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In the Field, Among the Feathered: A History of Birders and Their Guides

Overview

America is a nation of ardent, knowledgeable birdwatchers. But how did it become so? And what role did the field guide play in our passion for spotting, watching, and describing birds?

In the Field, Among the Feathered tells the history of field guides to birds in America from the Victorian era to the present, relating changes in the guides to shifts in science, the craft of field identification, and new technologies for the mass reproduction of images. Drawing on his experience...

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Overview

America is a nation of ardent, knowledgeable birdwatchers. But how did it become so? And what role did the field guide play in our passion for spotting, watching, and describing birds?

In the Field, Among the Feathered tells the history of field guides to birds in America from the Victorian era to the present, relating changes in the guides to shifts in science, the craft of field identification, and new technologies for the mass reproduction of images. Drawing on his experience as a passionate birder and on a wealth of archival research, Thomas Dunlap shows how the twin pursuits of recreation and conservation have inspired birders and how field guides have served as the preferred method of informal education about nature for well over a century.

The book begins with the first generation of late 19th-century birdwatchers who built the hobby when opera glasses were often the best available optics and bird identification was sketchy at best. As America became increasingly urban, birding became more attractive, and with Roger Tory Peterson's first field guide in 1934, birding grew in both popularity and accuracy. By the 1960s recreational birders were attaining new levels of expertise, even as the environmental movement made birding's other pole, conservation, a matter of human health and planetary survival. Dunlap concludes by showing how recreation and conservation have reached a new balance in the last 40 years, as scientists have increasingly turned to amateurs, whose expertise had been honed by the new guides, to gather the data they need to support habitat preservation.

Putting nature lovers and citizen-activists at the heart of his work, Thomas Dunlap offers an entertaining history of America's long-standing love affair with birds, and with the books that have guided and informed their enthusiasm.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"n the Field will be fascinating reading for any birder, naturalist, or student of environmental history. Highly recommended." —CHOICE

"In the Field, Among the Feathered should be read by birders of all stripes who want to know more about the evolution of their hobby (or obsession). It also makes an important contribution to environmental history, placing birding in its larger historical context. Dunlap shows how birding developed from a genteel activity for the well-to-do to an occasionally competitive sport, even as its practitioners kept an eye and an ear on environmental concerns."-Kurk Dorsey, author of The Dawn of Conservation Diplomacy

"Dunlap's brilliant environmental history of birders and their ubiquitous guides reveals new insights about a critical convergence of science, art, recreation, and conservation. His engaging and enlightening narrative demonstrates antecedents of our current enthusiasms for sustainability and clearly shows the critical role of citizen science and popular recreation in establishing the foundations for modern environmentalism. Wonderful and important."-Andy Kirk, author of Counterculture Green

"Thomas Dunlap's book shows how North American field guides have evolved since 1889 to meet the ever-growing expertise of birders. With today's guides, birds that a hundred years ago could be identified only in the hand are easily distinguished by sight or by song in the field. Highly recommended for field naturalists, historians, and folks looking for an engaging hobby."-Chandler S. Robbins, senior author of The Field Guide to Birds of North America

Library Journal
This thorough, well-documented book surveys the evolution of field guides and their influence in popularizing birding and nature in general, as well as their potent role in starting the environmental movement. As a significant publishing genre, field guides did not hold much sway until Roger Tory Peterson's then seminal A Field Guide to the Birds, published in 1934; since then they've been a runaway success. Dunlap (history, Texas A&M Univ.; Faith in Nature) examines this phenomenon completely, including illustrations from progressive guides, which demonstrate their ever-increasing utility and sophistication. Peterson's guide, if its later editions are included, ranks among the best-selling books of all time, competing even with the most popular novels and cookbooks. Dunlap takes us from the late 19th century to the contemporary scene, in which new guides are issued every year, some in electronic format. Along the way, he discusses the growth in popularity of birding and other outdoor pursuits as well as important related additional works. VERDICT While easy and engaging to read, this book is a work of scholarship, supported by a National Science Foundation grant. Highly recommended.—Henry Armistead, formerly with Free Lib. of Philadelphia
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199734597
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 12/14/2011
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Thomas R. Dunlap is Professor of History at Texas A&M University, He is the author of Faith in Nature: Environmentalism As Religious Quest.

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Table of Contents

Introduction
Ch 1: Shooting Birds with Opera-Glasses
Ch 2: A Book for a Hobby
Ch 3: Knowledge and Skills
Ch 4: The Field Guide Comes of Age
Ch 5: Birds over America
Ch 6: Birding in a Silent Spring
Ch 7: Environmental Birding
Conclusion The Gyre
Notes
Bibliography

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