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This Delta, This Land

This Delta, This Land: An Environmental History of the Yazoo-Mississippi Floodplain

Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 400
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  • Book Info
    This Delta, This Land
    Book Description:

    This Delta, This Land is a comprehensive environmental history of the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta--the first one to place the Delta's economic and cultural history in an environmental context. The Delta, the floodplain between two great rivers in the northwestern corner of Mississippi, has changed enormously since the Civil War. Agriculture, lumbering, and flood-management schemes have transformed it beyond recognition--and beyond any prospects for a full recovery. However, says Mikko Saikku, the 150 years following the Civil War brought greater environmental change than we generally realize. Indeed, the long-term environmental history of the Delta is much more complex than our current view of it, which privileges recent periods rather than presenting the entire continuum. Looking across thousands of years, Saikku examines successive human societies in the Delta, drawing connections between environmental and social problems and noting differences between Native Americans and Euro-Americans in their economies, modes of production, and land-use patterns. Saikku's range of sources is astonishing: travel literature, naturalists' writings, government records, company archives, archaeological data, private correspondence, and more. As he documents how such factors as climate and water levels shaped the Delta, he also reveals the human aspects of the region's natural history, including land reclamation, slave and sharecropper economies, ethnic and racial perceptions of land ownership and stewardship, and even blues music.

    eISBN: 978-0-8203-4069-2
    Subjects: History, Environmental Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Tables
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvii)
  5. [Map]
    (pp. xviii-xx)
  6. CHAPTER ONE Environmental History and the Yazoo-Mississippi Floodplain
    (pp. 1-25)

    In 1942, by publishing Go Down, Moses, a collection of stories describing the problematic relationships between black and white Mississippians and their natural environment, the then relatively unknown William Faulkner displayed an acute awareness of an immense process that had irreversibly transformed the natural and cultural landscape of his home state.

    European expansion, or, the global dispersion of humans and other organisms of Eurasian origin within the past five hundred years, has resulted in immense environmental change all over the world. Among the most dramatic examples of this phenomenon is the socioecological change in North America during the last four...

  7. CHAPTER TWO A True Ecological Complex
    (pp. 26-51)

    PROBABLY THE BEST-KNOWN definition on the geographical extent of the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta has been provided by Delta author David L. Cohn—“[t]he Mississippi Delta begins in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel in Memphis and ends on Catfish Row in Vicksburg.”¹ This culturally apt description of the social extremes of a New South plantation empire does not, however, offer enough help in defining the Delta as an ecological complex or as a bioregion; that endeavor calls for classifications provided by the natural sciences.

    By the mid-1970s, U.S. public land management agencies had realized how important land classification, on the basis...

  8. CHAPTER THREE Enter Homo sapiens
    (pp. 52-86)

    THE ABORIGINAL HUMANIN HABITANTS of North America, usually known as Indians or Native Americans, have often been portrayed as a group of modern environmentalists in their land-use practices. Native Americans, according to such accounts, lived off nature’s bounty and had left no mark upon the land at the time of European conquest. This romantic assertion, however, has little to do with the actual life of Indians and greatly ignores their influence on the natural environment of pre-Columbian North America. Furthermore, attempts to portray Native Americans as innocents living on “virgin land” ultimately make them a part of the natural world,...

  9. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  10. CHAPTER FOUR The Creation of a Cotton Kingdom
    (pp. 87-137)

    WHATEVER THE SIZE of the pre-Columbian populations and the amount of the acreage cultivated by them, people of European—and African—origin were to practice agriculture in an unprecedented scale everywhere on the continent, including the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta. Agriculture has been the dominant factor affecting the historical development of southern life and institutions ever since the 1607 founding of the first English settlement at Jamestown in Virginia. Southern agriculture, as practiced by Euro-Americans, has often been seen as a combination of monocultures— tobacco in Virginia, rice in South Carolina, and cotton in Alabama and Mississippi. Although this simplistic view allows...

  11. CHAPTER FIVE Taming the Rivers
    (pp. 138-164)

    THE IMPORTANCE of hydrological conditions for human habitation and subsistence is hard to overestimate for a floodplain bordering a river that draws water from 42 percent of the continental United States, accommodates the runoff from the entire Coldwater-Tallahatchie-Yazoo watershed, and receives more than fifty inches of annual rainfall. Flooding posed a physical threat to human inhabitants and many of their subsistence activities in the Lower Mississippi Valley and the Delta from the very beginning. In many ways, the annual flooding of the Delta bottom-lands was an unpredictable process for the early settlers of European origin, resulting in heavy economic losses...

  12. CHAPTER SIX Bounties of the Bottomland
    (pp. 165-219)

    THE ANTHROPOGENIC ALTERATION of the southern floodplain was not restricted to the rebuilding of its hydrological regime and the extensive conversion of bottomland forests to cotton fields. European settlement in North America brought sweeping changes in land use all over the continent; in addition to the clearing for crops and pastures, there were the harvesting of trees for housing, fencing, lumber, and fuel and the manufacturing of naval stores and charcoal iron, all of which accelerated the depletion of the eastern forests. Technological developments, such as the introduction of the steam engine, which consumed wood for fuel—and came to...

  13. CHAPTER SEVEN A Transformed Landscape
    (pp. 220-256)

    DURING THE NINETEENTH CENTURY, a growing number of Americans recognized the forest as the basis of industrialization, agricultural expansion, and material advancement. This soon resulted in a significant diminution of the area occupied by forests in North America. At the most conservative estimate, some 153 million acres of forest had been cleared for agriculture by 1860, and at least another 11 million acres by the lumber industry, mining, and urban spread; a couple of hundred years after the colonists’ arrival in the early seventeenth century, about one-quarter of the original forests of the eastern United States had disappeared.¹

    Toward the...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 257-312)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 313-358)
  16. Index
    (pp. 359-373)