Saturday, May 17, 2008

Crimes Against Nature

Karl Jacoby, Crimes Against Nature: Squatters, Poachers, and Thieves and the Hidden History of American Conservation (University of California Press, 2001)

Jacoby, who now teaches at Brown (and who got his PhD from Yale's history program), is working on a second book about cultural remembrance of violence against Native Americans since frontier times. He describes himself as interested in how "human and non-human actors" create history in mutuality.

Teddy Roosevelt's picture is here as a reminder of the way that famous conservationists get all the credit for early 20th-c conservationism, while, as Jacoby claims, we forget to mention all of the people whose lives were altered for the worse by this new understanding of who should be in charge of the land. Jacoby describes conflicts between more elite conservationists and different brands of environmental transgressors, suddenly categorized as abusers by the new environmental order: hunters who persist in ranging over the Adirondack reserves of the wealthy New York set; poachers who kill Yellowstone bison (the Army was actually sent out to stop them!); and Havasupai Indians in the Southwest who continue to hunt in the new national forests which are established on the peripheries of their new, land-poor reservations.

Throughout, Jacoby contends with Roderick Nash's assessment that wilderness "appreciation" appeared first in the Eastern elite (2) and tries to reach an understanding of what he calls the "moral ecology" of the working-class residents of newly conserved lands.

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