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Cape Cod: An Environmental History of a Fragile Ecosystem (Environmental History of the Northeast)

Cape Cod: An Environmental History of a Fragile Ecosystem (Environmental History of the Northeast)

Current price: $24.95
Publication Date: November 5th, 2014
University of Massachusetts Press
Special Order - Subject to Availability


To many, Cape Cod represents the classic setting for an American summer vacation. Attracting seasonal tourists with picturesque beaches and abundant seafood, the Cape has held a place in our national imagination for almost two hundred years. People have been drawn to its beauty and resources since Native Americans wandered up its long sandy peninsula some 12,000 years ago, while writers such as Henry David Thoreau and Norman Mailer have celebrated its mystery and allure. But, despite its idealized image, Cape Cod has a long history of scarcity and an increasingly evident fragility.

John T. Cumbler's book offers an environmental, social, and economic history of Cape Cod told through the experiences of residents as well as visitors. He notes that over the past four hundred years the Cape has experienced three regimes of resource utilization. The first regime of Native Americans who lived relatively lightly on the land was supplanted by European settlers who focused on production and extraction. This second regime began in the age of sail but declined through the age of steam as the soil and seas failed to yield the resources necessary to sustain continuing growth. Environmental and then economic crises during the second half of the nineteenth century eventually gave way to the third regime of tourism and recreation. But this regime has its own environmental costs, as residents have learned over the last half century.

Although the Cape remains a special place, its history of resource scarcity and its attempts to deal with that scarcity offer useful lessons for anyone addressing similar issues around the globe.

About the Author

John T. Cumbler is professor of history at the University of Louisville and spends half of the year in Wellfleet, Massachusetts. He is the author of numerous books, including From Abolition to Rights for All: The Making of a Reform Community in the Nineteenth Century and Reasonable Use: The People, the Environment, and the State, New England, 1790–1930.

Praise for Cape Cod: An Environmental History of a Fragile Ecosystem (Environmental History of the Northeast)

"No other history of Cape Cod offers the contextually rich interweaving of the region's environmental, economic, social, and cultural transformations. This book makes a unique contribution by connecting human and natural history."—Anthony N. Penna, author of The Human Footprint: A Global Environmental History

"This is the first synthesis of the Cape's environmental history. The author has researched a broad array of sources, gleaning much material on the impacts of economic activity on the natural environment."—James C. O'Connell, author The Hub's Metropolis: Greater Boston's Development from Railroad Suburbs to Smart Growth

"Cumbler discusses the social, economic, and cultural history of this fragile land with great success in a well-researched account supported by 50 pages of annotated footnotes. Recommended."—Choice

"An engagingly authentic and fascinating account"—MAL Contends

"Cape Cod provides a fine overview of the region's economic and environmental development. . . . In his conclusion, Cumbler explains that Cape Cod bookstores are now stocking their shelves with books about the local environment. This book will hold an important place among them."—Journal of American History

"John T. Cumbler has written an exceptionally well-researched, environmentally informed history of Cape Cod. . . . Resistance to change has increased rather than diminished and one of the strengths of Cumbler's work is his grasp of the processes that have produced situations where property owners have bought into schemes, such as sea walling that destroy rather than preserve the natural assets of the shore."—AAG Review of Books

"John T. Cumbler's Cape Cod is a fine book that should appeal to a wide audience . . . Cumbler has succeeded in combining a flowing narrative with a thoughtful analysis of humans interacting with nature, the workplace, and each other."—Historical Journal of Massachusetts