Study Questions

William Cronon, Changes in the Land

What kinds of sources are available for environmental history? What according to Cronon, are the problems with such sources? What are the sources of bias? What are the problems with extrapolating back from the present?

What were the major factors affecting the Indian economy? What constrained it or influenced it in one direction and not another?
How did the Indian economy affect the land? How do their practices fit with our ideology of native peoples as the first ecologists?
How did the Indians get hooked into the cash economy and the world market?

Why did Indian money become so important to both sides?

In what ways did the Puritans understand the Indian economy and their own in moral terms, making judgements of right and wrong about work, storage, movement, ownership, intensity of us, gender relations, etc. How did they judge the Indians as rich or poor? What baggage (i.e. ideas, attitudes, values) did they bring with them from England?

If the Puritans were most concerned with getting by or making a living, how did they get tied so thoroughly to Europe and the world capitalist market?

Why does Cronon put so much emphasis on the notion of commodities?

How did the Puritan economy change the land? How were beavers and forests affected? What were the effects of livestock and the plow on the landscape? How did Indians have to change their way of life after the English settled?

Why was wood such an issue in a land with millions of trees?

What were the competing English ideas about land as property? How did cultural factors on both sides affect understandings of land and property? How could the Indians end up selling land more than once?

The famous writer Thoreau looked out on a landscape with few trees, exhausted fields, and few large wild animals. How and why does Cronon say this landscape evolved two centuries after English settlement?