The following is an excerpt of a book review written by Lori Vermaas of the University of Iowa about Republic of Shade: New England and the American Elm by Thomas J. Campanella.
Trees teach us about perception or, rather, self-perception.
As some environmental historians, like Michael P. Cohen, have intuited, "most people ... choose a tree that speaks to their condition," and the same can be said for a town, region, or nation.
New Englanders "drifted toward" (p. 65) the elm as a regional icon, a tree narrative that explicates a very unconventional but highly imaginative and revealing self-portrait of nineteenth-century American regional attitudes.
This is the allure of studying the cultural history of trees--the pleasant surprise that its analysis reveals less about botany than human culture.
If, as Campanella cogently suggests, "in trees we see ourselves" (p. 4), the American elm shows us to be a nation of city dwellers, left to understand ourselves in these places in ways that should include our relationship to trees.
Vermaas published the review on the H-Environment Discussion Network (aka listserv) out of MSU, and it was cross-posted to the H-Urban listserv.
Sign up for H-Net: Humanities and Social Sciences Discussion Networks here.
Image courtesy of Kristine George.