University Libraries


Page Content

Crimes Against Nature: Squatters, Poachers, Thieves, and the Hidden History of American Conservation go! Available Online Available in Print Multimedia Resource

“Centering his analysis on social relations and law, Jacoby uncovers the consequences for ordinary people of various conservation policies and, in the process, gives readers a fresh interpretation of this much-studied topic.

Specifically, the book focuses on the place of conservation in the nation’s parks, exploring the history of the Adirondacks, Yellowstone National Park, and the Grand Canyon. Many people, even many historians, have assumed that wilderness‚Äö√Ñ√Æareas untouched by human activity‚Äö√Ñ√Ælargely dominated these regions before the establishment of the parks. In fact, as Jacoby shows, Native Americans and rural whites had long seen these places as common lands, fishing, hunting, and gathering berries, nuts, wood, and other items on them that they then used themselves or sold to generate cash. Not only did they use these lands, some evidence suggests that they used them wisely, paying heed to the ecological impact of their actions.

As Jacoby goes on to explain, conservation interfered with the various ways in which Indians and whites had formerly used the land, turning such customary practices as taking game, collecting wood, and setting fires (to shape the land to meet their needs) into crimes. Often viewed by historians as an advance in human relations with the natural world, Jacoby uncovers the far-reaching social impact of the conservation process. He explores in detail the struggles of ordinary people to come to grips with this threat to their very way of life. Some will no doubt object to his characterization of the early conservation movement as “authoritarian” (p. 198). But there is no disputing the fact that many of the policies put in place to save the nation’s natural wealth came at the expense of the poor and dispossessed. Environmental historians have debated the ecological impact of conservation but to date have given very little consideration to its effects on issues of social justice. Jacoby, in league with other historians such as Mark Spence (see Dispossessing the Wilderness: Indian Removal and the Making of the National Parks [1999]), is finally calling our attention to the larger consequences of this important trend in the relationship Americans have had with the land.”

Steinberg, T. (2002). [Review of the book Crimes against nature: Squatters, poachers, thieves, and the hidden history of American conservation]. American Historical Review, 107(1), 214.

Posted on 05.13.08

Helpful Links