University of Georgia Press

Environmental History and the American South

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Environmental History and the American South

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Conserving Southern Longleaf

Herbert Stoddard and the Rise of Ecological Land Management

Albert G. Way

The Red Hills region of south Georgia and north Florida contains one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in North America, with longleaf pine trees that are up to four hundred years old and an understory of unparalleled plant life. At first glance, the longleaf woodlands at plantations like Greenwood, outside Thomasville, Georgia, seem undisturbed by market economics and human activity, but Albert G. Way contends that this environment was socially produced and that its story adds nuance to the broader narrative of American conservation.

The Red Hills woodlands were thought of primarily as a healthful refuge for northern industrialists in the early twentieth century. When notable wildlife biologist Herbert Stoddard arrived in 1924, he began to recognize the area’s ecological value. Stoddard was with the federal government, but he drew on local knowledge to craft his land management practices, to the point where a distinctly southern, agrarian form of ecological conservation emerged. This set of practices was in many respects progressive, particularly in its approach to fire management and species diversity, and much of it remains in effect today.

Using Stoddard as a window into this unique conservation landscape, Conserving Southern Longleaf positions the Red Hills as a valuable center for research into and understanding of wildlife biology, fire ecology, and the environmental appreciation of a region once dubbed simply the “pine barrens.”

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An Everglades Providence

Marjory Stoneman Douglas and the American Environmental Century

Jack E. Davis

No one did more than Marjory Stoneman Douglas to transform the Everglades from the country's most maligned swamp into its most beloved wetland. By the late twentieth century, her name and her classic The Everglades: River of Grass had become synonymous with Everglades protection. The crusading resolve and boundless energy of this implacable elder won the hearts of an admiring public while confounding her opponents—growth merchants intent on having their way with the Everglades. Douglas's efforts ultimately earned her a place among a mere handful of individuals honored as a namesake of a national wilderness area.

In the first comprehensive biography of Douglas, Jack E. Davis explores the 108-year life of this compelling woman. Douglas was more than an environmental activist. She was a suffragist, a lifetime feminist and supporter of the ERA, a champion of social justice, and an author of diverse literary talent. She came of age literally and professionally during the American environmental century, the century in which Americans mobilized an unprecedented popular movement to counter the equally unprecedented liberties they had taken in exploiting, polluting, and destroying the natural world.

The Everglades were a living barometer of America's often tentative shift toward greater environmental responsibility. Reconstructing this larger picture, Davis recounts the shifts in Douglas's own life and her instrumental role in four important developments that contributed to Everglades protection: the making of a positive wetland image, the creation of a national park, the expanding influence of ecological science, and the rise of the modern environmental movement. In the grand but beleaguered Everglades, which Douglas came to understand is a vast natural system that supports human life, she saw nature's providence.

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My Work Is That of Conservation

An Environmental Biography of George Washington Carver

Mark D. Hersey

George Washington Carver (ca. 1864–1943) is at once one of the most familiar and misunderstood figures in American history. In My Work Is That of Conservation, Mark D. Hersey reveals the life and work of this fascinating man who is widely—and reductively—known as the African American scientist who developed a wide variety of uses for the peanut.

Carver had a truly prolific career dedicated to studying the ways in which people ought to interact with the natural world, yet much of his work has been largely forgotten. Hersey rectifies this by tracing the evolution of Carver’s agricultural and environmental thought starting with his childhood in Missouri and Kansas and his education at the Iowa Agricultural College. Carver’s environmental vision came into focus when he moved to the Tuskegee Institute in Macon County, Alabama, where his sensibilities and training collided with the denuded agrosystems, deep poverty, and institutional racism of the Black Belt. It was there that Carver realized his most profound agricultural thinking, as his efforts to improve the lot of the area’s poorest farmers forced him to adjust his conception of scientific agriculture.

Hersey shows that in the hands of pioneers like Carver, Progressive Era agronomy was actually considerably “greener” than is often thought today. My Work Is That of Conservation uses Carver’s life story to explore aspects of southern environmental history and to place this important scientist within the early conservation movement.

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Pharsalia

An Environmental Biography of a Southern Plantation, 1780-1880

Lynn A. Nelson

Pharsalia, a plantation located in piedmont Virginia at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, is one of the best-documented sites of its kind. Drawing on the exceptionally rich trove of papers left behind by the Massie family, Pharsalia's owners, this case study demonstrates how white southern planters paradoxically relied on capitalistic methods even as they pursued an ideal of agrarian independence. Lynn A. Nelson also shows how the contradictions between these ends and means would later manifest themselves in the southern conservation movement.

Nelson follows the fortunes of Pharsalia's owners, telling how Virginia's traditional extensive agriculture contributed to the soil's erosion and exhaustion. Subsequent attempts to balance independence and sustainability through a complex system of crop rotation and resource recycling ultimately gave way to an intensive, slave-based form of agricultural capitalism.

Pharsalia could not support the Massies' aristocratic ambitions, and it was eventually parceled up and sold off by family members. The farm's story embodies several fundamentals of modern U.S. environmental thought. Southerners' nineteenth-century quest for financial and ecological independence provided the background for conservationists' attempts to save family farming. At the same time, farmers' failure to achieve independence while maximizing profits and crop yields drove them to seek government aid and regulation. These became some of the hallmarks of conservation efforts in the New Deal and beyond.

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Remaking Wormsloe Plantation

The Environmental History of a Lowcountry Landscape

Drew A. Swanson Foreword by Paul S. Sutter

Why do we preserve certain landscapes while developing others without restraint? Drew A. Swanson’s in-depth look at Wormsloe plantation, located on the salt marshes outside of Savannah, Georgia, explores that question while revealing the broad historical forces that have shaped the lowcountry South.

Wormsloe is one of the most historic and ecologically significant stretches of the Georgia coast. It has remained in the hands of one family from 1736, when Georgia’s Trustees granted it to Noble Jones, through the 1970s, when much of Wormsloe was ceded to Georgia for the creation of a state historic site. It has served as a guard post against aggression from Spanish Florida; a node in an emerging cotton economy connected to far-flung places like Lancashire and India; a retreat for pleasure and leisure; and a carefully maintained historic site and green space. Like many lowcountry places, Wormsloe is inextricably tied to regional, national, and global environments and is the product of transatlantic exchanges.

Swanson argues that while visitors to Wormsloe value what they perceive to be an “authentic,” undisturbed place, this landscape is actually the product of aggressive management over generations. He also finds that Wormsloe is an ideal place to get at hidden stories, such as African American environmental and agricultural knowledge, conceptions of health and disease, the relationship between manual labor and views of nature, and the ties between historic preservation and natural resource conservation. Remaking Wormsloe Plantation connects this distinct Georgia place to the broader world, adding depth and nuance to the understanding of our own conceptions of nature and history.

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War upon the Land

Military Strategy and the Transformation of Southern Landscapes during the American Civil War

Lisa M. Brady

In this first book-length environmental history of the American Civil War, Lisa M. Brady argues that ideas about nature and the environment were central to the development and success of Union military strategy.

From the start of the war, both sides had to contend with forces of nature, even as they battled one another. Northern soldiers encountered unfamiliar landscapes in the South that suggested, to them, an uncivilized society's failure to control nature. Under the leadership of Ulysses S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, and Philip Sheridan, the Union army increasingly targeted southern environments as the war dragged on. Whether digging canals, shooting livestock, or dramatically attempting to divert the Mississippi River, the Union aimed to assert mastery over nature by attacking the most potent aspect of southern identity and poweragriculture. Brady focuses on the siege of Vicksburg, the 1864 Shenandoah Valley campaign, marches through Georgia and the Carolinas, and events along the Mississippi River to examine this strategy and its devastating physical and psychological impact.

Before the war, many Americans believed in the idea that nature must be conquered and subdued. Brady shows how this perception changed during the war, leading to a wider acceptance of wilderness. Connecting environmental trauma with the onset of American preservation, Brady pays particular attention to how these new ideas of wilderness can be seen in the creation of national battlefield memorial parks as unaltered spaces. Deftly combining environmental and military history with cultural studies, War upon the Land elucidates an intriguing, largely unexplored side of the nation's greatest conflict.

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