The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 101, July 1997 - April, 1998 Page: 127

Book Reviews

Despite these criticisms, Finley has contributed an important piece to a grow-
ing body of literature dealing with the Freedmen's Bureau. In doing so, he rein-
forces the assumption that to understand Reconstruction one must come to
grips with the bureau.
Fordham University PAUL A. CIMBALA
The Culture of Wilderness: Agriculture as Colonization in the American West. By Frieda
Knobloch. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996. Pp.
XV+204. Preface, acknowledgments, introduction, epilogue, notes, bibliogra-
phy, index. ISBN o-8o784585-X. $14.95, paper).
In The Culture of Wilderness, Frieda Knobloch asserts that the history of agricul-
ture in the American West remains largely grounded in fiction. The myth of
nature as a wilderness awaiting the reshaping hand of humans, imperfect until
conquered and transformed, is, according to the author, still the dominant
interpretation among scholars. She attempts to undermine this viewpoint by
exposing, in her words, "what social agendas have been at work in western agri-
cultural history"(p. 2). The results are mixed at best.
Knobloch organizes her work into four chapters, analyzing in turn human rela-
tionships with forests, farm acreage, grazing lands, and, finally, weeds. Throughout
each chapter she constructs arguments centered on the cultural colonization and
domination of nature by state agencies. In a short epilogue, she urges readers to
reclaim agriculture from the provinces of science and government, to exile the
experts and revive a connection between individuals and nature made irrelevant
by the interposition of conspiracy-minded bureaucratic intermediaries.
Unfortunately, Knobloch accomplishes few of her goals with this book. The
arguments she presents are sound but hardly original; in fact, the most creative
element is the author's imaginative use of vocabulary. Secondary sources pre-
dominate, despite the author's insistence that archival material was vital to this
study. The too-infrequent endnotes add to the general feeling of confusion, and
readers familiar with the topic will notice several glaring omissions, particularly
for the chapter entitled "Trees," where authorities such as Harold K. Steen and
Paul Hirt are notably absent, as is any reference to the extensive archive of the
Forest History Society. Additional errors in the text, including a reference to
Yellowstone National Park as the first forest reserve established under the
General Revision Act of 1891 (p. 26), further erode the reader's confidence in
Knobloch's work.
Despite these flaws, the Culture of Wilderness contains sound theses and com-
mendable advice. It illuminates the hegemonic aspects of American agriculture
and further exposes the myths inherent in past historical interpretations. But, as
evidenced by the secondary material cited, much of this has been done before,
and Knobloch often seems to be arguing against a historiographical position
that no longer exists except within the government agencies charged with con-
tinuing the process of conquest.



Texas Christian University


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