William Cronon’s Changes in the Land is a ground-breaking study of the impact of European
settlement on the environment and inhabitants of early New England. Cronon’s study reveals
that New England’s environment was hardly the unspoiled and pristine wilderness portrayed by
early European explorers and settlers. That region’s Native American inhabitants had reshaped
New England’s environment long before the arrival of Europeans just as the unique character of
that environment directly influenced the lives, society and culture of those Native Americans.
Cronon also demonstrates how fundamental differences in the ways Native Americans and
Europeans conceived of the environment and their place in it would lead to decades of conflict
and change. Finally he shows the dramatic ways that European settlement changed New
England’s environment even more.
My purpose in assigning this book is fourfold: to give you a sense of the relationship between
environment and human existence; to provide a detailed look at the lives of Native Americans
both before European settlement and thereafter; to explore the relationship between Native
Americans and European settlers particularly in the light of their different views of the
environment; and finally, to demonstrate the dramatic impact of European settlement on the
environment of North America.
Although I am interested in what you think of this book, this paper is not a standard book review.
Rather it is to be a short research paper based entirely on your reading of Changes in the Land.
In reading the book and then writing your paper, you should be prepared to address the following
questions and topics.
1. Your opening paragraph should briefly address these two questions: In general, what is
this book about? What is Cronon’s thesis?
2. When Europeans first arrived in New England, what did they find? What were the most
important ways the New England environment differed from that of Europe? In what
ways did they find that environment to be of value to them?
3. Explain how the New England environment –plants, animals, climate, topography-
accounted for the diversity found in the Indian tribes that lived there? For example, how
does it explain why northern New England tribes differed from those in southern New
England? What were those differences? In what ways did the New England environment
shape or influence the development of the lifestyles and society of the tribes that lived
there? How did Indians shape and manipulate the environment to fit their lifestyles?
4. Describe the respective roles of men and women in Indian society.
5. The Indian view of property and land possession differed significantly from that of
Europeans. Briefly discuss how the Indians viewed property and the possession of land.
How did the European’s views on those subjects lead them to be critical of the Indian
way of life and to justify their taking of Indian land?
6. Discuss the impact of European diseases on Indian populations and society. Why were
the Indians so susceptible to these diseases? In what ways did disease change and
devastate Indian society?
7. How did the European conquest of New England dramatically alter its environment? In
particular, discuss how the European demand for certain plant and animal products
change the character of that environment. How did European farming practices affect
New England’s environment? Your discussion should include two key examples cited by
8. What did you think of the book? Would you recommend it? Why or why not?
1. Use the above questions/topics as your paper outline and answer them in the order they
2. Use some common sense in how much you write for each topic. Some topics will require
more extensive coverage than others.
3. Although I don’t grade in terms of the length of the paper, under most circumstances I
would expect a paper somewhere within the range of 4-5 pages. As a general rule, it is
better to write more than less but please do not turn in a paper larger than 5 pages.
4. The paper must be typed using a standard word processing program, double-spaced using
normal-sized fonts (11 or 12) and margins.
5. You MUST cite your sources. Your paper must have a Works Cited page attached
and you must correctly cite any material directly or indirectly from the work.
Failure to properly cite the material will result in a substantially lower grade.
6. The best grades will go to papers that have discussed each topic/question completely, are
well-organized and well-written and follow directions. Points will be deducted for
excessive grammatical and/or typographical errors so be sure that you proofread before
turning it in.
7. Be careful about plagiarism. If you quote anything from the book, use quotation marks
and cite the page number. If you use other sources, identify those sources and use
quotation marks and page numbers as appropriate. Failure to do this could result in a
grade of 0 for the assignment or, in serious cases, failure of the course.
8. Make and keep a copy of your paper.
9. You don’t need a separate title page, but on the first page of this paper you should put
your name and the author and title of the book.