The Republic of Nature

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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

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780295991672
  • Publisher: University of Washington Press
  • Publication date: 3/22/2012
  • Pages: 600
  • Sales rank: 503,906
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.90 (d)

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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