Discovering the Unknown Landscape: A History Of America's Wetlands

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Island Press, 1999 - History - 433 pages
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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 important context 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 modern-day environmental conflicts.

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Discovering the unknown landscape: a history of America's wetlands

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In this timely, well-documented work, environmental historian Vileisis explains the confusion and contention surrounding wetlands preservation in terms of the differing cultural values Americans have ... Read full review

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Everyday Aesthetics
Yuriko Saito
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About the author (1999)

Environmental historian Ann Vileisis is author of Kitchen Literacy: How We Lost Knowledge of Where Food Comes From and Why We Need to Get It Back, and Discovering the Unknown Landscape: A History of America’s Wetlands. She loves to discover and share history that helps to illuminate pressing modern-day issues. Vileisis became interested in environmental history while earning her B.A. at Yale University. She also holds a master’s degree from Utah State University. While researching her recent book, Kitchen Literacy, Vileisis was a short-term fellow at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History and a writer-in-residence at Mesa Refuge in Point Reyes, California. Vileisis is engaged in a variety of local issues concerning the environment and agriculture. As president of the local Audubon chapter, she participates in a collaborative effort called the Cape Blanco Challenge, started by a group of ranchers with the vision of protecting working landscapes and natural landscapes along Oregon’s extraordinary south coast. The collaborative group is exploring ways to link local food producers with local markets, restore wetlands and riparian areas along key salmon streams, and fund conservation easements to protect the most sensitive ecological areas. An avid gardener and cook, Vileisis has also worked to cultivate her own kitchen literacy. She is married to author and photographer Tim Palmer, and together they lived for eleven years as nomads, traveling in a Ford van as they did their research and writing. In 2003, they settled in the small town of Port Orford, where—she likes to say—she recapitulated a transition from nomad to agriculturist.

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