By Theodore Norman
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15 The work of scientists—chemists and others—on contemporary air and water pollution is helping historians to understand the social and ecological effects of that past pollution, though finally it may be only historians who can tell us whether the air has gotten better or worse since the beginning of the industrial era. The impact of technology on the natural environment, we can see, goes back much farther than Rachel Carson's target of chlorinated hydrocarbons and other pesticides, even farther back than the industrial cities of Victorian England.
That achievement has poignant interest for the new environmental history, which is still struggling to be born, laying claim on its own profession to be recognized, and asking for employment. 19 His point is not that ideas and institutions are no longer interesting to anthropologists; rather, it has become increasingly clear that there are basic environmental and technological forces shaping those phenomena and that we will get nowhere in understanding how cultures work if we blithely assume, for example, that a people's ideas simply come from other ideas.
It was not a question that occurred to the townspeople of Kansas in the 1950s. They were not aware of being bereft of anything, unless it was a backyard swimming pool. But in the process of vanquishing Cow Creek, and then in the process of forgetting its former splendor of wet and of wildness, they lost more than the presence of a volatile, complicated, sometimes destructive nature in their lives; they lost much of their history as well. The Indians, the buffalo hunts, the searches of Coronado and Jacob Fowler, and so much else tended to vanish with the creek from local memory.