TABLE OF CONTENTS January, 2016 | Vol. 21, No. 1
Cruising for Pinelands: Knowledge Work in the Wisconsin Lumber Industry, 1870–1900 by Craig William Kinnear
The Ravages of Tereodo: The rise and Fall of Shipworm in US History, 1860-1940 by Derek Lee Nelson
Gallery Editors’ Note by Finis Dunaway
Environmental historians rarely study the aesthetic dimensions of managerial conservation. Joshua Nygren’s Gallery essay considers this neglected topic through the close analysis of a 1960 magazine advertisement by Caterpillar Tractor Company. Through its full-color two-page spread—a feature we have tried to replicate in these pages—the ad sought to teach Americans how to see a watershed. Nygren examines the use of aerial panoramic perspective and didactic captioning to explain how this image promoted a utilitarian vision of conservation. He links the ad to broader developments in the postwar period, from the rise of public-private partnerships in conservation to fears of overpopulation and resource scarcity. He emphasizes how and why Caterpillar, together with the US Soil Conservation Service, promoted this image of material abundance through managerial control. Nygren’s analysis resonates with an observation made by the geographer Yi-Fu Tuan. In Passing Strange and Wonderful (1993), Tuan noted, “The aesthetic attitude, in contrast to the practical one, presumes receptivity and a disposition toward inaction, yet it can also be a driving passion for control.”
Issue 21.1 – January 2016
All history is about transformation. Large or small, dramatic or subtle, change is central to our discipline. All of the articles in this issue explore moments of transformation, points at which human systems adapted to new or changing environmental conditions or modified those environments to suit evolving human needs.
In “From Factory Town to Metropolitan Junkyard,” Andrew Hurley takes us on a tour of several brownfields—those spaces left behind when industries collapse and investment declines—as they transformed from postindustrial wastelands into postconsumer waste bins. Hurley traces the paths that cities like Camden, New Jersey; East St. Louis, Illinois; and Richmond, California, took as they sought to revitalize their cities and their economies by integrating former manufacturing sites into a growing waste management industry. In reinventing their roles as “specialized hubs for storing and processing unusable inventory,” Hurley argues, these “older manufacturing suburbs reasserted their relevance to the workings of late twentieth-century global capitalism and affluent consumer societies.”
Natale Zappia examines a dramatically different environmental transformation—one based on the transfer of energy from grasses to herbivores—that had important political and economic ramifications. “Revolutions in the Grass” is a novel analysis of the “age of revolutions” (1763–1848) in which Zappia suggests that “the conversion of the grasslands by large mammals produced new herbivore frontiers that radically transformed most of continental North America and similarly influenced oceanic networks of exchange.” The political convulsions that led to American and Mexican independence and, later, the appropriation of a third of Mexico’s territory by the new United States were intimately tied, Zappia argues, to the development of a global food system founded on the sea of grass in the American interior.
Nearly a century later, and over the course of a single decade, Portugal’s fascist regime attempted to impose an “ideology of the land,” one that would transform that nation’s agricultural and forestry sectors through massive state campaigns. Tiago Saraiva documents three of the New State’s projects—the Wheat Campaign of 1929, the Irrigation Plan of 1935, and the Afforestation Plan of 1938—to demonstrate the ways in which fascism became part of Portugal’s landscape. Saraiva argues that characterizing such schemes as examples of “the paradox of reactionary modernism” is problematic and that “it is more productive to place intensive environmental management at the core of fascist modernist experiments.”
Craig Kinnear weaves together a story of tall tales and tall trees in his article on Wisconsin timber cruisers, the men who labored on the land to make the Public Lands Survey (PLS) legible to foresters and timber companies. Kinnear focuses on a unique source, John Henry Goddard’s record of his work in the winter of 1881, and argues that such evidence provides crucial insight into the “knowledge work” the timber cruisers performed for late nineteenth-century industrial loggers. Indeed, Kinnear avers, without the detailed information the cruisers gathered about the terrain and forest cover, obtained through difficult and tedious labor and maintained through subterfuge and storytelling, the PLS maps would have been useless to the companies that transformed the upper Midwest through timber harvesting.
In “The Ravages of Teredo,” Derek Nelson shifts our focus from the terrestrial to the littoral, where between the 1860s and 1940s, wooden structures faced a dangerous foe. Woodborers, as teredo are more commonly known, became a widespread problem for the United States and its coastal development beginning in the mid-nineteenth century. They weakened ships’ hulls and harbor pilings from the inside out, posing an unseen threat to shipping, commerce, and human life and serving as the impetus for the transformation of US coastal infrastructure. As Nelson notes, references to the problem “regularly drew on the menacing catchphrase ‘the ravages of teredo’ to describe its exploits, a negative association that helped to turn the word teredo into a environmental icon that Americans used to express social, economic, and cultural fears and disdain for decades.”