Bounded by the St. Lawrence Valley to the north, Lake Champlain to the west, and the Gulf of Maine to the east, New England may be the most cohesive region in the United States, with a long and richly recorded history. In this book, Richard W. Judd explores the mix of ecological process and human activity that shaped that history over the past 12,000 years. He traces a succession of cultures through New England’s changing postglacial environment down to the 1600s, when the arrival of Europeans interrupted this coevolution of nature and culture.
A long period of tension and warfare, inflected by a variety of environmental problems, opened the way for frontier expansion. This in turn culminated in a unique landscape of forest, farm, and village that has become the embodiment of what Judd calls “second nature”— culturally modified landscapes that have superseded a more pristine “first nature.”
In the early 1800s changes in farm production and industrial process transformed central New England, while burgeoning markets at the geographical margins brought rapid expansion in fishing and logging activities. Although industrialization and urbanization severed connections to the natural world, the dominant cultural expression of the age, Romanticism, provided new ways of appreciating nature in the White Mountains and Maine woods. Spurred by these Romantic images and by a long tradition of local resource management, New England gained an early start in rural and urban conservation.
In the 1970s environmentalists, inspired by a widespread appreciation for regional second-nature landscapes, moved quickly from battling pollution and preserving wild lands to sheltering farms, villages, and woodlands from intrusive development. These campaigns, uniquely suited to the region’s land-use history, ecology, and culture, were a fitting capstone to the environmental history of New England.