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Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England Paperback – September 1, 2003

ISBN-13: 978-0809016341 ISBN-10: 0809016346 Edition: Revised

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Hill and Wang; Revised edition (September 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0809016346
  • ISBN-13: 978-0809016341
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.4 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,023 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"Changes in the Land exemplifies, and realizes, the promise of ecological history with stunning effect. Setting his sights squarely on the well-worn terrain of colonial New England, [Cronon] fashions a story that is fresh, ingenious, compelling and altogether important. His approach is at once vividly descriptive and profoundly analytic."--John Demos, The New York Times Book Review

"A superb achievement: Cronon has changed the terms of historical discourse regarding colonial New England."--Wilcomb E. Washburn, director of the Office of American Studies, Smithsonian Institution

"A cogent, sophisticated, and balanced study of Indian-white contact. Gracefully written, subtly argued, and well informed, it is a work whose implications extend far beyond colonial New England."--Richard White, Michigan State University

"This is ethno-ecological history at its best . . . American colonial history will never be the same after this path-breaking, exciting book."--Wilbur R. Jacobs, University of California, Santa Barbara

"A brilliant performance, from which all students of early American history will profit."--Edmund S. Morgan, Yale University

About the Author

William Cronon is the Frederick Jackson Turner Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin--Madison. His book Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West won the Bancroft Prize in 1992.

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Customer Reviews

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While the book is sometimes boring the information contained in this book is priceless.
M. Sheppard
William Cronon's book Changes in the Land illuminates the relationship and impact the European colonial settlers had with their environment in New England.
The book is a good example of the evolution of Marxism in human ecology and anthropology.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Douglas S. Wood on April 29, 2006
Format: Paperback
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.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By T. P. Ang on June 8, 2006
Format: Paperback
This is not so much a book about New England per se as on how ecology should mould our understanding of history. For too long historians have ignored the ecological/environmental dimension to history, especially colonial history; and Cronon's book is one among a number of path-breaking works that serves to redress the balance.

As Cronon convincingly argues, the strength of ecological analysis in writing history lies in its ability to uncover processes and long-term changes which might otherwise remain invisible. Indeed, ecological change is used throughout the book as a window through which to uncover the complex long-term changes wrought by the arrival of the puritans to New England since the seventeenth century. The full impact of European colonisation cannot be understood apart from the new relationship they established with the New England ecosystem though their commoditisation of resources and their involvement in the international capitalist economy, both of which greatly impacted the land and its previous inhabitants, the Indians. These changes were cultural as much as they were simply environmental or economic: the arrival of the pig, for one, was bound in a cultural relationship to, among other things, the fence, the dandelion, and a very special definition of property.

Of course, the book also offers up fascinating insights into the changing New England landscape from 1600 to 1800. It corrects misconceptions about an unchanging primeval forest before the arrival of the Europeans, or of Indians as passive agents in subsequent changes wrought. It also establishes the origins of the environmental problems in the region such as deforestation, soil erosion, and resultant climate changes - the legacy of which we still live with today.

If this book interests you, so should other landmark studies on ecological or environmental history, such as Alfred Crosby's `Ecological Imperialism' or Donald Worster's `Dust Bowl'.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By S. Pactor VINE VOICE on May 27, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Even though I live in San Diego, I found this book to be well worth the read. Dense but short, "Changes in the Land" gives a close reading to the ecological impact of British colonization in New England. As Cronon states in his conclusion, this transformation has ramifications far outside New England, since the environmental degradation that accompanied early colonization forced settlers farther and farther afield.
Twenty years after it was published, the scholarship is still, what I would consider "cutting edge". Cronon cuts across disciplines and primary sources to produce a nuanced model of the interrelationship of humans and the environment. Cronon's work is just as interesting for his (to me, anyway) novel technique of writing a history where the personalities of humans take a back seat to the consequnces of their decisions.
The effect is at once radical and main stream. Radical, in that Cronon strips away traditional justifications for human decisions that reinforce the implicit assumptions that cause those same decisions. Main stream, in that he manages to stay away from the hyperbole and argument that plague revisions of history.
I've also read Cronon's "Nature's Metropolis", which is his book about the development of the city of Chicago. I would recommend that book, as well as this one, to anyone interested in the subjects that Cronon covers. His scholarship is top notch.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Dienne TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 29, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I only picked this up in support of the author after I read a bit about his role in the recent Wisconsin protests and the repercussions he faced therefor. I didn't actually expect to like the book. It sounded like a dry, academic study of a topic I wasn't much interested in. I couldn't have been more wrong. This book is not only fascinating and illuminative of a much overlooked and misunderstood period in history, but it is also relevant to aspects of today's political and economic struggles.

Admittedly, the book gets off to a slow start. The first section explores what we are able to know about New England ecology before and during the colonial period, and the limitations on how we know it. The first chapter of the second section is an exploration of the diversity of New England ecology, both between the general northern and southern regions, as well as among the various "patchworks" of ecological areas within the two regions. These sections form a necessary base for the remainder of the book, but they are rather dry and academic.

But beginning with the chapter "Seasons of Want and Plenty", Cronon gets into the real meat of his argument: the differences between the ways Indians vs. colonists used the land and the fundamental incompatibility of the two.

I learned in school that the Indians had no system for surveying land, nor even a concept of land ownership. In fact, I learned, they didn't even believe land could be owned, and out of ignorance or for sport they would often sell the same parcel to different colonial groups, or to the same group multiple times. Cronon explodes the fallacy in that understanding.
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