, poets, philosophers, and artists...

    • CHAPTER FIVE Western Frontiers: The Settlement of the Pacific Coast and the Great Plains, 1820–1930
      (pp. 85-109)

      By the mid-nineteenth century the United States achieved its vision of a continental nation extending from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The movement to explore, settle, and develop the western regions of North America included the transformation of the Pacific northwest, California, and the Great Plains, as Americans claimed new resources and occupied environments that differed in significant ways from those of the Atlantic seaboard. Core ideas—such as the frontier and Manifest Destiny—helped to shape the ways in which land was acquired and developed. This chapter explores the Russian frontier in North America, the multicultural development and environmental...

    • CHAPTER SIX Urban Environments, 1850–1960
      (pp. 110-133)

      Late nineteenth-century industrialization was a second major phase in the development of the United States economy, following the market revolution of the early to mid-nineteenth century. Urbanization is a core topic for environmental history because the increasing density of industry, transportation, and housing transformed both the land and the lives of urban dwellers. After the Civil War, industrialization—particularly in large Eastern and Midwestern cities—was accompanied by air, refuse, noise, and water pollution. This chapter deals with the evolution of environmental problems brought about by and associated with industrialization, urbanization, suburbanization, and the efforts of engineers, citizens, and legislators...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN Conservation and Preservation, 1785–1950
      (pp. 134-156)

      A core topic for environmental history is the formation of land, water, and conservation policies: how land was allocated as the country was being settled; how land use policy developed; and what laws allowed people to gain title to land as private property. By the late nineteenth century, most of the unsettled land had been allocated and people began to press for the conservation of natural resources for efficient use and to join a growing national movement to set aside wilderness areas for recreation. This chapter looks at the history of land use policy as it developed in the colonial...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT Indian Land Policy, 1800–1990
      (pp. 157-176)

      Indians are central actors in American environmental history. They were the primeval users, shapers, and stewards of the land. The natural resources of the lands they occupy—soil, timber, grasses, water, and minerals—have played major roles in how the environment was developed in the past and is used today. Indians, together with the national parks and recreational resources created from their lands, figure preeminently in the evolving attitudes toward nature and the wild that underlie environmental policy. The policies of the United States government toward Indians evolved over time from land acquisition by conquest and treaties, to the removal...

    • CHAPTER NINE The Rise of Ecology, 1890–1990
      (pp. 177-192)

      The development of ecology as a science is an important theme in environmental history because the scientific analyses of human surroundings provide a basis for resource management and land-use development. Environmental historians have delineated a number of different approaches to the evolution of scientific ecology in twentieth-century America. They include human ecology, organismic ecology, economic ecology, and chaotic ecology. This chapter looks at the historical development of and implications for managing the human environment inherent in each of the four approaches.

      Ecology derives from the Greek word oikos, meaning “house hold,” and is the study of the relationships among organisms...

    • CHAPTER TEN Environmentalism and Globalization, 1960–2005
      (pp. 193-210)

      During the latter half of the twentieth century, the resource conservation movement based on efficient use of natural resources changed to an environmental movement concerned with quality of life, species preservation, population growth, and the effects of humanity on the natural world. A multitude of government projects, policies, and laws, together with citizens’ movements, increasingly regulated economic development and sought to preserve remaining wilderness areas. The rise of environmentalism is a core theme in environmental history, because it often influences the way contemporary historians look at the past and the topics they choose to investigate. This chapter explores the emergence...

  7. PART TWO American Environmental History A to Z— Agencies, Concepts, Laws, and People
    (pp. 211-266)

    Abbey, Edward (1927–89). An avid proponent of desert preservation through books and essays, Edward Abbey served as a National Park Service ranger and firefighter in the Southwest. His book Desert Solitaire (1968) opposed “industrial tourism” by automobiles and excessive development in the national parks as being both destructive to the parks and to those who visit them. The Monkey Wrench Gang (1975) and Hayduke Lives! (1990) made the case that the West was being destroyed by dams, irrigation systems, bulldozers, and logging trucks. His work inspired the movement Earth First! to advocate “monkeywrenching,” or the practice of sabotaging the...

  8. PART THREE Chronology— An Environmental History Timeline
    (pp. 267-288)

    The Bering Land Bridge allowed people to cross from Eurasia to North America. Humans arrived in present-day Alaska at least by 13,000 b.p., and in the present-day lower United States by 11,500 b.p. via land and/or coastal routes.

    In 1492, following Viking voyages, Columbus began the exploration of the New World. He was followed by John and Sebastian Cabot’s voyage from England to the present-day Canadian coast in 1497, the French explorer Jacques Cartier in 1534–45, and by Giovanni da Verrazano’s 1524 exploration of the Atlantic coast of the present-day United States. Between 1540 and 1542, Francisco Vasquez de...

  9. PART IV: Resource Guide

    • Visual Resources: Films and Videos
      (pp. 291-314)

      Video purchase information accompanies each entry; prices may vary.

      1. The American Environment and Native-European Encounters

      Ancient America: The Southwest. 60 min. VHS, $6.40 purchase from Amazon.

      Discover the art, artifacts and ruins of the Anasazi, Hohokam, and other ancient Indian Americans of the Southwest; explore the cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde and the prehistoric metropolis of Chaco Canyon. (1992)

      The Columbian Exchange, video, 60 min. (From Columbus and the Age of Discovery series. Available on interlibrary loan from The Valley Library, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Ore.,

      Interchange of horses, cattle, corn, potatoes, and sugar cane between the...

    • Electronic Resources
      (pp. 315-330)

      American Environmental History Resources∼environ/resources.html

      Directory of Environmental History Internet Sources


      Nature Transformed: The Environment in American History. Teacher Serve Web site from the National Humanities Center

      The Environment and World History Web Sites

      Environmental History Section of World History

      Environmental History (Journal)

      An on-line guide to the joint publication of the Forest History Society and the American Society of Environmental History.

      Environmental History Bibliography

      A Web version of the bibliography compiled by Jessica Teisch for the National Endowment for the Humanities.

      Environmental History: Explore the Field

      Environmental History Timeline∼wkovarik/hist/hist.html...

    • Bibliographical Essay
      (pp. 331-342)

      Environmental history incorporates into history the characteristics of particular environments and the methods people have used to exploit or conserve forests, waters, soils, and animals. In Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986), Alfred W. Crosby spells out his theory of the “portmanteau biota”: the cooperative, if unconscious assistance that livestock, crops, and microbes provided Europeans as they explored and conquered native populations around the world. Following Crosby’s foundational work, Jared Diamond published Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (New York: W. W. Norton, 1998) to expound on the idea that...

    • Bibliography
      (pp. 343-460)
  10. Index
    (pp. 461-480)