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Changes in the land: Indians, colonists, and the ecology of New England 1st Edition

4.1 out of 5 stars 30 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0809034055
ISBN-10: 0809034050
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Much historical writing is far more concerned with the players than the stage: narratives of kings and cabbage-merchants, although acted out in fields and forests, typically include nature only as a convenient prop to provide the occasional splash of color. In Changes in the Land, Cronon treats the land of New England with the same sensitivity and attention to detail as the lives of the American natives and the colonists--he depicts the effects of changing land-use patterns on the texture of the New England landscape, and gives voice to the changing communities of trees, rock walls, and rivers. The chapter on the effects of changing notions of "property" on the ecology of New England are especially strong.

Changes in the Land is almost the equal of Cronon's masterpiece, Nature's Metropolis, a monumental study of the ecological effects of Chicago on the entire central portion of the United States in the 1800s. Highly Recommended to specialists and general readers alike.


A superb achievement... -- Wilcomb E. Washburn, director of the Office of American Studies, Smithsonian Institution

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

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 241 pages
  • Publisher: Hill and Wang; 1st edition (1983)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0809034050
  • ISBN-13: 978-0809034055
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.4 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #977,251 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
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.
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Format: Paperback
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).
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Format: Paperback
At one point in my life, I read every single thing ever written on the Puritans; I was preparing for a dissertation that took me a year to prepare for, only to find somebody else published almost exactly what I was working on a month before I sat down to write. To this day, I have an inordinate fondness for books on the Puritans that mystifies my friends. Like all fans, I know everything there is to know about the subject at hand. So my joy in discovering "Changes in the Land" was in finding a book that told me much that I didn't know about the Puritans. William Cronon, a student of my favorite colonial historian Edmund Morgan, has come up with an excellent mix of ecology and anthropology, history and theology. The development of New England as a land separate from the Indians, and from their uses of the land, is one which resonates throughout American mythology. From the Pilgrims' first Thanksgiving (wherein their wholesale adoption of Indian agriculture kept them starving) to the wholesale abandonment of New England farms in the early 1800s due to their miniscule returns, Cronon covers all the bases. A truly fine read for anybody wishing to know more about the history of ecology, the dynamics of invasion, or the Puritans themselves.
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Format: Paperback
I have never read a book that explains the complex interactions between Native Americans, Europeans and their environments quite so well. It is the common sense conclusion that results when you consider the written records of the day, the pollen records available, and the ecology of the New England landscape today. The first time I read it, I found myself saying 'of course' over and over again. Of all the books I've read on the ecological history of this country, this is the ONE I recommend most.
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