Discovering the Unknown Landscape: A History of America's Wetlands / Edition 1

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<p>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.<p>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.<p>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.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Whether seen as "bugs and mud" or as breeding grounds for countless species of fish, birds and other organisms, wetlands have borne much of the brunt of our development as a nation, argues environmental historian and naturalist Vileisis. Here, her painstaking research into the changing ways people thought, wrote about and thereby legislated wetlands throughout the many stages of the country's development makes a compelling case for their central role in our history. Vileisis takes us through our many uses of wetlands resources, from the filling of Boston's marshes, early rice-milling dams and the travels in search of "`rare and Useful productions'" of 18th-century botanist William Bartram, to the "great Florida land giveaway" of the 1870s and the over-logging of Southern swamps. Nearly two thirds of the book deals with our own century, including the formation of the Army Corp of Engineers (and their rise to power in controlling wetlands alteration) and the enactment of the National Environmental Policy Act in the late 1960s, as well as the expanding role of concerned citizens in policy making after WWII. Along the way, Vileisis shows how America's explosive population growth and subsequent housing development decimated the habitats of waterfowl as well as those of other species. In her fine book, Vileisis provides a comprehensive account of a not so slow-motion natural disaster. Illustrations. (Oct.)
Project Leader, National Wetlands Inventory - Bill O. Wilen
"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."
"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."
University of Wisconsin, author of Nature's Metropolis - William Cronon
" …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."
The Chicago Free Press
“A rare book that goes beyond description to contribute to our understanding of the land and of American culture.”
Professor Emeritus of History, University of Pittsburgh - Samuel P. Hays
"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."
author of Wilderness and the American Mind - Roderick Nash
"…a major addition to the literature of American environmental history."
Chicago Free Press
"A rare book that goes beyond description to contribute to our understanding of the land and of American culture."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781559633154
  • Publisher: Island Press
  • Publication date: 9/28/1999
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 445
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Table of Contents

1 A Landscape on the Periphery 1
2 A Mosaic of Native Swamps, Bogs, and Marshes 11
3 A Nation Founded on Wetlands 29
4 Exploring the Unknown Landscape 51
5 The Drainage Imperative Codified 71
6 Wetlands Portrayed and Envisioned 95
7 Machines in the Wetland Gardens 111
8 New Voices for the Wetlands 143
9 The Double Agenda 167
10 In the Path of the Boom 195
11 Citizens and Lawmakers Enlist in the Wetlands Cause 211
12 Federal Bulldozers and Draglines 229
13 With New Tools in Hand 253
14 The Reagan Agenda Challenges Wetland Gains 275
15 Making and Breaking the Farm Connection 293
16 A Contentious Era for Wetlands 317
17 The Promise of Restoration 335
18 The Lessons of History 347
Notes 351
App Some Common and Scientific Names of Wetland Plants 417
Acknowledgments 419
Index 421
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