The Indian River Lagoon (IRL) is a series of lagoons stretching across 156 miles of Florida’s east coast. It is separated from the Atlantic Ocean by a thin series of barrier islands periodically broken up by inlets that connect these lagoons to the ocean. These islands, inlets, and lagoons are shifting and transient natural features, and they are home to an enormous variety of tropical and temperate flora and fauna. Nathanial Osborn in Indian River Lagoon: An Environmental History examines these ecosystems and the ways that humans have tried to rationalize and control the lagoon. This short book (the text is just 163 pages) begins by examining the geology and biology of the lagoon itself. Next Osborn briefly chronicles the Native American inhabitation of the IRL and the British and Spanish colonial experiments in the area. Chapter 3 examines the waves of Anglo Americans who settled the IRL between 1842 and 1892. Osborn argues that these settlers were the “vanguard of a third wave of peninsular Florida Anglo culture, historically and culturally distinct” from the Florida crackers and the Key West conchs (p. 3). He argues that these settlers were “not culturally southern,” but rather integrated elements of “northern market economies, southern cultural norms, and Caribbean agriculture and salvage” (p. 57). Unfortunately, other than in these brief passages, Osborn provides little discussion of these significant claims and additionally provides little evidence to support them. In this period, the IRL became a destination for tourists, its fauna was commodified, and minor efforts to rationalize the area’s water resources were undertaken. Chapter 4 continues this narrative by exploring Progressive Era efforts to dredge and fill the area’s lagoons and rivers. Spanning from 1881 to 1941, these efforts included the creation of additional inlets and the alteration of existing inlets, the construction of mosquito impoundments, the expansion of the Indian River’s watershed, and most importantly the integration of this area into the Kissimmee River-Lake Okeechobee-Everglades watershed. Osborn often makes reference to Everglades drainage, flood control, and restoration efforts, and he compares the IRL’s natural features to the Everglades. Yet these connections and comparison could have been made even stronger, and Osborn often misses opportunities to place the IRL into the broader context of South Florida’s relationship with nature. Particularly troubling is Osborn’s lack of secondary sources. He fails to consider the most important works about Florida’s environment including excellent books by David McCally, Jack Davis, and Raymond Arsenault. In general, Indian River Lagoon fails to make needed historiographical connection; the book’s bibliography is very thin and is missing many key texts in environmental, southern, and Florida history. The book’s fifth and final chapter discusses the changes made to the IRL after World War II. These changes were immense and encompassed both the alteration of these landscapes for human uses, and efforts to protect and restore these environments. Suburbanization and the growth of the aerospace industry in the region had enormous impacts on the ecology of the IRL, but Osborn only really scratches the surface of these topics. Throughout the book Osborn broaches subjects that offer additional avenues of research to environmental historians. He touches on the creation of state parks and other preserved areas, the IRL’s inclusion into efforts to control the Everglades’ water, the history of fisheries in the IRL, and the impacts of failed septic tanks. Any of these topics constitute fertile ground for further research and examination. Both the book’s introduction and its excellent conclusion make good points about the transitional qualities of nature, the lack of an ecological “balance” or climax state, the futility of restoration efforts that aim to restore some pristine idea of nature, and the often messy and contradictory relationships between humans and the natural world. Yet these themes are not carried through the individual chapters, which instead often read like a pastiche of facts and figures culled from secondary sources. The book’s primary source documentation is problematic; most of the primary sources are published sources, and very little archival research is represented in the text. Despite these book’s flaws, Osborn, who is a high school educator, has provided a good introduction to the environmental history of the area that will hopefully open up avenues for future historical research. © The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Society for Environmental History and the Forest History Society. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Environmental History – Oxford University Press
Published: Jan 1, 2018
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