This Delta, This Land: An Environmental History of the Yazoo-Mississippi Floodplain

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This Delta, This Land: An Environmental History of the Yazoo-Mississippi Floodplain, by Mikko Saikku. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2005. 373 pp., figures, tables, index. $54.95 cloth, $22.95 paper.

ENVIRONMENTAL HISTORY HAS HAD A HARD ROW TO HOE IN ACHIEVING mainstream status, partly because its applicability to contemporary and future environmental problems has frequently been overstated, and partly because data from other fields (ecology, biology, archaeology, geography, etc.) often are appropriated and applied with little consideration being paid to issues of scale, bias, and theoretical intent. In This Delta, This Land, Mikko Saikku not only manages to avoid these problems but produces an exemplary model for how environmental history ought to be done.

Physiographic overviews of eastern North America tend to convey a false picture of environmental homogeneity in the Mississippi Delta. Saikku convincingly demonstrates that the area was, in fact, one with exceptionally diverse habitats. He gives due consideration to the role of Native Americans in shaping those habitats without overly stressing either the "natural conservationist" aspects of Indian land use or the level of prehistoric human environmental impact. The archaeological models used are a bit dated, but that is primarily a result of the information currently available for the area. It is doubtful whether any non- archaeologist could have done a better job of dealing with the limited data on prehistoric Delta cultures.

Besides being well-researched and admirably thorough, the book contains many fascinating historical tidbits. Flooding, for example, was not solely a destructive force, but in some cases actually benefitted particular aspects of the local economy. Two specific examples are the procurement of animal skins, made easier when hunters could travel by boat to isolated high spots crowded with game, and the floating of logs from floodplain stands to the main river stems where they could be gathered into rafts. This latter practice was so lucrative that loggers were known to intentionally breach levees to facilitate transport of the downed trees. …