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

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Overview

<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

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."
Smithsonian
"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."
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.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781559633147
  • Publisher: Island Press
  • Publication date: 9/1/1997
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 445
  • Product dimensions: 6.32 (w) x 9.23 (h) x 1.34 (d)

Table of Contents

Preface
 
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
 
Notes
Appendix - Some Common And Scientific Names Of Wetland Plants
Acknowledgments
Index

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