Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Changes in the Land

It's been a while since I posted about my reading. Today, I have William Cronon's Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England (1983), one of the most important works of environmental history.

Page 123:
Two major consequences followed when snow melted on cleared lands. For one, the longer retention of snow in forested areas acted to keep fires from spreading in the early months of spring; cleared lands were thus more susceptible to the burning colonists used to remove woody vegetation from them. More importantly in the long run, because the snow acted as a blanket maintaining soil temperatures, snow removal meant that soil froze to depths that it rarely had when forested.
Cronon describes how Native Americans and English colonists altered their environment, which was simultaneously undergoing natural changes. Changes in the Land was (and is) an important book for several reasons, including its disruption of the idea that Native Americans did not modify the landscape and its discussion of how Indians and colonists misunderstood each others' relationships with the land. In addition, this book speaks across disciplines, which is something the we Am Civvers always like.

In addition to its useful arguments and clear writing, Changes in the Land is a recipient of the VPI Grad Student Seal of Approval, which is awarded only to books that make their points in fewer than 250 pages. At 170 pages, it is a light morning's worth of reading.

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