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Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and…

Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England (1983)

by William Cronon

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William Cronon is a genius, particularly how he frames the conflict between Indians and Colonists as a conflict between different systems of property ownership and to see how this intersected with the ecological processes and landscape of the region. In Cronon's analysis, although we still see how the English, with their newfound love for the commodity and the market, are still blameworthy, they were not the only ones involved in the scope of these changes as even beavers and bees took part in the creation of new lands and new markets. ( )
  sherief | Apr 26, 2011 |
Keep in mind that my interest regarding all books in this collection relates to research regarding the Podunks. A composite publication regarding them has not been written. Therefore, my reviews deal with each book’s contribution to this effort.

Changes in the Land is an interesting treatise regarding the "ecology of New England" relative to how the Native Americans contributed as well as the early colonists from western Europe. Of this entire publication, what has proven most valuable to me is the 30 page Biographical Essay which is well written and useful for anyone wishing to learn more about the environment of New England when the first settlers arrived and their impact upon it.

Likely what will prove most surprising to many is the great variety that New England's topography offers. ( )
  BobEverett | Jul 17, 2010 |
William Cronon's book was a seminal effort in 1983 that established a new way of thinking about history. It has stood the test of time. The book describes the modes and manner of the ecological impacts that English settlers had on the New England landscape in the colonial era. Some impacts were intentional, others not so much. For example, by the time first permanent settlements were established beginning at Plymouth in 1620, many Indian villages had already been devastated by European diseases (Europeans, especially fishermen had been frequenting the New England fisheries for decades).

The English settlers brought the English methods of farming, new concepts of property, and a market economy that overwhelmed the tribes and transformed the landscape. Forests were cleared, beaver were over-hunted, fences erected, new and domesticated animals and plants were introduced.

An added bonus in this 20th anniversary edition is a delightful afterword by the author reflecting on the book and how it came to be only through repeated serendipity. An added bonus for Wisconsin readers are his reflections on growing up in Madison as the son of a UW history professor and how those experiences shaped his professional life.

Cronon sagely instructs us to asks 'how so Alien a Then could have become so familiar a Now'. Changes in the Land also wrought changes in the way we think. ( )
1 vote dougwood57 | Dec 20, 2008 |
Changes in the Land is a well-done synthesis of scholarship relating to the ecology, economics, history and anthropology of English colonists and Indians in the northeastern US. The main thesis is familiar - Indian land usage patterns were very different from colonists' - but some of the insights from other disciplines are fascinating. For instance, clearing land for agriculture probably made winter colder and summer hotter, snow cover less likely and flooding more likely.

Cronon is an excellent writer; he gives you a sense of what kind of source material he's working with without devolving into a footnote-fest. This book is broken up into thematic chapters, so it's easier if you know some of the characters (William Bradford) and dates (King Philip's War) beforehand, because they will reappear in each chapter in a different context. The non-chronological order works well, even if at times I wished I had some maps and timelines to keep it all sorted out.

Having grown up in New England, it's funny to contrast this book with the dominant myth of the thrifty Puritan. I'm sure I remember learning in elementary school about how colonial wives made their own bread in fire-powered stoves, but I sure didn't learn they were burning more than an acre of forest every year to do it! ( )
1 vote bkohl | Feb 17, 2008 |
William Cronon's Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England is a brief, coherent and well-written look at the drastic changes wrought in the ecology of what is now the northeastern United States during the first century or so of European settlement. By examining the pre-contact use patterns of Indian tribes, Cronon is able to make useful conclusions about how those patterns changed over time and the impact those changes had on the ecological balance of the region.

From agricultural techniques to the dynamics of the fur trade to the rising demand for lumber (for starters), Cronon offers a remarkably thorough survey for such a brief book (just 170 pages). His style is concise and clear: "eminently readable" in the good sense of that phrase, not the pejorative. I found his juxtaposition of Indian and colonial concepts of property rights quite well done, and the discussion of colonial firewood consumption was staggering (one estimate puts it at one acre of forest per year per household!, some 260 million cords between 1630 and 1800).

Aside from the text, I will take the opportunity to rave about Cronon's citations, which are both extensive and useful. His bibliographic essay is notable for its broad scope (although I wish he'd taken the opportunity of the twentieth-anniversary edition to add some of the more recent scholarship that's appeared since Changes in the Land first appeared).

An important book, well deserving of the many praises which have been sung of it in the past and will continue to be sung of it in the future.

http://philobiblos.blogspot.com/2007/01/book-review-changes-in-land.html ( )
1 vote JBD1 | Jan 25, 2007 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0809016346, Paperback)

The book that launched environmental history now updated.

Winner of the Francis Parkman Prize

In this landmark work of environmental history, William Cronon offers an original and profound explanation of the effects European colonists' sense of property and their pursuit of capitalism had upon the ecosystems of New England. Reissued here with an updated afterword by the author and a new preface by the distinguished colonialist John Demos, Changes in the Land, provides a brilliant inter-disciplinary interpretation of how land and people influence one another. With its chilling closing line, "The people of plenty were a people of waste," Cronon's enduring and thought-provoking book is ethno-ecological history at its best.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:21:02 -0400)

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