The Land Speaks

“Our hope is that this foray will inspire others to seek out oral histories from the land.” from Introduction to The Land Speaks, Debbie Lee and Kathryn Newfont, Oxford University Press, 2017.

The Land Speaks explores the intersections of two vibrant fields, oral history and environmental studies. The essays cover urban, rural, suburban, and wilderness areas. They examine forests, rivers, lakes, and agricultural fields. They treat crops, trees, dunes, mammals, insects, fish, reptiles, amphibians, and birds. Narrators and authors contest established narratives and shed light on entirely untold stories. They consider topics ranging from environmental activism to wilderness management to public health, raising questions about the roles of water, neglected urban spaces, land ownership concepts, protectionist activism, and climate change. The authors argue that oral history can capture communication from the land and serve as a tool for environmental problem solving.

“Environmental historians have long feared that when we try to make nature speak in our histories, we are capable only of ventriloquism. The Land Speaks suggests just the opposite: that by listening to the voices of those who have devoted their lives to environmental fluency, we hear the received language of the land. This brilliant volume puts oral history at the very heart of our discipline.” –Paul Sutter, Professor of Environmental History, University of Colorado

“The land speaks indeed! This trailblazing anthology explores the intersections of oral history and the environment in a wide variety of North American settings. As we listen along the journey, we recognize greater complexities in the relationship to place, gain broader understandings of our public lands, and view both oral history and the landscape from fruitful new perspectives.” –Stephen Sloan, Director, Institute for Oral History, Baylor University

“The Land Speaks is a path-breaking achievement; there is no other book quite like it. My classes in environmental history will be richer for having access to the narrative of women struggling to save the Indian Dunes, African American paratroopers fighting fires, urbanites tending community gardens, not to say meeting a figure like Bud Moore. That students may also better understand how to think like a buttercup, creek, or mountain, to read nature, adds to the book’s intellectual insight and pedagogical value.” –Char Miller, W.M. Keck Professor of Environmental Analysis, Pomona College

The authors and editors Debbie Lee and Kathryn Newfont, as well as other naturalists included here, describe this careful attention to the land and the creatures that live on it, and declare that “the land itself speaks.” It is this possibility of discovering what various animals and plants mean by what they do that makes this book unusual and fascinating. –Valerie Yow, The Oral History Review

Debbie Lee and Kathryn Newfont’s collection of essays explores the way everyday people talk about their relationships to public lands. –Jillian Sparks, RBM: A Journal of Rare Books, Manuscripts, and Cultural Heritage