Story posted March 06, 2009
Matthew Klingle's critically acclaimed book, Emerald City: An Environmental History of Seattle (Yale University Press, 2007), has just been named the best book in American frontier history by the Organization of American Historians (OAH). Emerald City was selected from among roughly 80 books under consideration.
"Good books are many; awards are few. This is a huge honor," said the Associate Professor of History and Environmental Studies, who will accept the 2009 Ray Allen Billington Prize at the annual meeting of the OAH in Seattle, on March 28, 2009. "Some of the most prominent scholars in the field have received this award. To be in their ranks is a little intimidating," Klingle added.
Emerald City: An Environmental History of Seattle explores the role of nature in the development of the city of Seattle from the earliest days of its settlement to the present. Klingle shows how attempts to reshape nature in and around Seattle have often been paid for at the expense of its wildlife, including the famous Pacific salmon, and by its poorest residents.
"What I tried to do in the book is argue how an ethic of place is something that evolves over time as a dialog between people and the places they make and that remake them in turn," said Klingle. "An ethic of place reveals not only the ways people transform nature, but also how deep inequalities of power are bound up in the decisions that shape the landscape and become part of the terrain over time."
Klingle suggests that environmental problems can only be solved through an understanding of their historical context. "The past doesn't go away," he said. "History is literally embedded in the places we call home. It constrains the decisions we make even as it opens new possibilities for the future."
The OAH is the largest professional organization of American historians and one of the oldest in the nation. Past Billington Prize winners have included such noted scholars as John Demos, Elliott West, James Gregory, and Martha Sandweiss.