Sunday, August 07, 2005

The Cultural Role of Trees

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.


Michael Allen said...

I have to stop deleting all of the H-URBAN e-mails. Sometimes there is something very good like this in the mess.

Jennifer said...

That's funny -- I have a bunch of listservs that I delete more frequently than I read, too, but I'm new to H-Urban, so I'm still trying to at least scan the majority of them. Can you recommend some listservs or newslists that you tend not to delete?

Michael Allen said...

I confess to being burned out on academia and thus delete a lot of the H-URBAN messages. There are the frequent very, very good exchanges and book reviews that make it worthwhile.

As for other listservs, I am only on local ones right now. I used to subscribe to the New York City No-Spray Coalition listserv and was impressed by the knowledge of pesticide poisoning, urban ecology and environmental racism shown by the posters there. I left because I couldn't keep up with the volume and the NYC-specific posts weren't of great interest.

I'm on the Infiltration "urban exploration" listserv because the volume is low and there are many preservation-minded folks on it who post warnings of impending demolition in cities I don't get to visit often.

I do participate in an engaging LiveJournal community called Future City:

If you have any listserv recommendations, please share. I wouldn't mind finding a really good one.

Jennifer said...

Right now, Planetizen is my only read most of the time listserv. I'm on an urban exploration listserv, too -- a yahoo group called urbanspeleothem which is mainly chicago=area stuff, and mainly very slow. I'm close to bailing out entirely on that one. I do enjoy the local birding yahoo! listserv. Those folks are intensely active and engaged in watching the wildlife in their communities, and I enjoy hearing about what birds are migrating in and out. So far, those are the ones crossing my desk most reliably.