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Common Lands, Common People

Common Lands, Common People

The Origins of Conservation in Northern New England

Richard W. Judd

ISBN 9780674004160

Publication date: 10/16/2000

In this innovative study of the rise of the conservation ethic in northern New England, Richard Judd shows that the movement that eventually took hold throughout America had its roots among the communitarian ethic of countrypeople rather than among urban intellectuals or politicians. Drawing on agricultural journals and archival sources such as legislative petitions, Judd demonstrates that debates over access to and use of forests and water, though couched in utilitarian terms, drew their strength and conviction from deeply held popular notions of properly ordered landscapes and common rights to nature.

Unlike earlier attempts to describe the conservation movement in its historical context, which have often assumed a crude dualism in attitudes toward nature--democracy versus monopoly, amateur versus professional, utilitarian versus aesthete--this study reveals a complex set of motives and inspirations behind the mid-nineteenth-century drive to conserve natural resources. Judd suggests that a more complex set of contending and complementary social forces was at work, including traditional folk values, an emerging science of resource management, and constantly shifting class interests.

Common Lands, Common People tells us that ordinary people, struggling to define and redefine the morality of land and resource use, contributed immensely to America's conservation legacy.


  • As Common Lands, Common People describes beautifully, the march of 'progress' [in New England] was slowed by the nascent environmentalists of Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire standing up to big businesses of the day. The beauty of these states today is thanks to the pressure of these early conservationists--who were not, the author suggests, an elitist group drawn from the upper echelons of society as some historians contend, but the 'common people' of the title. The writing is vivid and the history thorough.

    —New Scientist


  • Richard W. Judd is Professor of History, University of Maine.

Book Details

  • 5-9/16 x 8-15/16 inches
  • Harvard University Press