Discovering the Unknown Landscape
6 x 9
6 x 9
The rapidly disappearing wetlands that once spread so abundantly across the American continent serve an essential and irreplaceable ecological function. Yet for centuries, Americans have viewed them with disdain. Beginning with the first European settlers, we have thought of them as sinkholes of disease and death, as landscapes that were worse than useless unless they could be drained, filled, paved or otherwise "improved." As neither dry land, which can be owned and controlled by individuals, nor bodies of water, which are considered a public resource, wetlands have in recent years been at the center of controversy over issues of environmental protection and property rights.
The confusion and contention that surround wetland issues today are the products of a long and convoluted history. In Discovering the Unknown Landscape, Anne Vileisis presents a fascinating look at that history, exploring how Americans have thought about and used wetlands from Colonial times through the present day. She discusses the many factors that influence patterns of land use -- ideology, economics, law, perception, art -- and examines the complicated interactions among those factors that have resulted in our contemporary landscape. As well as chronicling the march of destruction, she considers our seemingly contradictory tradition of appreciating wetlands: artistic and literary representations, conservation during the Progressive Era, and recent legislation aimed at slowing or stopping losses.
Discovering the Unknown Landscape is an intriguing synthesis of social and environmental history, and a valuable examination of how cultural attitudes shape the physical world that surrounds us. It provides important context to current debates, and clearly illustrates the stark contrast between centuries of beliefs and policies and recent attempts to turn those longstanding beliefs and policies around. Vileisis's clear and engaging prose provides a new and compelling understanding of modern-day environmental conflicts.
"…a major addition to the literature of American environmental history.
Roderick Nash, author of "Wilderness and the American Mind"
"Though I have focused my entire professional career on wetlands, this book provided me with new information, insight, and appreciation of our wetlands resource. There is no student of wetlands that cannot benefit from reading this book.
Bill O. Wilen, Project Leader, National Wetlands Inventory
"Vileisis gives us the cultural history of America's wetlands in intricate detail, from Henry David Thoreau, neck deep in a cranberry bog, gaining 'a sense of the richness of life,' to senators' jockeys over the Swamp Land Act in 1849.
" …a fine survey of changing American attitudes towards wetlands, and of the struggles that have been fought for their protection. It will become a standard work on its subject.
William Cronon, University of Wisconsin, author of "Nature's Metropolis"
"A rare book that goes beyond description to contribute to our understanding of the land and of American culture.
Chicago Free Press
"A simply first-rate piece of environmental history—comprehensive and careful in its research, well reasoned in its analysis, and exceptionally well-written. Vileisis has provided a model as to how environmental history can markedly enhance how we understand the environmental present and how we think about the future.
Samuel P. Hays, Professor Emeritus of History, University of Pittsburgh
"In this timely, well-documented work, environmental historian Vileisis explains the confusion and contention surrounding wetlands preservation in terms of the differing cultural values Americans have historically assigned to these problematic habitats. . . . From salt marshes of Colonial New England to the recent efforts to restore the Florida Everglades, Vileisis discusses not only the changes in common practices, laws, and regulations but also the shifts in cultural and social attitudes. Highly recommended. . . .
Chapter 1. A Landscape on the Periphery
Chapter 2. A Mosaic of Native Swamps, Bogs, and Marshes
Chapter 3. A Nation Founded on Wetlands
Chapter 4. Exploring the Unknown Landscape
Chapter 5. The Drainage Imperative Codified
Chapter 6. Wetlands Portrayed and Envisioned
Chapter 7. Machines in the Wetland Gardens
Chapter 8. New Voices for the Wetlands
Chatper 9. The Double Agenda
Chapter 10. In the Path of the Boom
Chapter 11. Citizens and Lawmakers Enlist in the Wetlands Cause
Chapter 12. Federal Bulldozers and Draglines
Chapter 13. With New Tools in Hand
Chapter 14. The Reagan Agenda Challenges Wetland Gains
Chapter 15. Making and Breaking the Farm Connection
Chapter 16. A Contentious Era for Wetlands
Chapter 17. The Promise of Restoration
Chapter 18. The Lessons of History
Appendix - Some Common And Scientific Names Of Wetland Plants
Discovering the Unknown Landscape co-won the 1999 American Society for Environmental History's George Perkins Marsh Prize.
This blog originally appeared on Tilth.org and is reposted here with permission.
Two hundred years ago, most Americans had a profoundly different way of knowing their foods. They knew it well. With 95 percent of the population living in rural areas, eating local was the norm. Food knowledge—firsthand and personal—lay just out the backdoor.
Consider a circa 1790 dinner: the meat at the center of the meal came from an animal raised in nearby pastures and was slaughtered by a family member out back. The green peas were grown from saved seeds in the bucket-watered garden by the creek. Eggs came from clucking hens in the barnyard. Huckleberries ripened atop a sunny knoll and stained the hands of their pickers. Mother baked bread with wheat grown by her sons. Cooks and eaters around a table could tell a story for nearly every bite taken.
How we know foods changed drastically in the late 19th century as cities grew and our food systems rapidly expanded to meet urban appetites. Newly built railroads, feedlots and industrial abattoirs made it possible for faceless food companies to supply anonymous meat from a thousand miles away. While historic cookbooks had urged cooks to know about the age, sex and diet of the animals that became their meats, this traditional food knowledge soon became obsolete, if not repugnant. Likewise, the shiny new technology of tin cans pushed former limits of perishability, giving us year-round access to fruits and vegetables though making it impossible for homemakers to use traditional sensory cues to know if the food inside was ripe and wholesome.
As distance between farms and kitchens grew, so too did food fraud. Homemakers encountered flours bulked up with sawdust, underweight packages and fake jams made with hayseeds and dyes. A federal study in 1890 found that one in six “manufactured foods” were not what was claimed. Educators became alarmed that kids growing up in cities would be the first generation to not know where their foods came from, leaving them ill-prepared to discern what was genuine.
In response, Progressive-era activists started some of our nation’s first food-literacy initiatives. They pressed Congress to enact the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, which required food labeling for the first time. They also started school gardens, giving tens of thousands of city kids the experience of growing vegetables.
Meanwhile, to address persistent skepticism about distant steaks and enigmatic cans, food companies cultivated the new medium of advertising to ease Americans into new ways of knowing about packaged foods. Ads redirected homemakers’ attentions from the places and particulars of foods’ provenance, posited new meanings for “fresh” and “natural,” and persuaded us that modern and factory-made was better than homemade. By the 1920s, food companies had convinced most homemakers to leave the complexities of food preparation to professionals and to instead embrace a new role as “consumers.”
Brand names became the most important element of food knowledge, abetted by more ethereal notions of how products make us feel–savvy, fit, loving, loved. Along the way, manufactured foods even became associated with fictional characters such as Betty Crocker and Aunt Jemima, conveying trustworthiness to allay anxieties that homemakers felt about the intrusion of industry into their homes.
Continue reading the full post here.
Ann Vileisis is the author of Kitchen Literacy: How We Lost Knowledge of Where Food Comes From and Why We Need to Get it Back, which was recognized as a Finalist for the Connecticut Book Award.