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Wild by Nature

, 352 pages

2 b&w photos, 10 b&w illus.

June 2017



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Wild by Nature

North American Animals Confront Colonization

Winner of the CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title of the Choice ACRL

From the time Europeans first came to the New World until the closing of the frontier, the benefits of abundant wild animals—from beavers and wolves to fish, deer, and bison—appeared as a recurring theme in colonizing discourses. Explorers, travelers, surveyors, naturalists, and other promoters routinely advertised the richness of the American faunal environment and speculated about the ways in which animals could be made to serve their colonial projects. In practice, however, American animals proved far less malleable to colonizers’ designs. Their behaviors constrained an English colonial vision of a reinvented and rationalized American landscape.

In Wild by Nature, Andrea L. Smalley argues that Anglo-American authorities’ unceasing efforts to convert indigenous beasts into colonized creatures frequently produced unsettling results that threatened colonizers’ control over the land and the people. Not simply acted upon by being commodified, harvested, and exterminated, wild animals were active subjects in the colonial story, altering its outcome in unanticipated ways. These creatures became legal actors—subjects of statutes, issues in court cases, and parties to treaties—in a centuries-long colonizing process that was reenacted on successive wild animal frontiers.

Following a trail of human–animal encounters from the seventeenth-century Chesapeake to the Civil War–era southern plains, Smalley shows how wild beasts and their human pursuers repeatedly transgressed the lines lawmakers drew to demarcate colonial sovereignty and control, confounding attempts to enclose both people and animals inside a legal frame. She also explores how, to possess the land, colonizers had to find new ways to contain animals without destroying the wildness that made those creatures valuable to English settler societies in the first place. Offering fresh perspectives on colonial, legal, environmental, and Native American history, Wild by Nature reenvisions the familiar stories of early America as animal tales.

Andrea L. Smalley is an assistant professor of history at Northern Illinois University.

"... the richness of the information from obscure sources serves as an invaluable reference. This book provides a thought-provoking and interesting thesis... Recommended."

"Wild by Nature offers a wonderful example of the retellings that are possible if historians attend to animalhuman relationships as a significant category of investigation. It is an approachable and well-written book that will appeal to readers curious and eager to think in new ways about old stories."

"Smalley does a fine job of showing how the eradication of wolves, beaver, brown bear, wild boar, and lynx in England by the sixteenth century helped to shape the approach English colonists took to the animal populations they found in North America. Placing animals at the center of the story of colonization, Wild by Nature is a provocative and persuasive book."

"The author is a strong writer, and her practice of assigning action verbs to animals is surprisingly effective. In sum, this book deserves a wide readership in southern history, environmental history, and beyond."

"Succeeds in demonstrating that wild animals, by their very nature, challenged and changed colonial presumptions about human control over the process of North American colonization as expressed in legal regimes and private property."

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