by Daegan Miller
University of Chicago Press
"The American people sees itself advance across the wilderness, draining swamps, straightening rivers, peopling the solitude, and subduing nature," wrote Alexis de Tocqueville in 1835. That's largely how we still think of nineteenth-century America today: a country expanding unstoppably, bending the continent's natural bounty to the national will, heedless of consequence. A country of slavery and of Indian wars. There's much truth in that vision.
But if you know where to look, you can uncover a different history, one of vibrant resistance, one that's been mostly forgotten. This Radical Land recovers that story. Daegan Miller is our guide on a beautifully written, revelatory trip across the continent during which we encounter radical thinkers, settlers, and artists who grounded their ideas of freedom, justice, and progress in the very landscapes around them, even as the runaway engine of capitalism sought to steamroll everything in its path. Here we meet Thoreau, the expert surveyor, drawing anticapitalist property maps. We visit a black antislavery community in the Adirondack wilderness of upstate New York. We discover how seemingly commercial photographs of the transcontinental railroad secretly sent subversive messages, and how a band of utopian anarchists among California's sequoias imagined a greener, freer future. At every turn, everyday radicals looked to landscape for the language of their dissent -- drawing crucial early links between the environment and social justice, links we're still struggling to strengthen today.
Working in a tradition that stretches from Thoreau to Rebecca Solnit, Miller offers nothing less than a new way of seeing the American past -- and of understanding what it can offer us for the present... and the future.
"A debut book that ranges across disciplines and decades to connect the natural environment -- especially long-lived trees -- to a scathing critique of American-style capitalism. Alternating abstract theory with impressive research, both bolstered by extensive sources... the author builds his case about understanding American history by examining destruction of the environment through essays grounded in the 19th century... He offers an eclectic education often marked by soaring prose." -- Kirkus Reviews
"Daegan Miller rekindles a legacy of environmental dissent. The ideas and landscapes of nineteenth-century 'countermoderns' are signposts, still legible, to alternative futures. This book bears witness like a burning bush." -- Jared Farmer, author of Trees in Paradise: A California History
About the Author:
Daegan Miller has taught at Cornell University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and his writing has appeared in a variety of venues, from academic journals to literary magazines.