Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Trace: Memory, History, Race and the American Landscape” as Want to Read:
Trace: Memory, History, Race and the American Landscape
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Trace: Memory, History, Race and the American Landscape

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  773 ratings  ·  120 reviews
Sand and stone are Earth’s fragmented memory. Each of us, too, is a landscape inscribed by memory and loss. One life-defining lesson Lauret Savoy learned as a young girl was this: the American land did not hate. As an educator and Earth historian, she has tracked the continent’s past from the relics of deep time; but the paths of ancestors toward her—paths of free and ensl ...more
Hardcover, 225 pages
Published November 10th 2015 by Counterpoint
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Trace, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Trace

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.12  · 
Rating details
 ·  773 ratings  ·  120 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Trace: Memory, History, Race and the American Landscape
Writing social history can be a radical act. For centuries, history focused on the stories of elites, from their perspectives. A form of power is the ability to tell your own story -- or to hire people who will tell it for you. These stories are told in written words, but also in artistic representations, material objects, even place names on maps.

For individuals whose ancestors belonged to groups who did not exercise economic and political power, picking up a history book and not seeing your a
Feb 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Tony by: Kris
To inhabit this country is to be marked by residues of its still unfolding history, a history weighted by tangled ideas of “race” and of the land itself.

That’s really a remarkable sentence appearing near the very end of this book and it goes a long way towards explaining what the book is about.

This a social history, of sorts, written by a multi-racial geology professor. She traces her history, and in so doing traces the country’s history as well. Oh, she’s done interviews; and there’s pages in t
Jun 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
I should start by saying this book underscores the importance of African Americans participating in the 2020 Census. Lauret Savoy was able to trace some of her family's history through census records. Reading this distillation of information so immaculately postured is a searing experience because it speaks not only of one black family's history but also of the history of African American families in America. This notion of black history planted so deeply into the American soil, and yet so adept ...more
Dec 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Be still my heart: A scientist (geologist) who writes like a poet!

Essays that combine family history with geologic time: childhood memories of the Grand Canyon and desert and coasts of California, retracing her father's work while also describing the alluvial plains and glaciation that created the Great Lakes, southern plantations where her ancestors and many thousands of others lived and died in slavery, the Potomac River and surrounding marshlands and the various cultures of Washington, DC. E
lark benobi
These essays frequently hit the same combination of extreme beauty with detailed observation that the best of Loren Eiseley's essays do (and Savoy quotes Eiseley in the first essay in the collection). Reading these, I felt exalted, and instructed, and more often than not a little weepy too--as with Eiseley, there is an underlying sadness and the tone of an elegy in many of these essays. They leave me with a feeling not unlike being sad to see your child grow up however happy you are about the wa ...more
Bob Brinkmeyer
Jan 09, 2021 rated it really liked it
A professor of Environmental Studies and Geology, Lauret Savoy has studied the history of the earth by examining geologic formations. In Trace, part memoir and part cultural history, Savoy uses her knowledge of geology as a metaphor for investigating the inscribed histories found in individuals, families, communities, and nations—and landscapes, which as she notes, are always political, always inscribed with history no matter how blank they appear. Her own family history is at the center of her ...more
Somehow this wasn't already on my TBR, despite the fact that I've been carrying it around in my purse (where next-to-read physical books live) for at least a month??? ...more
Viv JM
Trace is a difficult book to classify, with elements of memoir, travelogue, social history, geology...and more. At times I felt intimidated by it, that I am not intellectual enough to appreciate the nuances, but Savoy's prose is certainly beautiful and never overly flowery or dramatic and I learned a lot about American history in relation to slavery, race and colonisation.

I think this is a book that needs to be read closely and re-read to be fully appreciated and hence I am going to leave rating
Megan O'Hara
Mar 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
this book gave me galaxy brain. absolutely crazy to think every single inch of inhabited earth/land has both a geological and human history!! lots of Native history and history of slave labor esp in the American Southwest that I was completely ignorant of. she writes beautifully and her thorough exploration of place in all its iterations maybe changed my life but I'm giving it 4 stars bc the 2nd to last chapter dragged SO hard. ...more
A very different sort of nature writing. Savoy is a professor of environmental studies and geology at Mount Holyoke, and a person of mixed racial heritage. In this lyrically written meditation on race, history and geography, Savoy traces her family history across the continent while unearthing forgotten stories about the ways in which encounters between free and enslaved African Americans, indigenous peoples and white settlers shaped the history of the places we call home today. So much of mains ...more
Laurie Neighbors
Jan 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, ndn
This book will be placed alongside Michel-Rolph Trouillot's Silencing the Past in the mental bookshelf on which I keep my favorite meta-history books.

Goodreads has truncated the title, which is actually Trace: Memory, History, Race, and the American Landscape. Deleting "race" from the title feels like an attempt to drain the blood from the narrative -- this is definitely a book about race.

Savoy is a woman of mixed-race heritage and a professor of geography and environmental studies, and while
Charlie Quimby
Feb 10, 2016 rated it really liked it
This is a subtle book as befits the title, a gentle correction and amplification of the views of classic American writers about landscape, such as Wallace Stegner and George R. Stewart.

Savoy is of mixed heritage. She applies her writing skills and academic understanding of how to read the land to places familiar to me—including Madeline Island, WI, and southeastern Arizona—and references texts also familiar, to show what I have missed. And what American histories have missed as well.

No, not miss
In this excellent book, Lauret Savoy sets out to explore and better understand the history and landscapes that shaped her parents, and in the process, uncovers many hidden and painful truths about the histories and legacies of these places that have so often been minimized, ignored, or completely silenced. As she delves into the natural and cultural history of places like the Potomac River in D.C., Fort Huachuca in Arizona, Walnut Grove plantation in South Carolina, and the headwaters of the Mis ...more
Nov 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
A lyrical and powerful book about the painful erasures effected by U.S. maps and popular histories. Savoy delves into what Wai Chee Dimock might call "deep time" to connect geology and landforms with place names and colonial histories; the obfuscation of slavery, Jim Crow, and segregation in museums and landmarks with the traces of indigenous and enslaved African histories; the constant fact of migrations, both non-human and human, with the violent use of borders to assert national (and white) p ...more
Nov 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Lyrical writing that revels in the geographic and geological names of North America, and history that is a necessary supplement to and critique of what most of us learned in school. It sounds incredibly difficult to weave together billions of years of geological history with mere hundreds of American history and a few generations of an individual family history. (Clearly it was, in fact, difficult; this is a book where you see not only the work than went into it but also the years of life experi ...more
Dec 16, 2017 rated it it was ok
I love the subjects covered in this book: travel, genealogy, race, and history. But the writing was just not my style. Very lyrical, with the author using lists as a device that becomes tiring to read. I think if I listened to the book I would enjoy it more. It was also very academic in that it relies heavily on quotes, and sometimes I felt I was reading a graduate thesis. There were shining moments where I felt like, yes, now I’m interested. This was mainly when she was talking about her own st ...more
Aug 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audio, read-in-2020
At its best when it embraces the personal and stumbles a bit when the academic shows. A very readable, compelling, and radically different narrative of place that stands tall among the many other texts that try to make sense of place amid the American landscapes.
Skylar Primm
Jun 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm not even sure where to begin reviewing this book. Simply put, I loved it. Everyone who has any interest in America's natural and/or cultural history should read it. It's very rare that I reread a book, but I am certain I will be rereading Trace. To fully absorb its impact and import, I will need to. (The only other book that comes to mind is A Sand County Almanac, which is entirely apropos.)

Beyond the fascinating content, Ms. Savoy writes beautifully. A few of my favorite phrases: "Sand and
Dec 07, 2018 rated it liked it
Chalk this one up to false advertising. When a book cover includes "American landscape" I expect that at least part of the book will actually say something about said landscape. So I went into "Trace" expecting something part natural history and part Ta-Nehisi Coates. Instead, the only mentions of anything to do with the landscape are brief bits of exposition with no relation to the rest of the text. The closest thing we get are long laundry lists of place names, categorized by some common ident ...more
Ryan Mishap
"Dissecting learned stories might yield some retrievable fragments of context and relationship, and reveal the vector of storying's power--its direction, its magnitude, and its agency."

In this fantastic collection of essays, Savoy asks the questions about her and her parent's life; about history and who tells those stories and who is disappeared; about the geologic forces that shape the land and the people; about the names of places and people, those lost, those twisted, and those deliberately d
This is a beautiful, and beautifully written, book. Part memoir, part natural history, part social history, it's the story of how landscape affects us, on scales both large and small. Savoy shows how individual stories can be lost in time, deliberately or carelessly, but how traces can remain if we can find where to look. The writing is deeply personal and moving, and I found myself re-reading passages often. Highly recommend. ...more
Feb 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a really important book: mostly about place and race, but equally about history and memory and how and why we consider what's important. Although I found the form a bit difficult to initially get into, Savoy combines personal narrative, history and knowledge (as we commonly understand them), and insights about our country and how we've gotten to where we are. I ended the book feeling unfinished -- as she intended, I think. ...more
Melanie Jones
Dec 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: women
Beautiful melding of history, genealogy, geography, and geology.

I really loved this book. The depth with which she builds her landscapes left me in awe and illustrated just how troubled our recent history is, while reminding me that it is part of a larger story. It was personal and introspective without being insular. It could be fairly dense, and will require another pass.
Feb 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017-read

I didn't a class with Lauret Savoy at Mount Holyoke, though I had friends that did. So when I saw this pop up last year on one of Vulture's books to watch out for last year, I put it on my to read list. It's a beautiful, lyrically, meditative book on landscape, memory, history and race.
dead letter office
Jul 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
One of the best books I've read in the last 10 years. It's somehow simultaneously about geography, and race, and the environment, and history, and families, and the transition from childhood to adulthood.

Does your child mind haunt you too?

I'll reread this one.
Jan 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
This was a interesting look at American history and how it still effects us today.
Aug 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
I have a feeling that this was a very difficult book written by the author. Certainly the journey was a difficult one for sure.

Lauret Savoy is a geologist who is multi-racial and didn't have a very communicative past with her parents. So she went throughout America in search of her black roots, her Native American roots and to a lesser extent, her European roots.

Through this book, we see a lot of brilliant pictures painted of the American West and various areas, including the Great Lakes region,
Julie H.
Savoy's Trace: Memory, History, Race and the American Landscape was an interesting, fast, and personal series of reflections. For those who study the historic landscape, you've doubtless read far more rigorous considerations of the relationships between maps and power, placenames and the erasure of memory, the mutability of national borders and borderlands, and how to explore the fascinating palimpsest that is the American landscape. What Savoy brings to the discussion that is unique is her pers ...more
Katherine Burd
Apr 04, 2021 rated it liked it
I wouldn’t say I love this book. I do think that it’s important. It’s the first book of American nature writing I’ve read that critically engages human history as it explores American space. Specifically, Savoy concerns herself with silences, specifically silences around Indigenous and African American relationships to land, in writing about American space. This is a beginning to that work.

I came to wish that Savoy brought more of her background as a scientist into the picture to round out the f
Nov 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
An extraordinary book, and impossible to classify. Part family history, part American history, part American geology and geography. Prof. Savoy goes looking for the places where her ancestors lived, so she can learn more about them and what they did, but also about the land they lived in and what if anything remains of it. In every place she visits (Fort Huachuca AZ, Deerfield MA, Walnut Grove SC, etc.) she knows the history that is not included in the official histories and the historical prese ...more
« previous 1 3 4 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Basin and Range
  • Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors
  • Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
  • The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man's Love Affair with Nature
  • The Songlines
  • Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place
  • The Colors of Nature: Culture, Identity, and the Natural World
  • The Anthropology of Turquoise: Reflections on Desert, Sea, Stone, and Sky
  • Root Magic
  • Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants
  • H is for Hawk
  • Floating Coast: An Environmental History of the Bering Strait
  • Weather
  • Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry
  • Woman on the Edge
  • Whereas
  • Activism and the Fossil Fuel Industry
  • The Three-Cornered War: The Union, the Confederacy, and Native Peoples in the Fight for the West
See similar books…
Tracing memory threads Lauret Edith Savoy’s life and work: unearthing what is buried, re-membering what is fragmented, shattered, eroded. A woman of African American, Euro-American, and Native American heritage, she writes about the stories we tell of the American land’s origins and the stories we tell of ourselves in this land. Her books include Trace: Memory, History, Race, and the American Land ...more

News & Interviews

When it comes to the romance genre, second books can be a bit like second dates, can't they? You've had that great initial meet-cute with...
37 likes · 2 comments
“Names on the Land carries a sympathetic tone regarding Native peoples, but it is the stories of “those who followed” from Europe that form its core. What troubles me is how some readers embrace these namings as America’s history, “our” heritage, without asking if there might be other narratives, too. Stewart considers “the naming that was before history” in his first chapter, but not so much the importance of place-making in defining Indigenous traditions and identities in a storied land over time.” 3 likes
“Odysseus said, “I belong in the place of my departure and I belong in the place that is my destination” 1 likes
More quotes…