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American Perceptions of Immigrant and Invasive Species

Strangers on the Land

Peter Coates

Publication Year: 2007

Sometimes by accident and sometimes on purpose, humans have transported plants and animals to new habitats around the world. Arriving in ever-increasing numbers to American soil, recent invaders have competed with, preyed on, hybridized with, and carried diseases to native species, transforming our ecosystems and creating anxiety among environmentalists and the general public. But is American anxiety over this crisis of ecological identity a recent phenomenon? Charting shifting attitudes to alien species since the 1850s, Peter Coates brings to light the rich cultural and historical aspects of this story by situating the history of immigrant flora and fauna within the wider context of human immigration. Through an illuminating series of particular invasions, including the English sparrow and the eucalyptus tree, what he finds is that we have always perceived plants and animals in relation to ourselves and the polities to which we belong. Setting the saga of human relations with the environment in the broad context of scientific, social, and cultural history, this thought-provoking book demonstrates how profoundly notions of nationality and debates over race and immigration have shaped American understandings of the natural world.

Published by: University of California Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. iii-v


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

For their contributions in a wide variety of forms (sometimes simply for good conversation), I thank Johnny Ajluni, William Beinart, Bill Cronon, Chris Dunford, Tom Dunlap, Marcus Hall, Elizabeth Arnold Hull, Nancy Jackson, Joe Jisser, Peter Kaufman, Rob Lambert, David Lowenthal, Rich Minnich, Cheryl Oakes, Alix Reiskind, Chris Smout, Rene Sugasawarra, ...

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1. Strangers and Natives

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pp. 1-27

“The United States is having a problem with aliens,” announced the National Safety Council’s Environmental Health Center as the twentieth century drew to a close. “Not illegal immigrants or space invaders,” elaborated the Center—a division of a parent organization more commonly associated with efforts to enforce seat belt laws, combat drunk driving, and ...

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2. The Avian Conquest of a Continent

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pp. 28-70

Visiting New York City’s Central Park in May 1903, Clinton G. Abbott conducted a quick survey of foreign birds. He spotted five species in twenty minutes: the European goldfinch, European chaffinch, European greenfinch, European starling, and European house (English) sparrow. He hailed gold- finches as “cheery little songsters” and admired the chaffinch’s plumage,..

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3. Plants, Insects, and Other Strangers to the Soil

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pp. 71-111

The fractious relations between the United States and Britain that flavored American attitudes to the English sparrow also spiced responses to floral pests from Britain. The Civil War did not interrupt Charles Darwin and Asa Gray’s regular correspondence on botanical matters. In the early 1860s, though, they often spent more time discussing politics than plants. British ...

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4. Arboreal Immigrants

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pp. 112-150

On National Arbor Day in 2001 (April 27), the National Arbor Day Foundation announced the results of a four-month online poll to select America’s National Tree. More than 444,000 votes were cast. The oak won by a clear margin, not least because it comes in sixty varieties that are more widely distributed around the nation than the representatives of any other ...

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5. The Nature of Alien Nation

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pp. 151-189

He did not refer to the storm raging over the eucalyptus in northern California. The Universal Australian’s champions there were precisely the sort of people Michael Pollan had in mind, though, when he criticized the growing emphasis on native plants in 1994. In his New York Times article, the prominent gardening writer coined the term “multihorticulturalist” to ...


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pp. 191-247


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pp. 249-256

Production Notes

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p. 257-257

E-ISBN-13: 9780520933255
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520249301

Page Count: 266
Publication Year: 2007

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Introduced organisms -- United States -- History.
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