Sunday, June 1, 2008

Nature's Metropolis


William Cronon, Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West (New York: WW Norton, 1991)

Here, Cronon looks at Chicago as both a product of and a shaper of the "first-nature" environment surrounding its metropolitan areas. This is the best possible example of how environmental history could integrate the urban and the rural and downplay the concept of "wilderness," a goal that everyone is always talking about. Cronon shows how Chicago used its position on Lake Michigan to attract railroads, which in turn attracted trade from the "great West"'s hinterlands, which in turn located Chicago as a gateway city: raw goods would enter the city and exit as value-added commodities, with Chicago performing the work of abstracting the commodity from its original context. Chicago was dependent on the strength and financial capital of New York and Philadelphia, which financed the railroads and established Chi-town as the broker of Midwestern ecological capital.

Commodities that Cronon looks at include wheat, lumber, and meat. In each case, Cronon argues, manufacturers in Chicago figured out how to use economies of scale to aggregate these goods into mass quantities and to abstract their value from their physical presence. This last happening worked especially well with wheat, which created the modern concept of the "exchange," at which people traded wheat without ever even seeing the wheat in question. (Here is where I figured out what a "futures market" is - it's more fascinating than one could ever imagine.)

Cronon writes that Chicago's effect upon the rural sites which came within its orbit was both positive for people's lives (easier selling of their goods; better access to cheaper things) and negative (they were at the mercy of distant forces for their livelihood; if they were merchants, they were undercut by cheaper Chicago prices). Cronon shows how certain small-potatoes merchants and farmers resisted the pressure of the giant Chicago firms through associations (sometimes more effective, other times less).

I've been waiting to read this one for a long time, and it was definitely un-disappointing. Cronon's ability to be both a good storyteller and a "man of infinite research" (as TR said about Henry Adams) is a thing to envy. His inclusion of financial records, technological analysis, and cultural productions (novels, esp. in the World's Fair chapter) makes this book a model of enviable American Studies practice.

42 comments:

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作弊 said...

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佩璇佩璇 said...

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明偉誠秋 said...

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佳穎 said...

量力而為,別勉強了,Cut your coat according to your cloth..............................................

淑貞 said...

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文佩齊華 said...

愛情是一種發明,需要不斷改良。只是,這種發明和其他發明不一樣,它沒有專利權,隨時會被人搶走。..................................................

湘CristopherC_Hipple0609均CristopherC_Hipple0609 said...

you always know the right thing to say!............................................................

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you always know the right thing to say!............................................................

esthermelvin said...

困難的不在於新概念,而在於逃避舊有的概念。......................................................

韻枝 said...

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佳燕 said...

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又來 said...

知識可以傳授,智慧卻不行。每個人必須成為他自己。......................................................................

于庭 said...

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玉苓玉苓 said...

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賢林 said...

及時行樂-快樂不需要理由..................................................................

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天下沒有意把鑰匙,可以打開所有的門............................................................

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我們能互相給予的最佳禮物是「真心的關懷」。..................................................

吳庭 said...

做些小善事,說些愛的字句,世界更快樂。..................................................

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每次看完你的文章,總是回味許久,要經常發表喔。..................................................................

莉璇藍 said...

多謝美味的心靈雞湯......................................................................

文王廷 said...

愛情是盲目的,但婚姻恢復了它的視力。..................................................................

凱許倫 said...

Conversation makes one what he is.............................................................

冰微 said...

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孫邦柔 said...

相見亦無事,不來常思君......................................................................

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困難的不在於新概念,而在於逃避舊有的概念。......................................................................

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