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This Land, This South

This Land, This South: An Environmental History

Copyright Date: 1996
Edition: 2
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    This Land, This South
    Book Description:

    Here is the story of the long interaction between humans, land, and climate in the American South. It is a tale of exploitation and erosion, of destruction, disease, and defeat, but also of the persistent search for knowledge and wisdom. It is a story whose villains were also its victims and sometimes its heroes. Ancient forces created the southern landscape, but, as Albert E. Cowdrey shows, humankind from the time of earliest habitation has been at work reshaping it. The southern Indians, far from being the "natural ecologists" of myth, radically transformed their environment by hunting and burning. Such patterns were greatly accelerated by the arrival of Europeans, who viewed the land as a commodity to be exploited for immediate economic benefit. Their greed and ignorance took a heavy toll on the land and all those it supported. Climate, interacting with history, also played its part. The diseases brought to the New World from Europe and later from Africa found in the South a warm and hospitable abode, with devastating consequences for its human inhabitants. Until well into the twentieth century, endemic illnesses continually eroded human resources. Cowdrey documents not only the long decline but the painfully slow struggle to repair the damage of human folly. The eighteenth century saw widespread though ineffectual efforts to protect game and conserve the soil. In the nineteenth century the first hesitant steps were taken toward scientific flood control, forestry, wildlife protection, and improved medicine. In this century, the New Deal, the explosion in scientific knowledge, and the national environmental movement have spurred more rapid improvements. But the efforts to harness the South's great rivers, to save its wild species, and to avert serious environmental pollution have often had equivocal results. This Land, This South, first published in 1983, was the first book to explore the impact of humans on the southern landscape and its effect on them. In graceful and at times lyrical prose, Albert Cowdrey brings together a vast array of information. This important book, now revised and updated, should be read by every person concerned with the past, present, and future of the South.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4916-5
    Subjects: Environmental Science, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Editor’s Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
    Charles P. Roland
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Note to the Revised Edition
    (pp. xiii-xv)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-9)

    TO THE Spanish sailors who, in the years before 1500, followed the north-flowing currents of the Florida Strait toward home, the land which they glimpsed (and considered part of Asia) must have seemed a mere line, a darkening of the horizon mists. Then as now, the sky over the green Gulf took a Himalayan form when squalls threatened. The rookeries of the Keys—gulls, herons, and terns—were in fuller voice then, and the seamen may have seen some animals, such as the West Indian seal, which have since become extinct or nearly so. Some seamen paused on the Keys...

  7. 1 Isolation and Upheaval
    (pp. 11-23)

    THE HISTORY of the Western Hemisphere is one of separation from the Old World broken by intermittent rediscovery. Because there are penalties for prolonged isolation, the two great discoveries of which we have knowledge entailed ecological revolution.

    The origin of the American Indian was long a mystery and in many respects remains one. He is a cousin of the Mongoloid peoples, the descendant of a common ancestor. His original home was in northeastern Siberia. He sprang, it would appear, from homogeneous stock, perhaps a few closely-related tribes of big-game hunters who preyed on the great fauna of the Pleistocene. (The...

  8. 2 The Problem of Survival
    (pp. 25-43)

    EVEN AS the English settlers seeded the New World with their diseases, they began to transform the land and forests by their labor. They faced their new existence in a state of overwhelming weakness—physical, psychological, and economic. The voyage deprived them of strength, the strangeness of everything beset them like an enemy, and the land was recalcitrant about yielding the necessities of life and trade. They suffered terribly, and their experiences did not make them gentle or inclined to hesitate about the misuse of other peoples or the land. Like its virtues, the failings of the society they created...

  9. 3 The Uses of the Wild
    (pp. 45-63)

    ONE OF the Biblical metaphors in which our ancestors delighted was especially apt: a new earth had been given into their hands, with its creatures, trees, and waters. They were not all-powerful over it, and they were, as time went on, increasingly restrained by revived notions of stewardship. Nevertheless, they could not have failed to be struck by the upending of values which resulted from the crossing of the sea. In England labor had been abundant and land dear, men common and forests dwindling, privilege strong and animals of the chase protected. Englishmen ventured into their New World with all...

  10. 4 The Row-Crop Empire
    (pp. 65-81)

    THE EXPANSION of the south across the Appalachians and the Mississippi River to the fringes of the high plains was one of the great American folk wanderings. Motivated by the longing for fresh and cheap land, and by obscurer urges, such as simple restlessness and the large human capacity for dissatisfaction, southerners completed their occupation of a region as large as western Europe. Despite the variety of the land—which contained regions of pine barrens and prairies, of hardwood forests and limey plateaus, of some of the world’s oldest mountains and a considerable part of its third longest river—and...

  11. 5 Exploitation Limited
    (pp. 83-101)

    THE CONQUEST of the Southwest by white settlers and their black chattels impacted on every aspect of the environment. Diseases carried into the new regions took their familiar course with Indians and settlers alike. Hunters fell upon wild species with their customary vigor. Herds of cattle grazed the prairies and the open pine woods. Forests were cut, often merely to get them out of the way; the beginnings, though only the beginnings, of a commercial lumbering industry also appeared. Every part of the primeval landscape—woods, soil, and waterways, and the animals that used them—was altered by the demands...

  12. 6 Exploitation Unlimited
    (pp. 103-125)

    FOR MANY southerners the Gilded Age was a hardscrabble time, and their environment suffered accordingly. Poverty is no friend to natural resources, which typically are devoured piecemeal to sustain existence. Poverty plus a worsening disease environment severely impaired the region’s human resources, as well, for the South’s endemic ills probably became more widespread as well as more peculiar in the generation when medicine was transformed by Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch. Its epidemic yellow fever, though visitations became rarer, remained a regional trademark.

    What happened to the South’s natural wealth depended very largely upon the action of outsiders, who cut...

  13. 7 Conserve and Develop
    (pp. 127-147)

    AS A theater of environmental disasters, the south of 1900 –1930 offered instructive dramas. The boll weevil infestation that spread continuously during the period and the great flood that occurred toward its end were cooperative ventures, jointly produced by man and nature. But growing human intervention in nature on a grand scale had the most varied practical consequences. During the same decades a bold though as yet unsuccessful attack was mounted on the region’s endemic ills, and a successful one against the last appearance of the epidemic killer yellow fever. A lively conservation movement began to offer promise, if as...

  14. 8 The Transformation Begins
    (pp. 149-167)

    IF THE Depression decade had been merely a time of increased privation, it would rate little attention in any history of the South, including this one. Instead, for the section perhaps even more than for the nation, the decade proved to be the wellhead of remarkable changes in government and society. Of these changes, many were reinforced and some perverted by the war that followed.

    Despite the fact that the Roosevelt administration lavished far more rhetoric than money upon the South’s problems, its varied and paradoxical programs helped to launch a many-sided revolution. Some New Deal policies represented a holding...

  15. 9 South into Sunbelt
    (pp. 169-195)

    FOR SOUTHERNERS even more than for other americans, the post–World War II era was crowded by events. The New South system passed away as decisively if not as explosively as the Old South had a century before. Men and women who were middle-aged in the 1980s and 1990s were, like their great-grandparents, separated from their youth by more than years. The changes in the metaphorical landscape of culture were mirrored in the physical landscape, whose forms, more than ever before, were shaped by superabounding human power. Cottonfields changed to pastures or to woods; marshes to soybean fields or rolling...

  16. 10 Myth and Dream: An Epilogue
    (pp. 197-200)

    FROM THE first advertisers of the wonders of Virginia, southerners have displayed the normal human urge to brag about their region. Sometimes their fellow Americans, entranced by the image of a warm place they have really known very little about, have joined them in undiscriminating praise—whenever they were not doing the opposite. A decade ago historian Charles P. Roland delivered a witty address on “The South, America’s Will-o’-the Wisp Eden,” pointing to the persistent promise and lagging performance of the region, which he interpreted in terms of its enduring educational backwardness and economic colonialism. The urge to overcelebrate the...

  17. Notes
    (pp. 201-224)
  18. Bibliographical Note
    (pp. 225-232)
  19. Index
    (pp. 233-240)