A Place With No Edge

An Intimate History of People, Wetlands, and Technology

A Place With No Edge is the working title of my book project, under contract with Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books at the University of Washington Press.

Over 300 years ago, a few French soldiers and a Jesuit priest arrived in one of the largest, most unstable wetland environments in North America: Louisiana’s Mississippi River Delta. Over the next three centuries, French, Spanish, and American settlers would try to tame the muddy, flooded landscape in pursuit of wealth and power.

Using technologies that included levees, logging boats, seismographs, dredgers, and even petrochemistry, people tried to remake nature in the Mississippi River Delta to suit their dreams and ambitions.

More often than not, however, those technologies produced deeply unanticipated consequences. Instead of liberating people from the risks of life in a flood-prone wetland, those technologies often left people even more vulnerable to the environment. Far from mastering nature, people became ever more intimately entangled with it.

From increasingly catastrophic floods to denuded cypress forests, from a rapidly eroding coast to the creeping dangers of toxic pollution, people’s attempts to control nature in the Mississippi River Delta frequently mired them in misadventure. By 2005, centuries of technological intervention in the delta had prepared the ground for Hurricane Katrina’s storm surge to devastate New Orleans.

A Place With No Edge reveals how people’s struggles to control nature are actually stories about intimacy, rather than mastery. To recognize our entanglements with nature is to recognize that our innovations can commit us to deep responsibilities toward the nonhuman world. Six chapters and an epilogue span the period from the region’s first French fort, erected in 1700, through early 21st-century efforts to rescue the delta from disastrous coastal erosion.

A Place Will No Edge has a target release of late 2018 or early 2019. Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books is the flagship book series for research in the field of environmental history.