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Nature's Laboratory

Environmental Thought and Labor Radicalism in Chicago, 1886–1937

Elizabeth Grennan Browning

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The untold history of how Chicago served as an important site of innovation in environmental thought as America transitioned to modern, industrial capitalism.

In Nature's Laboratory, Elizabeth Grennan Browning argues that Chicago—a city characterized by rapid growth, severe labor unrest, and its position as a gateway to the West—offers the clearest lens for analyzing the history of the intellectual divide between countryside and city in the United States at the end of the nineteenth century. By examining both the material and intellectual underpinnings of Gilded Age and Progressive Era…

The untold history of how Chicago served as an important site of innovation in environmental thought as America transitioned to modern, industrial capitalism.

In Nature's Laboratory, Elizabeth Grennan Browning argues that Chicago—a city characterized by rapid growth, severe labor unrest, and its position as a gateway to the West—offers the clearest lens for analyzing the history of the intellectual divide between countryside and city in the United States at the end of the nineteenth century. By examining both the material and intellectual underpinnings of Gilded Age and Progressive Era environmental theories, Browning shows how Chicago served as an urban laboratory where public intellectuals and industrial workers experimented with various strains of environmental thinking to resolve conflicts between capital and labor, between citizens and their governments, and between immigrants and long-term residents.

Chicago, she argues, became the taproot of two intellectual strands of American environmentalism, both emerging in the late nineteenth century: first, the conservation movement and the discipline of ecology; and second, the sociological and anthropological study of human societies as "natural" communities where human behavior was shaped in part by environmental conditions. Integrating environmental, labor, and intellectual history, Nature's Laboratory turns to the workplace to explore the surprising ways in which the natural environment and ideas about nature made their way into factories and offices—places that appeared the most removed from the natural world within the modernizing city.

As industrialization, urbanization, and immigration transformed Chicago into a microcosm of the nation's transition to modern, industrial capitalism, environmental thought became a protean tool that everyone from anarchists and industrial workers to social scientists and business managers looked to in order to stake their claims within the democratic capitalist order. Across political and class divides, Chicagoans puzzled over what relationship the city should have with nature in order to advance as a modern nation. Browning shows how historical understandings of the complex interconnections between human nature and the natural world both reinforced and empowered resistance against the stratification of social and political power in the city.

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Elizabeth Grennan Browning

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Reviews

Well-researched, incisively argued, and beautifully written, Browning delivers a dazzling and pathbreaking synthesis of environmental, urban, intellectual, and labor histories that sheds new light on familiar figures and stories—not just in Chicago, 'nature's metropolis,' but in the nation as a whole.

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Book Details

Release Date
Publication Date
Status
Preorder
Trim Size
6
x
9
Pages
280
ISBN
9781421445212
Illustration Description
10 b&w photos, 10 b&w illus.
Table of Contents

Introduction. "A Stupendous Piece of Blasphemy Against Nature"
Part I: Nature's Laboratory of Anarchism and Capitalism
Chapter 1. "Pantries of Mother-Earth": Haymarket and the Environmental Thought of

Introduction. "A Stupendous Piece of Blasphemy Against Nature"
Part I: Nature's Laboratory of Anarchism and Capitalism
Chapter 1. "Pantries of Mother-Earth": Haymarket and the Environmental Thought of Chicago's Anarchists
Chapter 2. "Return Continually to Nature": Architecture and Urban Planning
Part II: Nature's Laboratory of Pragmatism and Progressivism
Chapter 3. "Experience is of as Well as in Nature": John Dewey's Laboratory School and Environmental Aesthetics
Chapter 4. "Pliable Human Nature": Hull-House Environmental Imaginaries of Labor and Health in the Progressive Era
Part III: Nature's Laboratory of Technocratic Social Control
Chapter 5. "The City is Remaking Human Nature": Human Ecology and Race Relations at the Chicago School of Sociology
Chapter 6. "Failure to Come into Relation With His Environment": The Hawthorne Experiments and the Human Relations Movement
Conclusion. "Material for a New Creation": Naturalizing Labor Relations from the New Deal to Neoliberalism
Notes
Index

Author Bio
Elizabeth Grennan Browning
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Elizabeth Grennan Browning

Elizabeth Grennan Browning (BLOOMINGTON, IN) is an environmental history research fellow at the Indiana University Environmental Resilience Institute and an adjunct assistant professor of history at Indiana University Bloomington.