Debbie Lee and Kathryn Newfont. The Land Speaks: New Voices at the Intersection of Oral and Environmental History.

Jillian Sparks


In his essay “The Land Ethic,” conservationist and writer Aldo Leopold advocates for changing “the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it” (173). The Land Speaks challenges readers to not only adopt this land ethic, but to practice it by listening to the land and acknowledging its agency. Authors and editors Debbie Lee and Kathryn Newfont argue that oral history can be used as a tool across fields, not just within the humanities or archival studies, to examine human relationships with the land. Adopting this tool comes with three challenges. First, oral historians need to acknowledge that “the land itself speaks”(10). Second, there are people who can “hear, understand, and translate into human language messages from the land” (10). Third, historians must recognize “that wildlife and wildlands have been marginalized and denied voice in ways that parallel the human disenfranchisement” (12). From national forests to urban landscapes, the fourteen essays in this work address these challenges and demonstrate that it is possible to record the land’s story through the oral histories of voices we would not otherwise hear. As the land speaks, it does so through the voices of indigenous peoples, hunters, firefighters, housewives, and park rangers. These voices make the work a compelling read and inspire one to discover how the land speaks in their oral history archives.

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