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From Sea to Shining Sea: Key Resources in U.S. Environmental History (March 2015): New England

by Larry T. Spencer

New England

Based on its spatial extent, more books have been written about the New England region than any other part of the United States. (Because many titles were written before 2000, they are not included in this essay.) There are a number of reasons for this. Although Jamestown, Virginia, was settled a few years before Plymouth, Massachusetts, most early significant development took place in New England. New England represents a somewhat homogeneous environment, where most rivers run north and south and provide access to the hinterlands. Over the years, New Englanders have cultivated a sense of coherency of their region; the classic view of a New England town is a central common with a white church and/or town hall situated adjacent to the common. An interesting work by Diana Muir, Reflections in Bullough’s Pond: Economy and Ecosystem in New England, uses a small pond on the outskirts of Boston to show the changes that took place from the time of settlement to the modern day.

Forest change has been an important aspect of the region. Although Native Americans had already cut and modified the coastal forest when the colonists arrived from Europe, inland forests were very dense. By the mid-nineteenth century, those inland forests had been cut and represented only about 20 percent to 30 percent of the landscape. David Foster describes these changes in Forests in Time: The Environmental Consequences of 1,000 Years of Change in New England. Ellen Stroud addresses this same topic in Nature Next Door: Cities and Trees in the American Northeast. Foster focuses on the landscape in Thoreau’s Country: Journey through a Transformed Landscape; he uses quotations from Thoreau to describe how the inhabitants of New England changed their environment.

A Landscape History of New England, edited by Blake Harrison and Richard Judd, describes several aspects of the New England landscape in a series of twenty-one essays. Most recently Judd wrote Second Nature: An Environmental History of New England. The book consists of nine chapters, divided into three sections: New England before 1800 (contact and farming), 1800 to 1900 (industrialization and transcendentalism), and 1900 to 2000 (conservation and urban ecologies). Between Land and Sea: The Atlantic Coast and the Transformation of New England, by Christopher Pastore, covers many of the same topics but focuses on the role of the numerous estuaries of the New England coast. 

Works Cited