Cronon, William (1954 – ) American Frederick Jackson Turner Professor of History, Geography, and Environmental Studies, University of Wisconsin
William Cronon (1954 – )
American Frederick Jackson Turner Professor of History, Geography, and Environmental Studies, University of Wisconsin
William Cronon is an environmental historian, and the author of several notable books on wilderness , American landscape, and history. Cronon grew up in Madison, Wisconsin and did his undergraduate work at the University of Wisconsin. He won a Rhodes scholarship and spent two years studying at Oxford University, earning a doctorate. His first book, Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists and the Ecology of New England, was published in 1983. This book was cited by reviewer Jim Miller in Newsweek as an "eloquent book" with "the rigor of first-rate history and the power of a tragedy." The book's tragic power lies in its subject-the destruction of the fertile habitat of pre-colonial New England by the colonists' farming methods and exploitation of natural resources , and the virtual eradication of the native American population by diseases brought from Europe by the colonists. Cronon supports his explication of this devastation with evidence gathered from such sources as original Puritan documents and the literature of ecology and anthropology. His next book was Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West, published in 1991. This work extended Cronon's investigation of the way human beings shape landscape, looking at relationships between nineteenth century Chicago and the land around it.
Cronon left a tenured position at Yale in order to take up a post at the University of Wisconsin in 1992, returning to his home town. He put out several more books in the 1990s, including Under an Open Sky: Rethinking America's Western Past, and Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature, and editing a book of John Muir's nature writings. Cronon's writings have challenged other environmentalists' conception of wilderness as a pristine place untouched by man. His work focuses on the inextricable relationship between human civilization and nature. Idealizing wilderness as something apart from humankind for Cronon stands in the way of clear thinking about how to preserve the environment . For example Cronon wrote about the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in 2001, when the incoming Bush administration sparked renewed calls to drill for oil in the nature preserve. Cronon argued that the word wilderness conjured up for most people a "place remote from human settlements, untouched by human hands." The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was in fact deeply tied to human civilization as a holy place to Alaskan Indians, a breeding ground for their caribou, and a migratory stop for birds found in 49 out of 50 states in the U.S. The Alaskan wilderness was neither as empty nor as distant as it seemed. Pointing out the many complex relationships between human communities and the land surrounding them is the core of Cronon's work.
[Angela Woodward ]
"An Environmentalist on a Different Path" New York Times (April 3, 1999): B7, B9.
Cronon, William. ":Neither Barren Nor Remote" New York Times (February 28, 2001): A19.