Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England
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Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England

3.97 of 5 stars 3.97  ·  rating details  ·  1,243 ratings  ·  97 reviews
Winner of the Francis Parkman Prize

Changes in the Land offers an original and persuasive interpretation of the changing circumstances in New England's plant and animal communities that occurred with the shift from Indian to European dominance. With the tools of both historian and ecologist, Cronon constructs an interdisciplinary analysis of how the land and the people infl...more
Paperback, 242 pages
Published July 1st 1983 by Hill and Wang (first published 1983)
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How wonderfully enjoyable and informative this compact book turned out to be! Though I'm sure environmental history doesn't elicit much excitement from most people in general, I could see how most anyone could enjoy this book, at least anyone who has some curiosity as to the chain of events in nature in some fundamental ways or anyone who has an interest in the Indians' versus the settlers' ways with the land.

This book starts out describing the Native American Indians’ relationship with their e...more
I used this text and compared to Crosby's "Ecological Imperialism." This text offers a different approach to environmental hsitroy, once that is much more "homo-centric" if you will. Whereas Crosby discusses humans as being a small part of the bursting dam that is nature, Cronon argues that human beings are the chief agents of environmental change. I personally side with Crosby on this one, and as a result, I like Cronon's work less. But it is still a solid piece of writing in a field starving f...more
Aug 23, 2007 Cat rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: historical ecologists
Even though I live in San Diego, I found this book to be well worth the read. Dense but short, "Changes in the Land" gives a close reading to the ecological impact of British colonization in New England. As Cronon states in his conclusion, this transformation has ramifications far outside New England, since the environmental degradation that accompanied early colonization forced settlers farther and farther afield.
Twenty years after it was published, the scholarship is still, what I would consid...more
This is a great ecological history of the transitions that occurred in the ecology of New England when colonists settled the land. Cronon does a great job of including human decisions, deliberate and unintended, in the narrative. There was a lot of interesting information here, and it's presented in a readable and thought-provoking way.

The dynamics of human interaction with ecosystems, both by Indians and British, are explored in detail and he carefully refutes the concept that any of the descri...more
Cheryl in CC NV
I just don't know how much I got out of this - it's def. aimed at scholars or autodidacts with some background studies. And some of it seemed like common knowledge by now, almost 30 years later. It's fairly short, with lots of addendum, but dry. Sorry I can't be more helpful to anyone considering reading it. Now I'm into The Rural Life which is more poetic and personal, and enjoying it much more, and actually learning from it, too.
The story of Changes in the Land is nowhere near as deep as that of Nature’s Metropolis. I’m a sucker for environmental history, but this wasn’t terribly enlightening. Yes, American colonists sucked at land management, squandered resources, and introduced invasive species and diseases. I certainly was aware of that. Really, I was far more interested in the descriptions of Indian lifeways, and how they sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally established sustainable patterns of existenc...more
This is a wonderful read. Working mostly from primary sources--journals, early accounts--Cronon describes how pre-contact Native Americans lived in the New England environment and how that relationship changed with the arrival of the English. The Indians used the land based on “need.” The colonists immediately viewed the countryside’s rich natural resources--the fish, the game, the fur-bearing animals--as “commodities” to send back to England to earn money and build wealth. With their European c...more
Excellent academic read, but his ideas, which were once revolutionary, have been so accepted and proliferated into regular histories that I encountered nothing new.
I must explain my rating for this book. I first of all must say that Cronon's book is an excellent example of scholarship. Changes in the Land stands out as a fine piece of scholarship. I have no qualms with his method or workstyle. I gave the book only a 2-star rating because I simply was not interested in the subject matter much at all. I found the book to be painfully boring to read at times. I read it for a course on U.S. environmental history. Cronon's book is one of the first in the field...more
William Cronon’s Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England is a landmark in environmental history. When published in 1983 it served to legitimize the interdisciplinary study, weaving history, ecology, anthropology and various other disciplines into an easily accessible narrative the main focus of which was not the human agency so often the subject of historical analysis, but the ecology in which they operated, interacted, and effected. The thesis is simple, yet comp...more
William Cronon’s work, Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists and the Ecology of New England seeks to look at the reorganization of the New England landscape. Cronon attempts to show more than a change in the land. From the beginning of Changes in the Land, Cronon states that the land had changed. He quotes from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, showing Thoreau’s lament of the change in the landscape. As a counter, Cronon brings to the surface earlier writings on observations of the New England ec...more
Very good Marxist-influenced historical anthropology of the ecological changes wrought upon Native lands by European occupation. Written not theoretically, but with lots of detail from first-hand sources (colonial land records, memoirs, Native testimonials, etc.).

Particularly fascinating are discussions of differences in land rights between Natives and colonists - the Natives did have notions of property and rights, sovereignty over the land being identified with a sachem (which referred both t...more
I quite liked this book, which I think succeeds at providing an ecological history of colonial New England. In particular it does a good job of explaining the differences in land use by the Indians and Colonists, both of which -- somewhat surprisingly -- are similarly alien to today's New England.

However, given my layman's interest, I did slowly start to lose patience with the book, which can feel redundant given it's narrow focus, and sometimes seems lazy in its consideration of capitalism. Th...more
I thought this book was incredible. After reading it, I can't stop looking at things around me differently, so automatically it got a 5 star from me. Some of the material can get a little dense, but the author breaks it down and analyzes it regularly and walks the reader along in his conclusions, most of which I was formulating at the time, anyway.

The final chapter was a great cap to the whole book. His ultimate conclusion, which was the one I was coming to terms with bit by bit through the page...more
David Bates
William Cronon’s Change in the Land made a simpler case for the close relationship between culture and land use. “I have tried in this book to write an ecological history of colonial New England,” Cronon wrote. “By this I mean a history which extends its boundaries beyond human institutions – economies, class and gender systems, political organizations, cultural rituals – to the natural ecosystems which provide the context for those institutions.” From the first accounts of New England forests a...more
William Kerrigan
William Cronon begins Changes in the Land with a discussion of a journal entry Henry David Thoreau made in January of 1855. Thoreau, a keen observer of the natural landscape, had just finished reading William Wood's New England's Prospect, a 17th century tract in which Englishman Wood describes his visit to New England in 1633. Thoreau reflects on the radical transformations that have occurred to the environment of New England since Wood's time. Thoreau concludes "When I consider . . . the theno...more
Jeremy Jackson
Well written, concise, free of jargon, insightful, and illuminating, Changes in the Land is as good as its reputation suggests. Cronon's levelheaded, bias-free approach to the differing relationships the New England Indians and the early colonists had to the land and its resources recalibrated the way I understand the early European presence in America. For instance, Cronon explains how the land that the colonists found was far from an "untouched wilderness," but had been manipulated by generati...more
William Cronon’s Changes in the Land compares Europeans’ and Native Americans’ impacts on the ecology of colonial New England. He argues that the European worldview and lifestyle did not just affect native peoples, but New England’s ecology as well. New methods of farming, hunting, and gathering prompted this ecological system to respond to colonists’ “changes in the land.” In making this argument, Cronon gives nature itself agency. This paradigm shift away from human agency and towards nature’...more
Brett Peto
I have the utmost respect for what this book of William Cronon's (and many others of his) has done to advance the field of ecological history, environmental history, whatever you may call it. In fact, from my understanding, he practically created the field.

And really, the ideas he conveys in this compact book are quite compelling. I can't say I've ever encountered elsewhere the same breadth and depth of new ideas about Native Americans' nomadic methods of life, which turned out to preserve the l...more
This is another of those that is only really going to be interesting to people who are already interested in the topic; if you ARE interested in the changes to New England's ecology in the century or two after Europeans arrived, however, this really should be the first book you turn to. It's not too long, less than two hundred pages, it doesn't delve into too much complexity. It is still a little dry in certain parts, but it shouldn't be hard for a lay reader to understand.
What is fascinating t...more
As a (very amateur) student of American environmental thought and admittedly inexperienced when it comes to history, it's difficult to view this book critically. Cronon argues so clearly and so thoroughly, and so concordantly with my ecologically-informed mindset, that it's easy to forget he's arguing at all, rather than simply stating the facts. But he is trying to make a point: that the ecological changes in New England during the colonial period were largely due to the cultures of the people...more
Timothy Hill
An excellent and fascinating study. My only quibbles would be:

(1) The book is somewhat dated; while I'm not an ecologist or biologist, I feel reasonably certain our scientific knowledge and ability to reconstruct past ecosystems has improved in the last thirty years. It's time for a second, updated edition!

(2) The author to my mind struggles excessively not to portray the Native Americans as victims of European expansionism. At several points he states explicitly that Native Americans were not s...more
Barrett Doherty
In this seminal text on ecological history, Cronon takes umbrage with the idea of the environment and landscape merely being the stage set for the play of man. He persuasively argues that it is far more than backdrop, rather it is a main character that acts and interacts with the other actors upon the stage of history. Cronon, rightly, posits man as in the environment rather than above it. While not nearly as detailed as Nature' Metropolis, he does offer a very compelling portrait of the interac...more
As an ecological history this is probably one of the best out there. Cronon's writing is concise and insightful. Even if you don't agree with all of his points he makes well-reasoned arguments and provokes a lot of thought for the attentive reader. He concentrates mostly on Southern New England from 1500-1800 although there is a decent amount of material on Northern New England as well. It covers both indigenous environmental alterations before and after contact with Europeans, as well as Europe...more
Veasey Conway
Pretty academic -- long paragraphs and endnotes and words you rarely see off a college campus. But good. A mixture of anthropology, history (heavy uses of primary sources), and ecology. A great overview of why the New England landscape is the way it is. I wish there were more discussions of the particulars of building stone walls, wooden fences, random stuff like that. And I wish there were illustrations: sketches about how colonists fields and planting habits looked different than Indians', the...more
Essential reading for anyone interested in environmental history and the relationships among ecology, culture, and economic systems. This was a paradigm-shifting book when it was first published and a breakthrough for me, personally, when I read it after four years of working internationally on environmental issues. It crystallized and made sense of urgent questions about cross-cultural encounters and differing notions of economic productivity and environmental ethics. It's an in-depth look at a...more
Jill Tanzer
Jut read one chapter in the book per the Great Lectures series recommendation. Good information about how the ecology was changed by early settlers.
Collin A.
As I was tasked with reading this book during my Environmental History college course, this book revealed a surge of environmental facts and myth busters about our ore colonial era. Through the description of well... Changes In The Land, William Cronon painted a vivid portrait of physical and intellectual change, conflict and eventual resolution throughout the era of Native American and European interaction.

In short, Cronon's work challenges and invites audiences to analyze their view of natural...more
Trip Henningson
Hated it the first time I read it, loved it the second time. Very interesting historical read, and Cronon is quite a talented writer.
Kevin Murray
What a fabulous piece of research! How did I, someone very interested in land issues, live in New England for so long without finding this book. He does so much in such a short book, and manages to make it quite readable, to boot. I'm sure that my ignorance led me to miss many errors, large and small, but I'll be thinking of this book each time I pass through the New England countryside.
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