Republic of Nature

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Overview

In the dramatic narratives that comprise The Republic of Nature, Mark Fiege reframes the canonical account of American history based on the simple but radical premise that nothing in the nation's past can be considered apart from the natural circumstances in which it occurred. Revisiting historical icons so familiar that schoolchildren learn to take them for granted, he makes surprising connections that enable readers to see old stories in a new light.

Among the historical moments revisited here, a revolutionary nation arises from its environment and struggles to reconcile the diversity of its people with the claim that nature is the source of liberty. Abraham Lincoln, an unlettered citizen from the countryside, steers the Union through a moment of extreme peril, guided by his clear-eyed vision of nature's capacity for improvement. In Topeka, Kansas, transformations of land and life prompt a lawsuit that culminates in the momentous civil rights case of Brown v. Board of Education.

By focusing on materials and processes intrinsic to all things and by highlighting the nature of the United States, Fiege recovers the forgotten and overlooked ground on which so much history has unfolded. In these pages, the nation's birth and development, pain and sorrow, ideals and enduring promise come to life as never before, making a once-familiar past seem new. The Republic of Nature points to a startlingly different version of history that calls on readers to reconnect with fundamental forces that shaped the American experience.

Mark Fiege is an associate professor of history and the William E. Morgan Chair of Liberal Arts at Colorado State University, Fort Collins. He is the author of Irrigated Eden: The Making of an Agricultural Landscape in the West.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this landmark series of essays, Colorado State University history professor Fiege focuses on the crucial role of nature in the drafting of the Declaration of Independence, Abraham Lincoln’s philosophical development, the environmental effects of the Manhattan Project, and the conditions that made possible the energy crisis in the early 1970s, among other key moments in the country’s history. In one particularly effective example of his method, Fiege (Irrigated Eden: The Making of an Agricultural Landscape in the American West) examines the 19th-century cotton trade, whose environmental preconditions radically affected the South’s economic and political trajectory. Nature, Fiege asserts, had a much larger role in the formation of our present than we acknowledge, and his project is to remind us that “the republic is a composite of flesh as well as of ideas, of beating hearts as much as of rocks, trees, lead, soil, or steel.” Fiege’s prose is eminently readable, with useful pictures, maps, and footnotes throughout. Though using the term “nature” metaphorically dilutes the word’s potency and the analysis of diverse historical moments flattens potential nuance, overall, the book is an original contribution. It unveils the constant role of that “mass of human and animal life that energized the nation and created the world that we call our own.” (Apr.)
From the Publisher

"Mark Fiege re-frames the canonical account of American history based on the simple but radical premise that nothing in the nation's past can be considered apart from the natural circumstances in which it occurred…and points to a different version of history that prompts us to reconnect with fundamental forces that shaped the American experience." -Tom Williams, Utah Public Radio

"With The Republic of Nature, Fiege makes an original contribution that is a must-read for historians willing to challenge their assumptions about U.S. history. Fiege provides new insights into the fundamental events that shaped the nation. It is an eloquent, compelling argument that nature does indeed matter." -Kathleen Brosnan, Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, Vol. 111

"Fiege makes a powerful case for always asking the question 'How does nature matter?' when thinking about any present or historical issue or social policy." -Tikkun, Summer 2012

"Mark Fiege has written a book so original and so necessary that a reader can be excused for being both astonished and wondering why no one has written a book like this before. It is easy to say that human history never takes place outside the natural world; it is quite another thing to write a history that demonstrates it with the subtlety and grace Mark Fiege does in The Republic of Nature." -Richard White, author of Railroaded

"This is surely among the most important works of environmental history published since the field was founded four or more decades ago. No book before it has so compellingly demonstrated the value of applying environmental perspectives to historical events that at first glance may seem to have little to do with 'nature' or 'the environment.' No one who cares about the American past can afford to ignore what Fiege has to say." -from the Foreword by William Cronon

"Like the most excellent histories, The Republic of Nature demands readers see what was once familiar--Gettysburg, the Salem Witch Trials, and other iconic moments in the American past--in a radically new way, demonstrated with such force that there can be no return to the old narrative. But this book is better than excellent. It is truly brilliant, for Mark Fiege offers us an equally persuasive reorientation of the practice of history itself. It's not just about rewriting the stories; it's about fundamentally rewiring the way we see the past." -Philip Deloria, University of Michigan

"A thoughtful, thought-provoking, and beautifully written book. The Republic of Nature is sure to be a watershed title for environmental historians and open up a necessary--and long overdue--dialogue with other fields of American history." -Karl Jacoby, Brown University

Pacific Northwest Quarterly - David Arnold

Fiege has written a book that will undoubtedly leave an imprint on the field of environmental history and beyond.... he has added his book to a short list of must-reads in the field of environmental history.

Tikkun

Fiege makes a powerful case for always asking the question 'How does nature matter?' when thinking about any present or historical issue or social policy.

Southern California Quarterly - Brett Mitzelle

This smart and well-written book, one both synthetic and generative, hopefully will, in fact, prompt students, researchers, and the public to further explore the 'paths that circle through the nature of American history...'.

Isis 104 - Linda Nash

The Republic of Nature is an incredibly ambitious and completely unprecedented book… Fiege's goal is no less than to demonstrate the centrality of the nonhuman world to any understanding of the American past. The intended audience is wide, and this book invites the broadest consideration and debate.

Utah Public Radio - Tom Williams

Mark Fiege re-frames the canonical account of American history based on the simple but radical premise that nothing in the nation's past can be considered apart from the natural circumstances in which it occurred…and points to a different version of history that prompts us to reconnect with fundamental forces that shaped the American experience.

Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography - Raechel Lutz

The Republic of Nature dares us to think differently in the way the best history books do—by thoroughly engaging readers in unexpected ways and in challenging our perceptions of the ways the world works.

Oregon Historical Quarterly - Paul W. Hirt

Readers will be surprised and delighted by how much Fiege accomplishes in each case study.... a fine and affordable supplement to U.S. history surveys... [and] American environmental history courses.

Journal of American History - James Morton Turner

Fiege's book is extraordinary: beautifully written, ambitious in its arguments, and impressive in scope and scholarship... a compelling and ambitious study of American history that will enrich the classroom and provoke new scholarship.

Montana: The Magazine of Western History

Fiege is a fine storyteller with a powerful sense of historical context, and popular readers will like that this book is environmental history served up in a rich mixture of information they'll find familiar and grounding.

Choice

This imaginative and well-researched... approach should prompt scholars to continue to reexamine US history through an environmental prism. Recommended.

New York Review of Books - Robert Pogue Harrison

Fiege is a good storyteller; he is knowledgeable; he writes well; and he keeps it simple.

Wildlife Activist - Robert E. Hoopes

The Republic of Nature compellingly demonstrates the value of applying environmental perspective to historical events. From this we can learn the value of applying environmental perspectives to the history we are creating today.

Institute for Global Environmental Strategies

Fiege’s fresh new spin on important historical events of U.S. history places social and political factors on the background to highlight the environmental context. This thought-provoking book tells a different version of American history than the one we are used to, where nature plays a fundamental role in the events that shaped the nation.

Cascadia Weekly - Christian Martin

Mark Fiege's book presents a concept that is as revolutionary as it is obvious, writing history as if the natural world mattered.... Fiege takes a look at historical events so well-worn they've become platitudes and makes them fresh again... by... examining them through an environmental lens...

Science - J. R. McNeill

For readers swayed by Fiege's persuasive pages, American history will never look quite the same again.... This is unconventional environmental history just as it is unorthodox American history.... It is not a book to whip through in search of useful data... but one to savor on Sunday afternoons.

Minnesota History

The writing is compelling and will reward general readers as well as environmental historians with a new way of thinking about history.

Journal of Social History - Zachary Falck

The Republic of Nature is going to improve the teaching of and the study of American history for years to come. Although he did not attempt to craft a complete synthesis, having mastered the synthetic nature of environmental history, Mark Fiege demonstrates that the workings of the biophysical world were essential to the nation’s development.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780295991672
  • Publisher: University of Washington Press
  • Publication date: 3/22/2012
  • Pages: 600
  • Sales rank: 839,719
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Mark Fiege is associate professor of history and the William E. Morgan Chair of Liberal Arts at Colorado State University, Fort Collins. He is the author of Irrigated Eden: The Making of an Agricultural Landscape in the West.

University of Washington Press

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Table of Contents

Foreword: Environmental History Comes of Age William Cronort ix

Land of Lincoln 3

1 Satan in the Land: Nature, the Supernatural, and Disorder in Colonial "New England 23

2 By the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God: Declaring American Independence 57

3 King Cotton: The Cotton Plant and Southern Slavery 100

4 Nature's Nobleman: Abraham Lincoln and the Improvement of America 156

5 The Nature of Gettysburg: Environmental History and the Civil War 199

6 Iron Horses: Nature and the Building of the First U.S. Transcontinental Railroad 228

7 Atomic Sublime: Toward a Natural History of the Bomb 281

8 The Road to Brown V. Board: An Environmental History of the Color Line 318

9 It's a Gas: The United States and the Oil Shock of 1973-1974 358

Paths that Beckon 403

Acknowledgments 430

Notes 434

References 509

Illustration Credits 557

Index 560

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