Review: Nature's Northwest: The North Pacific Slope in the Twentieth Century

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Review: Nature's Northwest: The North Pacific Slope in the Twentieth Century By William G. Robbins and Katrine Barber Robbins, William G. and Barber, Katrine. Nature's Northwest: The North Pacific Slope in the Twentieth Century. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press, 2011. 312 pp. ISBN 9780816529599, US$24.95, recycled, acid-free paper.

In Nature's Northwest, William G. Robbins and Katrine Barber offer a narrative of the twentieth-century Pacific Northwest that goes beyond typical constraints. They show how the Canadian province of British Columbia and the American states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana share similar histories of social inequality and resource development despite geopolitical borders. Robbins and Barber also highlight how international and national processes shaped regional interactions, as cultures collided and local fortunes shifted with the tides of outside markets. In doing so, they paint the Pacific Northwest as a place where natural abundance helps knit together the social landscape of the region and connect it to the rest of the world.

Robbins and Barber start their story of the Pacific Northwest in the late-nineteenth century when optimism pervaded the region. They show how railroads linked local resource economies to the demands of distant cities and served as symbols of the Pacific Northwest's transition to the modern world. Cities, including Spokane, Washington and Vancouver, British Columbia, experienced rapid growth after railroads fostered greater access to timber, mineral, and agricultural wealth. Robbins and Barber further illustrate that these new connections between nature and industrial society created a host of consequences. Native Americans and First Peoples lost lands to speculators, immigrant laborers faced discriminatory local laws, and reformers and unionists clashed with large businesses. In other words, as the Pacific Northwest developed its resources it also developed social inequalities.

Social and cultural developments connected to local resources as well as global processes throughout the twentieth century. The stock market crash in 1929 highlighted the region's dependence on natural resources and outside demands. World War Two contributed to a mid-century population and industrial production boom. Postwar literature reflected concerns of indigenous groups and Japanese-American internees. Paintings depicted clearcut forests and environmental transformation. For Robbins and Barber, regional and international forces and social and environmental influences intersected in the Pacific Northwest. …