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American Perceptions of Immigrant and Invasive Species

Strangers on the Land

Peter Coates (Author)


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ISBN: 9780520933255
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Sometimes by accident and sometimes on purpose, humans have transported plants and animals to new habitats around the world. Arriving in ever-increasing numbers to American soil, recent invaders have competed with, preyed on, hybridized with, and carried diseases to native species, transforming our ecosystems and creating anxiety among environmentalists and the general public. But is American anxiety over this crisis of ecological identity a recent phenomenon? Charting shifting attitudes to alien species since the 1850s, Peter Coates brings to light the rich cultural and historical aspects of this story by situating the history of immigrant flora and fauna within the wider context of human immigration. Through an illuminating series of particular invasions, including the English sparrow and the eucalyptus tree, what he finds is that we have always perceived plants and animals in relation to ourselves and the polities to which we belong. Setting the saga of human relations with the environment in the broad context of scientific, social, and cultural history, this thought-provoking book demonstrates how profoundly notions of nationality and debates over race and immigration have shaped American understandings of the natural world.

1. Strangers and Natives
Knowing Nature through Nationality
The Naming of Strangers
The Alien Menace: Humanizing Nature and Naturalizing Humans
Our Fellow Immigrants
Strangers on the Land
2. The Avian Conquest of a Continent
Transatlantic Flights
Flying Feathers
The Stranger Finch
There Goes the Neighborhood: Dispossessing the Rightful Tenants of Land and Sky
Standing up for Poor Jack
The Cockney Cousin
The Successful and Exemplary Sparrow
3. Plants, Insects, and Other Strangers to the Soil
Floral Menace and Floral Promise
Strange Fruits: The Enrichment of Nature
Determining Desirability
Shutting the Door on Plant Plunderers
The Menace of Plant Quarantines
A Horticultural Ellis Island
The Rediscovery of Native Value
4. Arboreal Immigrants
Natural Beauty and Foreign Beauty
The Glamor of a Foreign Name
The Tree That Grew in Brooklyn (and Nearly Everywhere Else)
The Strange Career of the Universal Australian
The Tarnished Tree: California’s Raging Eucalyptus Controversy
Eucalyptus Eulogy: The Natural Value of Heritage
Getting Back to (Lost) Nature: Restoring Original California
Landscapes of Purity and Intolerance
5. The Nature of Alien Nation
The Nature of Fear and the Greening of Hate
Wilted Metaphors and Calling Strangers Names
Flora and Fauna That Are Here to Stay
The Globalization of Nature and the Universal Sparrow
The Historian’s Contribution

Notes / 191
Index / 249
Peter Coates is Reader in American and Environmental History in the Department of Historical Studies at the University of Bristol, UK. Among his books is Nature: Western Attitudes Since Ancient Times (UC Press).
“A remarkably nuanced and richly researched overview of U.S. attitudes toward alien species, providing an eminently readable account about how Americans have come to view this foreign element in their forests, fields, waterways, and flyways.”—Oregon Historical Qtly
“Any invasion biologist will enjoy reading American Perceptions and learn much from it. Surely most will turn to it again and again for anecdotes, quotes, and interesting facts to enliven papers and talks. . . . A well-written book.”—Daniel Simberloff Biological Invasions
“A useful book for weed workers interested in the context of their work, or who need to consider the implications of the language they use in public outreach.”—Cal-Ipc News
“Lively and entertaining.”—Northeastern Naturalist
“Anyone interested in environmental history and in how we have responded to invasive species will find this a worthwhile book to read. It is an intelligent and critical discussion of our slowly changing attitudes toward an environmental issue.”—Qtly Review Of Biology
“A lively and nuanced historical perspective.”—Science (AAAS)
"Anyone who thinks worry about invasive species is a new phenomenon should think again! Coates depicts a 19th century America awash in fear of starlings, English sparrows, Hessian flies, gypsy moths, and tree-of-heaven. This is a scholarly yet lively review of the factors that have shaped attitudes towards introduced species, replete with innumerable vignettes of surprising critics and defenders of various new arrivals. Any aficionado of invasions will be enthralled."—Dan Simberloff, author of Strangers in Paradise: Impact and Management of Nonindigenous Species in Florida

"This is a fascinating work of scholarship, one I could hardly put down. It is a must read for anyone interested in the social and moral context of managing non-native species."—Dov Sax, co-editor of Species Invasions: Insights into Ecology, Evolution, and Biogeography

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