On-Going Commentary and Supplemental Information

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Supplemental Information

September 18, 2008

I meant to include Cronon's "Afterword" from the 20th anniversary edition of Changes in the Land in the reading assignment. Not only is it an interesting reflection on the serendipity of academic scholarship, but it a contains some elements of an environmental autobiography that might give you some further ideas for your assignment.

Our visit to the Southern Vermont Natural History Museum next Thursday will give us a chance to "see" a passenger pigeon (the subject of the first chapter in Flights Maps) but also to consider more generally the representation of "nature" as natural history exhibition. There is a long tradition of such representations, from Noah's Ark to menageries of ancient empires to Renaissance cabinets of curiosities to zoos, museums, and roadside attractions. There is also a lot of descriptive and scholarly literature on these subjects. This topic gets only tangential attention in our course, but it is worth further thought. I have posted Donna Haraway's "Teddy Bear Patriarchy," which is mostly about the dioramas at the American Museum of Natural History in Ndew York rather than about Teddy Bears (but we will see a couple of "bear" video clips in class.)

September 14, 2008

Here are some things to think about as you read Cronon, Changes in the Land. These points include specific references to the text but also some broader ideas and issues that the text may suggest. The points include some already raised in class in consideration of the first portion of the book.

Was Thoreau’s nature a “maimed and imperfect one?†Is environmental history a history of “decline?â€ÂÂ

Or, on the other hand, is everything relative? Is all human behavior is ecologically functional? What would non-functional behavior look like?

What European settlers “saw†was as dependent on the markets of Europe as on the ecology of New England. ?†As Godelier (p. 165) remarks, “There are thus no resources as such, but only possibilities of resources provided by nature in the context of a given society at a certain moment in its evolution.â€ÂÂ

“People sought to give their landscape a new purposefulness, often by simplifying its seemingly chaotic tangle. Different people did this in different ways.†(p. 33)

Settlers failed to understand that they couldn’t do at least as well as the Indians simply by taking the bounty they believed was there for them; rather, they had to establish European relations of production, which turned out to be very difficult (p. 36)

What are the main points of contrast between Indian and European notions of property, wealth, and boundaries? Division of labor by gender? How did Indian patterns of use seem to entitle European claimants? However, even European “private property†is not absoluteâ€â€Âwhat restrictions on private use?

What can we take from this history that might contribute to a more general understanding of how property rights emerge/evolve? Would it be reasonable to theorize that increasing resource scarcity (or, alternatively, increasing human population density) leads to more restrictive property rights? What happened to hunting territories?

Who was liable for fire? Consider the evolution of obligations and responsibilities as between livestock and crops. Who was obliged to restrain livestock? Fence crops? How did this depend on the type of livestock, cattle v. hogs, for example, that differ in value and behavior?

What about responsibility and rights to wildlife for species perceived to have positive value and negative value? Wolf bounties? rights to hunt and fish? What about responsibility for clearing swamps or for invasive species?

To what extent did colonists operate initially with a pre-capitalist mentality? Or, was the New England colonial enterprise not only commercial but capitalist from the start?

How was the regional ecology transformed by European settlement?

What is the relationship between relative resource abundances and the kinds of technologies or enterprises that settlers pursued? For example, wood-using technologies were favored in contrast to European practice. “What distinguished European and American farms was their production of nearly identical commodities with very different proportions of labor and land.†(p. 169)

Compare Indian multiple and overlapping use of resources with European partitioning/division of land and resources into use-zones.