- Reimagining Environmental History: Ecological Memory in the Wake of Landscape Change by Christian Knoeller
Reimagining Environmental History: Ecological Memory in the Wake of Landscape Change, by Christian Knoeller, is a historical and literary analysis of the transformation of natural landscapes in the United States. He argues that ecological memory—the regeneration of indigenous species following disruption—is the key to understanding landscape change. Like ecological memory, the analysis of authors who took note of this phenomenon is critical to humans' acknowledgment of environmental change and allow us to reestablish our natural connections.
To achieve this, Knoeller, in chronological fashion, analyzes various authors of diverse literary genres in five sections. While their methods of expressing ideas are different, a common theme is their connected influence and observations of landscape change. Similarly, the perceptions of each of the ten authors are represented in their work demonstrating the physical, mental, and spiritual influences that nature has upon humans. From the author's initial luring tale of Henry Thoreau's well-known observations of declining wildlife to the lesser-known accounts of Paul Errington's similar observations, the Great Plains plays a vital role in the setting of these stories.
The abundant biodiversity of the Great Plains affords a setting where landscape change is noticeable. This setting, combined with naturalists, some from the region itself, whom themselves feel connected with the land, provides for a wealth of information about the human–nature relationship. Each author builds upon the previous, both chronologically and historically. The interconnections between each author arise in their experience with American midwestern nature and notice of landscape change. By doing so, this work reflects upon a region filled with the rich history of landscape transformation, predating European colonization.
Most of the authors and works visited in this book focus primarily on observations of the Great Plains. Two authors in particular, John James Audubon and Diane Glancy, illustrate the diversity and depth that Knoeller's argument and analysis provides. John James Audubon's views on conservation arose from his observations of wildlife and wilderness decline, which he received from venturing into the Great Plains later in life. As Knoeller suggests, his travels west of the Mississippi offered perspective on the decline of Native peoples and buffalo. His admiration of the Great Plains' biodiversity met with the disappointment of its seeming demise.
In contrast with an early and familiar character, Knoeller by the end of the book shifts to analyzing works of Diane Glancy, a Cherokee poet. Born in Kansas City, Missouri, Glancy contributes a Native and Great Plains voice. Her work focuses on the meaning of place. She analyzes changes in the landscape physically, mentally, and spiritually of eastern Native groups who were forced west as a result of American Indian removal policy and practice. Contrasting the environments of the East with Indian Territory in Oklahoma, Knoeller uses examples of Glancy's work to illustrate how landscape change occurs in many forms.
Reimagining Environmental History introduces the reader to lesser-known observers of nature. One question that the book leaves with the reader is, Do humans play a role in landscape change as destructors, conservationists, or preservationists? This work is of benefit to all students of the natural world, and as such, it fills the reader with a continually changing landscape within the realm of not only the environment but also naturalist writing. [End Page 48]