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Ecological Change in New England under Native Americans and Colonists Essay

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Although the colonial history of New England has been thoroughly researched and taught across all levels of educational institutes across the United States, the study of its environmental history often takes a backseat to America’s complex and enthralling social and political history. This trend has been abating in recent decades, given that more Americans have taken an interest in their environment and conservation, and in response to this new demand the field of environmental history was initiated by historians like William Cronon, who explores the changes in the New England environment under the stewardship of Native Americans and European colonist in Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England. Cronon’s work expounds on the ecological impacts of the colonization of New England, and he accomplishes this by frequently comparing and contrasting the radically differing ecological policies of Native Americans and the European colonists who co-habited the same land in an uneasy existence (xvi). The differences in the way Native Americans and colonists in New England interacted with the environment were rooted in different societies that possessed vastly differing value systems.
Before immediately jumping into the colonial era, Cronon takes us on a detour to the mid 19th century, where the effects of the preceding colonial environmental regime were felt acutely by Henry Thoreau, who pondered on the accounts of New England’s previous ecological richness. His dissatisfaction is apparent, “When I consider that the nobler animals have been exterminated here… I cannot but feel as if I lived in a tamed, and, as if were, emasculated country” (4). Thoreau is almost a pioneer in the sense that he disapproved of ...


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...s was synonymous with. The work done by William Cronon avoids stereotypes prevalent in many forms of media, and took an honest look at the state of the complex interrelated environments present in New England at the time of the Native Americans, as well as the changes to these environments and the humans who interacted with it during the rise of the colonist. Cronon’s work details the environment when it was relatively unstressed due to the low population densities of Native Americans and their particular practices that extended the usability of natural resources, to the transfer to colonial practices that strained the environment as colonists radically reconfigured their environments to fit their ideals of commerce and subsistence.


Works Cited
William Cronon. Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England. (New York: Hill and Wang, 2003).


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