Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England by William Cronon

William Cronon delivers a very interesting book that explores the history of England backdating from the 16th century up to the beginning of the 19th century. The book focuses on the economic changes that occurred as a result of cultural interactions between English colonists and Indians. In his book, Cronon focuses on the changes that happened to the natural environment due to the interactions. He attributes the changes in New England to economic and cultural exchanges. He also points out that the European capitalist ideologies as the main factor that has caused environmental degradation. This paper is going to lay a special focus on how William Cronon brings out the various ideas in his book.

On the first pages of his books, William provides a description of the changes that occurred in 1600-1800 in the region. His writings and discussions are heavily based on the works of the European visitors. Cronon reveals how the Europeans caused degradation of the environment in a different way from that of the Indians. He gives a clear explanation of the degradation by referring to the opposing views of the Indians and the Europeans in regard to the use of land. The European people used to live in the fixed settlements. They viewed land as a source of production of the commodities. There existed laws that regulated the ownership of land and how it is to be utilized (Cronon 9).

Indians had a different view on property; their view arose due to their diversity and interactions. The Indians did not fully rely on land as their main source of food. The Indians practiced hunting and fishing as a way of supplementing their diet. The Indians always survived during the winter since they did not fully rely on agriculture. The Indians who lived in the north exhibited low mobility and had a little impact on the environment (Cronon 10).

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The Indians who lived in the south practiced agriculture and hunting; this ensured that they had enough food all the time. It can be seen that Indians who lived in other places used land in different ways and had different impacts on it. The Indians did not view land as individualized rather by its immediate usefulness (Cronon 13).
The Europeans believed that the Native Americans did not have any commitment to land. They argued that the Native Americans did not deserve the right to own land since they did not value it. According to the Europeans, the Indians wasted their lives in idle activities; thus, they did not deserve permanent land ownership. According to the Europeans, land was a very important resource that could produce commodities. Failure to develop land could indicate losing opportunities for life improvements and making good profits. The Indians were seen as poor managers of the economic resources (Cronon 49).

William Cronon also illustrates how the capitalist ideas made great impacts on the environment. He describes the introduction of micro parasites as one of the greatest ecological changes. This led to the death of more than 90 percent of Indians in some areas. The Europeans supported such conditions. In his arguments, Cronon states that although the issue had biological causes, economic and social developments that existed in Europe had a stake in the spread of parasites (Cronon 58).

Due to the constant changes, the Indians found themselves trapped in the European economy which seriously extracted resources from the environment. The constant food shortages made them engage in trade with the Europeans where they supplied them with different commodities such as fur. The Indians engaged in massive hunting so as to supply the fur; this had negative impacts on the environment (Croon 124).

Massive deforestation also occurred when the Europeans arrived. Initially, the Indians cleared land so that they could get enough food. However, they started engaging in selling timber and firewood, thus causing further degradation of forests. Deforestations led to climatic changes, which had a significant impact on agriculture (Cronon 34).

The Indians had a different perception of animals. Indians could only claim ownership of animals only when they had killed them. On the other hand, the Europeans valued animals and claimed total ownership. This always led to fencing as a way of protecting animals. The demand for grazing land increased, and degradation of the environment also continued. The need to transport animals also resulted in long-term deforestation since trees had to be cut for road expansion. The animals also accelerated ploughing activities making them easy. Continued ploughing led to further degradation since forests had to be cleared for agricultural activities (Cronon145).

The European trade systems and their agricultural activities had far-reaching implications on the environment. These practices resulted in soil exhaustion and constant soil erosions. The continuous deforestation had long-lasting effects on both the current and future generations. The irresponsible farming practices resulted in climatic changes. The continued degradation further accelerated drought and hunger (Cronon 215).

The book brings out a clear picture of how our economic activities can cause serious degradation of the environment. It shows how the different land practices can affect the environment.
However, the book also has a weakness. William Cronon stresses that the Indians utilized land better than their European counterparts. This can be seen as a general assumption that does not have evidence. It is impossible to relate the great environmental degradation to the activities of the Europeans only. Cronon’s failure to access the sources that could have acted as evidence for this claim could portray a bias in his arguments.

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