Visions of Paradise
Glimpses of Our Landscape's Legacy
By (author) John Warfield Simpson
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Visions of Paradise by John Warfield Simpson
Book DescriptionThe American Revolution gave birth not just to a new nation, but to a new landscape. America was paradise to its native inhabitants, while to the colonists, it was an unlimited land of opportunity, a moral and physical wilderness from which they could create paradise. Powerful people like Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton struggled to shape it to their opposing visions. Over the ensuing two hundred years, many other visions shaped the American landscape. Today, their imprints form a complex layering of messages - past and present, physical and cultural, public and private, local and national - that tell a story of many interwoven meanings. John Warfield Simpson traces this fascinating story in "Visions of Paradise", providing a fresh perspective from which to understand not only our landscape but also the way we steward our environment. Simpson describes the transformation of America from wilderness into an agrarian and suburban landscape as the nation expanded westward after the Revolution. He highlights the role of influential people in this transformation and the critical policies and programs they used to acquire, survey, and dispose of the public domain. He shows how their actions reflected changes in our traditional values that considered land as property and a commodity primarily for functional use. This transformation in values has yielded a landscape of contradictions: It is at once a landscape of freedom and opportunity, order and disorder, permanence and transience. Ours is an egalitarian and litigated landscape shaped by reason and mobility, he argues, one that reflects our historical sense of separation from and superiority over a limitless land of endless abundance and resilience. These perceptions, he shows, have blinded us to the environmental consequences of our actions and created a people who behave as though they are temporary occupants of the land rather than residents who enjoy a deep connection to the land. That connection, he concludes, holds the key to our contemporary environmental debate.
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Book DetailsISBN: 9780520213647
(229mm x 152mm x 35mm)
Imprint: University of California Press
Publisher: University of California Press
Publish Date: 14-Apr-1999
Country of Publication: United States
US Kirkus Review » A well-conceived if sometimes plodding essay in the role of the landscape in American history. Writing in the tradition of Donald Meinig, J.B. Jackson, and other proponents of what might be called the environmental-determinist school of history, Simpson (Architecture and Natural Resources/Ohio State Univ.) explores changing ideas of nationhood as the US grew west of the fall line. The original colonial world, he writes, was one of forests and rivers, and the land outside the cities and well-tended fields was, "for most Americans, a dark, fearful, unholy place" full of Indians and dangerous beasts. That view came to be transformed by the acquisition of new lands - not only other forests in places such as Ohio, whose wildness would quickly be stripped away, but also the great prairies, deserts, and mountain ranges west of the Mississippi River. Initially, Simpson suggests, the American spirit toward the land was one of wasteful domination. He writes, for instance, that early farming practices tended to deplete the fertility of the soil, for farmers didn't rotate crops or use sufficient natural fertilizers; "most [farmers]," he says, "thought those practices a waste of time since land was cheap and labor dear." It took decades before the nation developed anything like a comprehensive view of land management or arrived at a uniform system of surveying, largely because different colonial regions had contrary attitudes about such things; the South tended to employ haphazard means of measuring land holdings, whereas New Englanders were far more precise. As time went on, however, Americans came to develop a uniform system of land management and, more important, to value the land more highly in the country's idea of itself - a nation not only of farms and cities, but also of natural wonders, like Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon. A useful addition to the growing landscape-in-history literature. (Kirkus Reviews)
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Author Biography - John Warfield Simpson
John Warfield Simpson is Associate Professor in the Knowlton School of Architecture and the School of Natural Resources at Ohio State University.
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