New England Forests Through Time: Insights from the Harvard Forest Dioramas / Edition 1

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Over the past three hundred years New England's landscape has been transformed. The forests were cleared; the land was farmed intensively through the mid-nineteenth century and then was allowed to reforest naturally as agriculture shifted west. Today, in many ways the region is more natural than at any time since the American Revolution. This fascinating natural history is essential background for anyone interested in New England's ecology, wildlife, or landscape.

In New England Forests through Time these historical and environmental lessons are told through the world-renowned dioramas in Harvard's Fisher Museum. These remarkable models have introduced New England's landscape to countless visitors and have appeared in many ecology, forestry, and natural history texts. This first book based on the dioramas conveys the phenomenal history of the land, the beauty of the models, and new insights into nature.

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Editorial Reviews

Current Books Chicago Botanic Garden
Eighty years ago, before virtual reality, before cinematic fantasies, Richard T. Fisher, then director of the Harvard Forest, and Ernest Stillman, a philanthropist, created a state-of-the-art display to try to explain the changes that occurred in New England over time. This book is both a historical document, giving a sense of how the science of forestry some 75 years ago understood the extent of man's impact on the environment, and a scientific synopsis of our current understanding of the ecological effects of agriculture and urbanization.
Harvard Magazine
In the museum at the Harvard Forest in Petersham, Massachusetts, are 23 large dioramas showing how that land looked at various periods during the past 300 years. This book displays all the dioramas in color for the first time, and the accompanying text interprets the environmental drama they exquisitely depict. Today, one sees, the region is in many ways more natural than at any time since the Revolution.
Northern Woodlands

The authors do a good job weaving the text with photographs and details from the dioramas to interpret the dynamic landscapes and the consequences of wholesale land-clearing, farm abandonment, and unchecked logging on the hillsides of central New England.
— Yuri Bihun

Natural New England
Using photographs and details from the dioramas, the authors describe the region's natural history, and interpret its consequences in terms of modern conservation issues. Anyone who sees the book will surely develop a longing to visit or revisit the museum and its dioramas in the near future.
Wild Earth

Over the past 300 years, New England landscape has shifted from forest to field and back again. This book presents this natural and human history through photos of the remarkable dioramas at Harvard's Fisher Museum woven together with a lively, informed narrative.
— David Johns

Northern Woodlands - Yuri Bihun
The authors do a good job weaving the text with photographs and details from the dioramas to interpret the dynamic landscapes and the consequences of wholesale land-clearing, farm abandonment, and unchecked logging on the hillsides of central New England.
Wild Earth - David Johns
Over the past 300 years, New England landscape has shifted from forest to field and back again. This book presents this natural and human history through photos of the remarkable dioramas at Harvard's Fisher Museum woven together with a lively, informed narrative.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674003446
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 8/28/2000
  • Series: Harvard Forest Series
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 80
  • Sales rank: 818,904
  • Product dimensions: 9.74 (w) x 8.39 (h) x 0.23 (d)

Meet the Author

David R. Foster is Director of the Harvard Forest in Petersham, Massachusetts, and teaches ecology at Harvard University.

John F. O'Keefe is the Coordinator of Harvard University's Fisher Museum of Forestry.

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Table of Contents



Pre-Settlement Forest 1700 A.D.

An Early Settler Clears a Homestead 1740 A.D.

Height of Forest Clearance and Agriculture 1830 A.D.

Farm Abandonment 1850 A.D.

"Old-Field" White Pine Forest on Abandoned Land 1910 A.D.

"Old-Field" White Pine is Succeeded by Hardwoods 1915 A.D.

A Vigorously Growing Forest of Hardwoods 1930 A.D.

The Modern Forest Landscape

Summary: Ecological Lessons from Forest History


Old-Growth Forests

Wildlife Habitat in a Dynamic Landscape

Accelerated Erosion with Intensive Land Use

Forest Fire

Forest Fire Management


Early Treatment of a Hardwood Stand

Improvement Cutting in a Hardwood Stand

First Thinning in a Mixed White Pine-Hardwood Forest

Third Thinning in a Mixed White Pine-Hardwood Forest

Conversion Of Cordwood To Future Sawtimber

Increasing While Pine in Hardwood Stands

Release of Pine from Suppression by Gray Birch

Pruning White Pine to Produce Better Logs

Group Selection Method of Harvesting White Pine

Shelterwood Method in White Pine And Hardwoods


Sugqested Further Reading

About the Harvard Forest

The Fisher Museum

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 4, 2001

    Liked Bullough's Pond? Are You Ready for Harvard's Forest?

    Many people do not realize that Harvard University has its own forest in New England. The forest has been a source of study for silviculture since its founding in 1907 for almost 100 years. In the late 1920s, Harvard professor Richard T. Fisher joined with a philanthropist, Dr. Ernest G. Stillman, and talented artisans in the studio of Guernsey and Pitman in Harvard Square to develop a remarkable series of dioramas to capture conservation issues for future generations of silviculture students to study. These dioramas are the basis for the text and illustrations in this book. New England was mostly ancient forest when the European settlers arrived. The small Native American population cleared only a modest portion of the forests, and used the game from the forests rather more than the timber. With immigration, New England rapidly became one big farm. So much for the original forests. Next, the New England farms were put out of business by richer, midwestern farms shipping their goods to the east. Within a few decades, new forests arose to cover the temporarily cleared and abandoned fields. With rapid growth in pines, a second wave of clearing occurred about a hundred years ago, leaving the forests to start to regrow again. The current hardwood-dominated forests are a result of this man-driven process. These experiences provide many lessons for understanding the impact that people have on forests, and for suggesting better practices for the future. In one sequence of seven dioramas depicting the same place over time, you can see the whole historical process take place. I found it fascinating. I recognized in each image places that I had visited in New England. Now I can connect each site to what it represents in terms of environmental circumstances. That is like learning to read nature in the way I can read a book to get a message. Today, we think ahead further (but probably not yet far enough) to consider the implications of our actions on future generations and other species. These dioramas show the importance of capturing the natural history of an area to begin to draw those lessons. Another set of dioramas were designed to exemplify the conservation issues in New England forests, including loss of old-growth forests, habitat needs for wildlife, natural losses due to hurricanes, erosion from cutting forests, imported pests that feed on forests, and the impact of natural fires and fighting forest fires. To me the most fascinating part was in the suggested good principles of forestry management. Each stage of forest growth and regrowth is displayed, along with what needs to be done for each stage. This reminded me of being asked about what to do by a client with very large holdings of forests in Maine a few years ago. If I had known about these dioramas, I could have given much more appropriate and valuable advice. I do feel quite a pang of regret at the missed opportunity, as a result. The final section of the book shows the detail of how the dioramas were created. The book also tells you about the history of the Harvard Forest and how to reach the Fisher Museum where the dioramas are displayed. I recommend the visit! The reference to Bullough's Pond in the title of this review is for the highly regarded book that slightly preceded this one, about the ecological history of a man-made pond in Newton, Massachusetts. If you have not yet read that fine work, you have a real treat ahead of you. Anyone who is interested in understanding the rhythms between humans and nature can learn much from these two books. Having read these two books, a new question occurs to me. At one time, forest fires were aggressively avoided in New England. The current view is that these are a natural process and should not be so aggressively countered. Where else do our views need to be shifted to reflect the long-term best interests of all? How should use of forests and water reserves be adjusted to reflect optimum

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