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Changes In The Land William Cronon Book Review

1433 words - 6 pages

Assignment Book Review: Changes in the Land- William Cronon

William Cronon sets out to explain why New England habitats changed as they did during the colonial period and how this was all a process of change. His thesis is to portray that the shift from Indian to European dominance in New England entailed important changes in the region’s plant and animal communities. Cronon supports this thesis by providing the reader with contrasts of both the ecosystems and the economies in pre-colonial New England to those at the beginning of the 19th century. From the initial squandering of valuable resources to the ultimate ruin of many areas in New England, the ...view middle of the document...

Cronon reveals that the New England landscape during the 1800s was significantly different from what the first Europeans described. He uses Henry David Thoreau as a reference to explain how he also saw changes in the land during the 1800s. Animals which were once indigenous to the land are now very rare due to the domesticated animals of the Europeans. Because these domesticated animals were able to adjust and reproduce themselves quickly, they were able to takeover the lands. He also explains certain species of trees which used to be in abundance now grow in short supply because of their attractiveness as a fuel source. In addition to that, the deforestation affected local temperatures in certain regions, altered the soil and caused problems in drainage patterns. Since there were fewer trees there would be a greater chance of flooding every year because there would be no trees to protect the forest grounds.

Cronon goes on to discuss the different views of the land as seen by the Indians and the early New England colonists. The New England puritans believed that people who moved so much and worked so little had no right to lay claim to the land they inhabited. Indian villages moved a lot to take advantage of the lands rich variety, all they owned could be packed on their backs and moved to another site. The colonists’ idea of using the land involved clearing away the wilderness so they could plant crops and raise cattle. The difference in the way each looked at nature is reflected in the names given to land areas. The Indians used ecological labels to describe how the land could be used. The colonists named sections of land after their homeland. The difference between the Indians and the Europeans was each loved the land in a different way. Even though the Indians used the land differently, they nevertheless possessed it by the right of first occupancy. Colonists rationalized their conquest of New England by refusing to extend the rights of property to the Indians. They both trivialized the ecology of Indian life and paved the way for destroying it.

The Indians of pre-colonial New England subsisted off the land in a migratory fashion. Cronon distinguishes between the Indians of northern New England, who relied almost exclusively on hunting and fishing in response to an often fairly inhospitable climate and those of southern New England, who relied on agriculture for half to two-thirds of their diet. Through the use of small, controlled burning of the forest, movement between different areas of food sources through the year, low population densities (particularly in northern New England), and the use of multi-crop agriculture (including nitrogen-fixing beans) among southern Indians, the impact of the human population on local ecosystems was fairly small and consistent. This impact changed at an accelerating rate upon the arrival of Europeans. To accommodate the greater crop and livestock stores for commerce and safety against harsh...

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