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

4.08  ·  Rating details ·  2,958 ratings  ·  205 reviews
The book that launched environmental history now updated.

Winner of the Francis Parkman Prize

In this landmark work of environmental history, William Cronon offers an original and profound explanation of the effects European colonists' sense of property and their pursuit of capitalism had upon the ecosystems of New England. Reissued here with an updated afterword by the aut
Paperback, Revised, 288 pages
Published September 1st 2003 by Hill & Wang (first published 1983)
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Average rating 4.08  · 
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Jan 31, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Esther Espeland
Nov 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
Rly a good companion to braiding sweetgrass! Took me forever to get through bc I was reading while annotating/looking up vocab words to help w GRE study but reminds me how much a love a history tome :’)
Richard Reese
Mar 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Historian William Cronon was one of a group of scholars that pioneered a new and improved way of understanding the past. Environmental history put the spotlight on many essential issues that were ignored by traditional history, and this made the sagas far more potent and illuminating.

His book, Changes in the Land, is an environmental history of colonial New England. It documents the clash of two cultures that could not have been more different, the Indians and the settlers. It describes the horr
Oct 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A well written, straightforward and cogent book — really a long essay — on the environmental changes to New England after the pilgrims arrival.

Three years after Plymouth was founded there were no livestock. Ten years later however there were more livestock — cows, horses, oxen, pigs and sheep — than colonists. It became common for the average colonial ship from England to bring more than 50 large animals in its cargo.

5 stars — if you enjoy reading about the environment and history.
Aug 22, 2007 rated it really liked it
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
Sep 23, 2007 rated it liked it
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
Kevin Topolovec
Jan 27, 2017 rated it liked it
A very detailed description of every way Europeans ruined America.
William Kerrigan
Dec 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 5-star
A brilliant book that contextualizes and links the environmental history of New England to larger historical forces of colonization, the transAtlantic trade, and global capitalistic economy.

Cronon persuasively and effectively argues for ecological history as assuming "a dynamic and changing relationship between environment and culture" or as "dialectical"--that one cannot exist without the other (13).
John Nguyen
Feb 11, 2021 rated it really liked it
Good info
Max Potthoff
Let me preface this by saying that I think William Cronon is the most important ecological voice of our generation. When environmental historians are piecing together the canon in one hundred years, it will go Muir, Leopold, Cronon (with many more sprinkled in between). That being said, you can tell that this was born out of a doctoral thesis. The writing isn't nearly as literary and compelling as it is in Nature's Metropolis. That being said, I derived a tremendous amount of joy reading this in ...more
Jan 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Cronon is a very clear writer. His thesis is simple enough to be sustained but nuanced enough to be believable. This is a seminal work in environmental history. I will allow his preface to demonstrate: “My purpose throughout is to explain why New England habitats changed as they did during the colonial period. It is not my intention to rewrite the human history of the region: this is not a history of New England Indians, or of indian-colonial relations, or of the transformation of English coloni ...more
Jul 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: comps, re-read
5/26/2015 - Upon re-reading this book, I upped it to 5 stars. My appreciation for Cronon's ingenuity has grown tremendously during the intervening years in which I first read it. This work has held up incredibly well and I can see its footprint on a multitude of other historians, myself included. It's a work I should re-read every few years to remind myself to and how to thick creatively about sources and to ask the big questions of the sources I have.

7/1/2008 - Excellent academic read, but his
Dan Allosso
Dec 12, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: envhist
This is the first Environmental History book many students read. Partly because it’s one of the books that helped establish the field; partly because it covers a time period at the beginning of traditional American History courses (my own course includes two units before North American colonization, but lots of people still start there). Cronon begins with an introduction called “The View from Walden,” that not only acknowledges some of the changes Henry David Thoreau saw in his neighborhood, bu ...more
May 27, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm fascinated by the natural environment. What I learned in this book was you can't let nature just be nature if you intend on using it. The Native Americans knew this and treated the land in a way to make sure they could continue using it to live off. The other thing I took from this book was perspective, we know how things are now and read history with a current perspective, we know how it turned out, well the folks back then were living it and it was their reality. They did not have a crysta ...more
May 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
I found this to be an entirely fascinating read on the environmental/ecological history of colonial New England. Oddly enough, it answered quite a few questions I had pondered over since moving here five years ago. Highly recommend!
Sam Gilbert
Jan 13, 2021 rated it really liked it
A book to revolutionize one’s thinking. Yet it is just a rough sketch, a set of ideas not yet worked into a comprehensive thought. Like too many historians, Cronon allowed the details to dominate without bending them to his will.
J. Jones
Feb 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A great book, which saddens the soul to see how the new world's natural world was ruined by greed and miss-management. ...more
Jan 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Runyan Xu
May 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
William Cronon’s work, Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England which was published in 1983, discusses the shifts of plants and animals because of European settlers’ arrival which reflects the history of the ecology and economy of colonial New England, human society influence on this region, and the relationship between environment and cultures. The main argument of this book is to indicate that both motivations of both Native Indians and Europeans are based on the ...more
Elle & J. Reads
Feb 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, books-i-own
Changes in the Land was helpful to me and greatly expanded my knowledge on Native American history because it was the study of the ecological system in America and how human contact with the environment both had a positive and negative impact on the climate and environment.

Normally we study the history of the United States or American Indian history through a political or religious perspective, but this book was the study of such history from a purely ecological one. It was very interesting and
Jul 07, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
This is certainly a great book, and by most measures, it's the book that really started blending disciplines together to create logical and more complete historical narratives. Think 1491 (and 1493), and even Guns, Germs, and Steel ... All the way to Big History!

Well, William Cronon wrote this book in 1983 -- when most environmental writing was still considered far off on the left wing in tree hugger territory. This, however, showed a much deeper understanding amid recognition of how humans and
Timothy Hill
Oct 01, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 16, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 23, 2009 rated it it was amazing
It may just be impossible to overstate the importance of this book and its detailed but succinct uncovering of the way Indians and Europeans interacted with the land of New England and with each other, critically historizing all three characters. For use in a undergraduate course, even to frame a lecture, this book can be used to challenge students' preconceived notions of static or ahistorical systems as dynamic, with all human characters endowed with agency. I've read this short volume countle ...more
☯Emily  Ginder
Jul 26, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
This was required reading in an environmental history class. It was readable and enjoyable. This will supplement any Colonial history you already know about New England. It begins with a description of the New World land and its abundant animals before the Pilgrims came. Within a century the abundance was gone, the land "tamed" and the Indians forced off the land. Cronon gives a balanced analysis of why these changes occurred. Surprisingly, all these changes occurred before the Industrial Revolu ...more
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
Jan 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Cronon seeks to dispel notions of a precolonial New England in permanent wilderness stasis, with 'noble Indians' living in perfect harmony with nature. At the same time he ties the introduction of capitalism with European arrival, of viewing the land and its products principally as commodities.
He clearly shows how colonial attitudes toward the land set the stage for how many Americans act even today.

"Ecological abundance and economic prodigality went hand in hand; the people of plenty
Sep 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
Other than a great oversimplification of a vast group of people ie: Native people, the book makes some very interesting points, but often leaves something to be desired in its connections to social history.
Jun 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Groundbreaking work of environmental history. Precise, succinct and well-written.
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William "Bill" Cronon is a noted environmental historian, and the Frederick Jackson Turner and Vilas Research Professor of History, Geography, and Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He was president of the American Historical Association (AHA) in 2012. ...more

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