80 internautes sur 81 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile
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I found this book very compelling, and would highly reccomend it for anyone interested in ecology, land ownership, or New England. Below is a recap of the most important points I took away from Cronon's book:
The main point William Cronon explains in Changes in the Land is why the landscape of New England differs in 1800 at the start of the industrial revolution from 1600 prior to the arrival of the first Europeans, clearing up some misconceptions about this change along the way. He first emphasizes that the common conception of New England as a dense primeval forest is not wholly correct. Understanding of early New England ecology is based on journals and reports of the Europeans who first visited and settled there, whose viewpoints were not those of scientists but rather of farmers, trappers, and merchants. Because of this, descriptions of New England were based on what Europe was not, and tells as much about conditions of England of that time as they do of new England. Europe was disease-ridden, crowded, cold (with firewood being a luxury), but civilized. New England was thus described as a healthy, rat-free, dense forest just waiting for the touch of God via man's hand to tame it. While these points were true, New England was also a diverse area with landscapes varying from the dense forests of northern New England, the open glades of southern New England, the seashore to the salt marshes.
The Indians recognized this diversity of their land, and in order to utilize the wide variety of natural resources available, a mobile lifestyle had to be adopted. A nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyle does not lead to accumulation of goods because one's possession must be carried on one's back. In turn, status within a tribe was not garnered through collection of goods, but through kin relation and prowess of the hunt. The lack of emphasis on ownership extended to the land. While a tribe could have or give rights to a particular use of an area of land for the duration of its use (for example for one harvest), land ownership was not as all-consuming and permanent as the European definition of it.
Europeans ventured to a new land, but kept their old ideas of ownership and commodity alive. To them, the Indians lack of settlement and "improvement" on the land represented a laziness of the Indians. Thus, the only land that truly belonged to the Indians was the land women planted crops. This excluded the much larger Indian ranges of land where hunting, trapping, and gathering was done, so that "English colonists could use Indian hunting and gathering for expropriating Indian land" (56). As land available for Indian usage disappeared, the Indians had to adopt a more sedentary life that interacted with European demands and economies. Because resources were abundant, and labor was scarce (the opposite situation of Europe), policies were adopted that maximized labor with no regard for resources, leading to wastefulness of the forest for lumber, fuel, and clearing of the land. An example of this was `driving a piece' "in which lumberers cut notches in a row of small trees and then felled a larger tree on top of them, thus cushioning its fall so as to protect it from shattering" (111). The early settler's wastefulness even horrified fellow Westerners in Europe, causing an observer to write of Americans, "their eyes are fixed upon the present gain, and they are blind to the future" (122).
Besides the decline of trees and the animals that habituated in them, the effects of deforestation were felt strongly in the climate. The forest provided a buffer against extreme conditions. Without it, summers were hotter, winters were colder, and the ground froze deeper. The water-holding capacity of the land was reduced, causing greater run-offs and flooding, and finally resulting in dry soil and erratic streams that were dry for much of the year. Despite the changing negative conditions, the mind-set of resources equaling commodity caused colonists to "understand what they were doing in almost wholly positive terms, not as `deforestation,' but as `the progress of cultivation'" (126), which is still the mindset that exists in many today.
23 internautes sur 25 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile
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Make no mistake about it. An interdisciplinary interpretation of history is here to stay. Thanks to farsighted historians like Dr. William Cronon and his ethno-ecological study of New England, circa 1600 to1800, entitled Changes in the Land, an enlightening perception of colonial times in New England is depicted by a well-documented mix of anthropology, ecology, sociology, biology, and environmental history. The actual text of the book comprises 171 pages with no less than 35 pages of notes, and an innovative bibliographical essay encourages further study. Cronon clearly states his thesis and purpose for the book in the preface, "the shift from Indian to European dominance in New England entailed important changes" (vii). Cronon not only evaluates the reorganization of people but also stresses the effects of changes on the New England plant and animal populations. With political and military history kept to a minimum, an intriguing analysis compares the ecological histories of the New England Indians to the European settlers and reveals the resulting environmental alterations incurred. There were basic ethno-ecological differences between how both cultures viewed the earth. The New England Indians perceived the natural world with reciprocal sustenance (63) for 10,000 years (33), but the colonists envisioned commodities and wealth in what the earth could provide (75). Within the short period of two hundred years, the environment of New England could not sustain the few Indians who survived the diseases of the Europeans, because the land, plants, animals, and even the climate had changed (169).
These changes seemed very subtle at first. In order to trade for metal utensils, the Indians killed more and more beaver (83). In this way the Indians started to view nature, or their environment, as a commodity instead of a gift to be shared (92). Cronon does not assume that the Indians had no effect upon their native environment (viii) nor that the colonists came to a pristine wilderness (11). What Cronon does enumerate is how the two sets of ecological relationships, Indian and colonist, came to live upon the same land (15). Early in the affiliation, the European settlers came to disrespect the Indians, because although the Indians lived in a land overflowing with natural "wealth," the Indians looked like the poor back in Europe (54). Marshall Sahlins is quoted by Cronon, "there are in fact two ways to be rich, [. . .] Wants may be `easily satisfied' either by producing much or desiring little" (79-80). The indigenous residents of New England desired little, while the European colonists seemed economically motivated to produce much from the land and introduced the Old World concepts of value and scarcity, using cost as the only constraint to consider (81) (168).
Unfortunately, neither the land nor the Indians could withstand the monumental alterations to come: an Indian "money" system in the form of wampum (97), epidemics which wiped out entire villages (85-90), the severe reduction in native animal populations (98-101), domesticated animals that grazed wildly on indigenous plants and even ocean clams (128-150), deforestation (109-126), the surface of the earth responding more drastically to climatic changes (122-123), flooding (124), the "drying up of streams and springs" (125), land ownership and pastoralism replacing shared land conservation (137-141), soil depletion (147-152), and the introduction of weeds and migrant pests (153-155). The New England landscape went from forests and freedom to "fields and fences" (156). This book vividly correlates the significant and divergent relationship between the New England Indians, the colonial settlers, and the environment they could no longer share. Changes in the Land by William Cronon, winner of the 1984 Francis Parkman Prize, serves as a fine academic example in cross-curricular historical documentation.