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Reviewed by:
  • Restoration and History: The Search for a Usable Environmental Past
  • David Havlick (bio)
Restoration and History: The Search for a Usable Environmental Past Marcus Hall (ed). 2009. New York: Routledge. Cloth, $44.95. ISBN: 978-0-415-87176-1. 329 pages.

In his edited volume Restoration and History, Marcus Hall brings together nearly 3 dozen contributing authors with what may seem to be a disarmingly modest purpose: to explore "how a consideration of time can improve the practice of restoration" (p. 1). While the role of time and [End Page 413] historical perspectives come to the fore in each of the essays found here, this volume gradually works its way to a much more ambitious project of reconceptualizing restoration as a set of nuanced terms: rewilding, regardening, and renaturing. Through these terms, history informs more explicitly how restoration needs emerge within cultural contexts. Restoration practice can then be designed as a set of culturally appropriate interventions as well as ecological treatments. In its most radical form, this presents restoration less as ecological science and rather more expansively as a platform for multidisciplinary thinking and action that elevates cultural contingencies, historical interpretations, and human desire as fundamental concerns.

Despite this potentially disruptive recasting of restoration, for some readers the propositions and cases found in this book may break little new ground. After all, from its inception restoration ecology has been framed as a broad field populated not just by ecologists, but also by engineers, philosophers, artists, practitioners, and others. History has always been a concern in restoration, as the continuing challenge of identifying and responding to reference conditions amply testifies. But in this volume, history surfaces as a steady presence that not only should help inform restoration goals and reference conditions, but ought to shape how restorative practices are conceptualized and developed.

Restoration and History builds its case incrementally. Hall organizes the book into 6 sections that trace a broadly chronological arc. He opens with historical case studies in Section 1, a consideration of the role of history in restoration in Section 2, and a series of attempts to address target and initial states, respectively, in Sections 3 and 4. Contributions in Section 5 turn more explicitly to answer some of the questions raised thus far in the book, and Section 6 extends this by emphasizing the implementation of "good" restoration that adequately incorporates historical contexts into restoration practices.

Not all of the distinctions between sections are as clear as Hall seems to envision in his Introduction. For example, David Lowenthal's opening chapter provides an ambitious historical consideration of restoration within a broad matrix of literature, religion, and art, but scarcely provides a case study of restoration. A number of later chapters do feature case studies prominently, despite the fact that Hall presents these as being more conceptual in orientation. This is far from a fatal flaw to the book, but especially in the first 4 sections the organization can seem slightly arbitrary. The brevity of most chapters may compound this sense and give the volume a choppiness that undermines its overall coherence. This form reflects the volume's effort to include a number of papers presented at a meeting held in 2006 at the Institute of Environmental Sciences in Zurich, Switzerland.

Perhaps the flow and unity of Restoration and History would have benefited from longer pieces and a more selective sampling from the Zurich meeting, but by the book's end these concerns diminish as the chapters convey a substantial challenge to existing restoration convention. Ultimately, Restoration and History calls into question the primacy of ecology in restoration and explores how a fuller embrace of cultural elements could shift attention to new kinds of topics in restoration. One of the book's lasting contributions is its authors' willingness to try out a set of terms in place of "restoration." Instead, we find here rewilding: the effort to bring ecosystems back to (relatively) pristine conditions; regardening: an attempt to modify existing conditions to meet certain human needs—treating a degraded stretch of urban river, for instance, to serve as a recreation corridor or linear park without any pretension of returning it to a pre-Columbian state; and renaturing...


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pp. 413-415
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