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Essay on Changes in the Land


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Changes in the Land

Question one

“Changes in the Land; Indians, Colonists and the Ecology of New England” by William Cronon, explores and analyzes the circumstantial changes that occurred in New England’s ecological system as a result of the shift in dominance in the region by Indians to Europeans. Cronon claims in his thesis that “the shift from Indian to European dominance in New England not only entailed important changes, well known to historians, in the way these people organized their lives, but it also involved fundamental reorganizations, less well known to historians, in the region’s plan and animal communities,” (Cronon, page XV). Cronon’s main argument centers on the difference between how native Indians and colonists made use of New England’s land.

Question two

Europeans encountered shock on their arrival to New England, even though the descriptions were restricted to areas along the coastline. Europeans were astounded by the existing level of animal and plant life in New England. They were not used to huge chunks of uncultivated and fertile land. In Europe, such large chunks of land were reserved for hunting by rich landowners. Other than the existing plant and animal life, the new settlers were also astounded by the heavy and thick forests that covered the land, this was contrary to what was common in Europe where most forests were cleared from being used as timber for fuel. In addition, lack of many domesticated animals was also shocking to them. In Europe, domesticated animals played a huge and important role in the agricultural sector. However, despite the new changes, things like climate and the season cycle in New England stroke a similarity with that of Europe.

Once Europeans familiarized themselves with the new environment, they began to seek out what has previously been referred to as “merchantable commodities” by Richard Hakluyt. This was an inclusion of all natural products that were easily transportable from New England to Europe, and were worth good money. Europeans required this money to fund their new settlement.

Question three

The difference between Europeans’ and Indian subsistence cycle appeared different from each other because the Indian related cycles had more to do with how animals were used, and less to do with how plants were used. In addition, Europeans and Indians had varying approaches on different life values and possessed different opinions on how land should be used. “Many European visitors were struck by what appeared to them to be the poverty of Indians who lived in the midst of a landscape endowed so astonishingly in abundance,” (Cronon, page 33). Compared to the Europeans, Indians were known to practice mobility during different seasons of the year. They lived in movable houses to facilitate easy movement. For instance, Indians engaged in fishing during spring season during the spawning runs, and would relocate to the coast to fish nonspawning fish. While at it, they would pick berries and practice bird hunting as they waited for summer. During winters, Indians divided themselves into small groups for purposes of hunting. However, the bottom line is that Indians relocated to whatever parts of New England that food was in abundance.

However, despite the general lifestyle portrayed by the Indians, northern and southern Indians had different lifestyles. The existing relationship between the environment and northern Indians was harder and complicated, compared to that of the southern Indians and the environment (Cronon, page 55). The southern Indians, especially those who lived along river Kennebec in Maine, specialized in crop farming during the varying cycles. Accessibility of water from river Maine contributed to their crop farming (Cronon, page 38). Proximity to the river also pushed these Indians to fish. Almost half of the year’s yield came from the seashore and the river. This is contrary to the northern Indians, who according to Verrazano showed no signs of cultivation at all. According to Verrazano, northern Indians failed to participate in crop farming due to soil sterility, which was not good for crops. Instead, they practiced hunting and gathering. For instance during the months of October through December, when animals like deer and bears were at their best health, northern Indians would do a lot of hunting.

Question 4

Indian men and women had varying responsibilities which were divided in regards to their beliefs and culture. Sexual division of labor was the in-thing for both Indians living in the north and south of New England. Women were expected to take part in collecting wild plants, hunting small animals like rodents for food, making apparels from animal hides and barks of trees, catching birds along the shore and catching shellfish, keeping the camps safe and slaughtering meat hunted by men (Cronon, page 40). In regards to responsibilities related to crops, women were expected to plant, dress, gather, and beat the crops.  Conversely, while women were busy in the fields, men were expected to erect barrages on the rivers. They were also expected to fish the spring spawning runs and partake in drawn-out hunting trips (Cronon, page 44). Sometimes they would disappear into the forest for up to ten days just to hunt food for the whole community.

Question five

Majority of Europeans were unhappy with the Indians’ way of life. They criticized them and could not comprehend why they chose to willingly go hungry during the winter. In addition, Europeans criticized the sexual division of labor. Europeans felt that Indian women did most of the work, especially on farms, compared to men. They claimed men used their women as slaves. In regards to property ownership, Europeans believed in individual land ownership, while Indians believed that individuals were not supposed to own land. Most Indians believed in practicing territorial rights.

Question six

The Europeans not only brought with them new markets and new way of doing things, in the process, they brought bad problems like diseases. The first epidemic occurred in the south of New England in 1916. Such diseases led Indians to being isolated from Old World Disease environments. They also disturbed status systems among Indians. In addition, some diseases led to clearing of lands for the new settlers, and contributed in the subjugation by Europeans. Generally, the socio-economic effects outweighed the ecological effects (Cronon, page 161).

Question seven

Introduction of different livestock kept by European settlers had ecological effects on New England. For instance, settlers released hogs into the forest. The hogs reproduced and grew in numbers and began to bother both Indians and Europeans. The invaded farms and were prey to the wolves, leading to an increased number of wolves in New England. Similarly, introduction of sheep and cattle by Europeans meant more pasture. Europeans had to introduce hardier grasses and weeds for them to feed on.  Compaction of soil was not good for plants and led to lower water holding capacity causing erosion.

Question eight

The book forms a great historical base of how New England came to be. The amount of information indicates that William Cronon conducted great research. I would recommend it because it contains a lot of information on New England that can barely be found from other sources.


Cronon, William. Changes in the land: Indians, colonists, and the ecology of New England. Hill and Wang, 2011.

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