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This Delta, This Land

An Environmental History of the Yazoo-Mississippi Floodplain

Mikko Saikku

Publication Year: 2005

This Delta, This Land is a comprehensive environmental history of the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta--the first one to place the Delta's economic and cultural history in an environmental context. The Delta, the floodplain between two great rivers in the northwestern corner of Mississippi, has changed enormously since the Civil War. Agriculture, lumbering, and flood-management schemes have transformed it beyond recognition--and beyond any prospects for a full recovery.

However, says Mikko Saikku, the 150 years following the Civil War brought greater environmental change than we generally realize. Indeed, the long-term environmental history of the Delta is much more complex than our current view of it, which privileges recent periods rather than presenting the entire continuum. Looking across thousands of years, Saikku examines successive human societies in the Delta, drawing connections between environmental and social problems and noting differences between Native Americans and Euro-Americans in their economies, modes of production, and land-use patterns.

Saikku's range of sources is astonishing: travel literature, naturalists' writings, government records, company archives, archaeological data, private correspondence, and more. As he documents how such factors as climate and water levels shaped the Delta, he also reveals the human aspects of the region's natural history, including land reclamation, slave and sharecropper economies, ethnic and racial perceptions of land ownership and stewardship, and even blues music.

Published by: University of Georgia Press


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pp. ix-x

List of Tables

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pp. xi

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pp. xiii-xvii

After graduating from high school some twenty years ago, I was at a loss in which field to continue my studies at the university level. I had always been interested in history, but the study of the natural world...

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CHAPTER ONE: Environmental History and the Yazoo-Mississippi Floodplain

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pp. 1-25

In 1942, by publishing Go Down, Moses, a collection of stories describing the problematic relationships between black and white Mississippians and their natural environment, the then relatively unknown William Faulkner displayed an acute awareness...

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CHAPTER TWO: A True Ecological Complex

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pp. 26-51

Probably the best-known definition on the geographical extent of the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta has been provided by Delta author David L. Cohn - "[t]he Mississippi Delta begins in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel in Memphis and ends on Catfish Row...

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CHAPTER THREE: Enter Homo sapiens

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pp. 52-86

The aboriginal human inhabitants of North America, usually known as Indians or Native Americans, have often been portrayed as a group of modern environmentalists in their land-use practices. Native Americans, according to such accounts, lived off...

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CHAPTER FOUR: The Creation of a Cotton Kingdom

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pp. 87-137

Whatever the size of the pre-Columbian populations and the amount of the acreage cultivated by them, people of European- and African-origin were to practice agriculture in an unprecedented scale everywhere on the continent, including the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta...

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CHAPTER FIVE: Taming the Rivers

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pp. 138-164

The importance of hydrological conditions for human habitation and subsistence is hard to overestimate for a floodplain bordering a river that draws water from 42 percent of the continental United States, accommodates the runoff from the entire Coldwater-Tallahatchie-Yazoo...

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CHAPTER SIX: Bounties of the Bottomland

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pp. 165-219

The anthropogenic alteration of the southern floodplain was not restricted to the rebuilding of its hydrological regime and the extensive conversion of bottomland forests to cotton fields. European settlement in North America brought sweeping changes in land use all...

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CHAPTER SEVEN: A Transformed Landscape

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pp. 220-255

During the nineteenth century, a growing number of Americans recognized the forest as the basis of industrialization, agricultural expansion, and material advancement. This soon resulted in a significant diminution of the area occupied by forests...


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pp. 257-312


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pp. 313-357


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pp. 359-373

E-ISBN-13: 9780820340692
E-ISBN-10: 0820340693
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820325347
Print-ISBN-10: 0820325341

Page Count: 400
Publication Year: 2005