J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Sunday, October 08, 2006

Environmental History in this here Environment

On the evening of Tuesday, 10 October, the Massachusetts Historical Society will host a panel discussion on the topic “What Is Environmental History?” The panelists will be:

It's tempting for us to imagine the Battle of Lexington and Concord taking place in the more "unspoiled" parts of those towns as we see them today, but the environment of 1775 was quite different, and that affected many aspects of the event: battle tactics, of course, but also the productivity of the farmland and thus the economic prospects of the colonists there.

British settlers had been altering the Middlesex County landscape for over a century before the battle of 1775, cutting down trees, plowing fields, and introducing new fauna. Native Americans had left their mark on the land as well in earlier times. And in the decades after independence, the region's farming economy crashed, causing people to let trees cover a lot of previously farmed land. Then the population and economy boomed, converting many other fields and meadows into house lots. It's an ongoing challenge for the Minute Man National Historical Park is to convey a sense of the landscape of 1775 without violating our modern sense of what looks pretty and historic. (In other words, we like the trees that colonial farmers cut down.)

The M.H.S. panel discussion is scheduled to start at 5:15, and is open to the public. Afterwards the society will serve a light buffet supper; leave a message at 617-646-0540 if you want to reserve space for food so they know how much to order.

(Aerial photo of the Assabet River in Concord above by Steve Dunwell, creator of Massachusetts: A Scenic Journey and other books from Back Bay Press.)

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