Synopses & Reviews
The rapidly disappearing wetlands that once spread so abundantly across the American continent serve an essential and irreplaceable ecological function. Yet for centuries, Americans have viewed them with disdain. Beginning with the first European settlers, we have thought of them as sinkholes of disease and death, as landscapes that were worse than useless unless they could be drained, filled, paved or otherwise "improved." As neither dry land, which can be owned and controlled by individuals, nor bodies of water, which are considered a public resource, wetlands have in recent years been at the center of controversy over issues of environmental protection and property rights.The confusion and contention that surround wetland issues today are the products of a long and convoluted history. In "Discovering the Unknown Landscape," Anne Vileisis presents a fascinating look at that history, exploring how Americans have thought about and used wetlands from Colonial times through the present day. She discusses the many factors that influence patterns of land use -- ideology, economics, law, perception, art -- and examines the complicated interactions among those factors that have resulted in our contemporary landscape. As well as chronicling the march of destruction, she considers our seemingly contradictory tradition of appreciating wetlands: artistic and literary representations, conservation during the Progressive Era, and recent legislation aimed at slowing or stopping losses."Discovering the Unknown Landscape" is an intriguing synthesis of social and environmental history, and a valuable examination of how cultural attitudes shape the physical world that surrounds us. It provides importantcontext to current debates, and clearly illustrates the stark contrast between centuries of beliefs and policies and recent attempts to turn those longstanding beliefs and policies around. Vileisis's clear and engaging prose provides a new and compelling understanding of m
About the Author
Ann Vileisis received an environmental history degree from Yale University and a master's degree in western U.S. history from Utah State University. By canoe, kayak, and on foot, she has visited many of America's swamps and marshes and has delved into their past at libraries across the country.
In 1999 Ann Vileisis was presented with the American Historical Association's Herbert Feis Award as well as the George Perkins Marsh Award of the American Society for Environmental History for the best environmental history of the year.