Land Speaks

The Land Speaks: New Voices at the Intersection of Oral and Environmental History

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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. The Land Speaks (Oxford University Press), 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. They raise questions about the roles of water, neglected urban spaces, land ownership concepts, protectionist activism, and climate change.

Geographically they treat nearly every region of the United States, and one is focused on the Caribbean—a liminal space outside the U.S. and tangentially connected to it—thus opening up the topic to an international audience. Most address the particular contributions oral history can make to understanding issues of public land. Two concern women’s roles in establishing and managing public lands, one looks at African American smokejumpers, and one offers perspectives from Hopi elders. The authors argue that oral history can capture communication from the land and serve as a tool for environmental problem solving.