Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version



Published in Great Plains Quarterly 6:2 (Spring 1986). Copyright © 1986 Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.


"The history of any land begins with nature, and all histories must end with nature," J. Frank Dobie once wrote.' He was eloquently right, but until very recently such a view was not regarded seriously by academic historians, who commonly took nature for granted, beginning and ending their studies with an air of human omnipotence. That attitude, however, is becoming harder to maintain in innocence, as a group of ecologically informed historians challenge it. It is now more acceptable to say, with Dobie, that nature has played a stage-center role in the making of history the making of its setbacks and tragedies as well as its progress and triumphs. Whether defined as climate, as vegetation, as the presence or absence of water, as soil and topography, or more compositely as ecosystem and biosphere, nature has been a force to be reckoned with in social evolution. Many geographers and anthropologists have long acknowledged that fact. And now historical thinking, if it wants to be taken seriously, must to some extent also become ecological.