Read Trace: Memory, History, Race and the American Land by Lauret Savoy Online


Sand and stone are Earth’s fragmented memory. Each of us, too, is a landscape inscribed by memory and loss. One life-defining lesson Lauret Savoy learned as a young girl was this: the American land did not hate. As an educator and Earth historian, she has tracked the continent’s past from the relics of deep time; but the paths of ancestors toward her—paths of free and enslSand and stone are Earth’s fragmented memory. Each of us, too, is a landscape inscribed by memory and loss. One life-defining lesson Lauret Savoy learned as a young girl was this: the American land did not hate. As an educator and Earth historian, she has tracked the continent’s past from the relics of deep time; but the paths of ancestors toward her—paths of free and enslaved Africans, colonists from Europe, and peoples indigenous to this land—lie largely eroded and lost.In this provocative and powerful mosaic of personal journeys and historical inquiry across a continent and time, Savoy explores how the country’s still unfolding history, and ideas of “race,” have marked her and the land. From twisted terrain within the San Andreas Fault zone to a South Carolina plantation, from national parks to burial grounds, from “Indian Territory” and the U.S.-Mexico Border to the U.S. capital, Trace grapples with a searing national history to reveal the often unvoiced presence of the past.In distinctive and illuminating prose that is attentive to the rhythms of language and landscapes, she weaves together human stories of migration, silence, and displacement, as epic as the continent they survey, with uplifted mountains, braided streams, and eroded canyons....

Title : Trace: Memory, History, Race and the American Land
Author :
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ISBN : 9781619025738
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 225 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Trace: Memory, History, Race and the American Land Reviews

  • Kris
    2019-04-27 22:01

    Writing social history can be a radical act. For centuries, history focused on the stories of elites, from their perspectives. A form of power is the ability to tell your own story -- or to hire people who will tell it for you. These stories are told in written words, but also in artistic representations, material objects, even place names on maps. For individuals whose ancestors belonged to groups who did not exercise economic and political power, picking up a history book and not seeing your ancestors' experiences written into the main historical narrative is akin to being erased. I gravitated to social history partially because of the intellectual and imaginative challenge involved in uncovering these hidden lives, and partially because I feel strongly that everyone deserves a connection to the past, and an acknowledgement by others of that shared history. Lauret Savoy bears eloquent, personal witness to the impact of having your family's story erased in a myriad of ways -- through scattered and incomplete historical documents, through published histories that diminish your ancestors' experience, through racist place names that continue a cultural campaign of aggression and violence against your family. Early in her book, she notes, I’ve long felt estranged from time and place, uncertain of where home lies. My skin, my eyes, my hair recall the blood of three continents as paths of ancestors— free and enslaved Africans, colonists from Europe, and peoples indigenous to this land— converge in me. But I’ve known little of them or their paths to my present. Though I’ve tracked long-bygone moments on this continent from rocks and fossils— those remnants of deep time— the traces of a more intimate, lineal past have seemed hidden or lost.Trace: Memory, History, Race and the American Land is a beautifully written record of Savoy's search for tangible traces of her past through archival documents and family stories, places unnamed on maps but known to a few through oral memory, and the visceral physical connection experienced when walking through a landscape that your ancestors strode through centuries before.My sense of the power of people having their stories told is theoretical, compared to Savoy's lived experience of the cost of silence. She understands connection with the past as emotional rather than intellectual, with the cost of a lack of connection paid in tears, anger, frustration, confusion, sadness:SILENCE CAN BE a sanctuary or frame for stories told. Silence also obscures origins. My parents’ muteness once seemed tacit consent that generational history was no longer part of life or living memory. That a past survived was best left unexposed or even forgotten as self-defense. But unvoiced lives cut a sharp-felt absence. Neither school lessons nor images surging around me could offer salve or substitute. My greatest fear as a young girl was that I wasn’t meant to exist.Yet one idea stood firm: The American land preceded hate. My child-sense of its antiquity became as much a refuge as any place, whether the Devil’s Punchbowl or a canyon called Grand. Still, silences embedded in a family, and in a society, couldn’t be replaced even by sounds so reliable: of water spilling down rock, of a thunderstorm rolling into far distance, or of branches sifting wind.When reading this sad, honest, eloquent book, I journeyed with Savoy through the American landscape as she sought her past through the traces remaining to her. Often her discoveries are fragmented and partial: I’ve not yet found the antebellum lives of my mother’s people beyond an estate inventory from Marengo County, Alabama. But I’ve come closer to understanding why I don’t know about them, why Momma told me nothing, why silence is residue of memory’s erosion. Ancestors disappeared— into paper records of property rather than human lives remembered in story, into a plantation owner’s surname, into graves unmarked or forgotten long ago.However, Savoy learns, and teaches her reader, that making the effort, voicing the silence of the past, and remembering what is forgotten is a means to reverse the erasures of the past, to embody agency through her words, and to assert her centrality to the American story through her family history:Trace. Active search. Path taken. Track or vestige of what once was. These narrative journeys have crossed textured lands seeking both life marks and home. From twisted terrain within the San Andreas Fault zone to 'Indian Territory,' from Point Sublime to burial grounds, from a South Carolina plantation to the U.S.– Mexico border and U.S. capital. Their confluence articulates— that is, helps me both join together and give clearer expression to— the unvoiced past in my life. Remembering is an alternative to extinction.

  • Tony
    2019-05-07 21:03

    To inhabit this country is to be marked by residues of its still unfolding history, a history weighted by tangled ideas of “race” and of the land itself.That’s really a remarkable sentence appearing near the very end of this book and it goes a long way towards explaining what the book is about.This a social history, of sorts, written by a multi-racial geology professor. She traces her history, and in so doing traces the country’s history as well. Oh, she’s done interviews; and there’s pages in the back full of primary and secondary sources. But she also gets in her car and travels: to the line which separates Arizona and Mexico, a place where once a massacre occurred and where now a wall might be; to a Virginia plantation where some graves are nicely tended and many more others are unmarked and fleetingly described by a tour guide as those of resident workers; to the Capitol, to see the 44th American President inaugurated, and yet convenient to the slave-fueled industries of Washington and Jefferson and Madison and Monroe and Jackson. And once there, in those places, she looks at the ravines, the mountains; she gets down and rubs the pebbles in her hand. She finds fault lines of many kinds.We are indeed a country weighted by its history. We are marked by its residue. That history is still unfolding. And the ideas of race are nothing if not tangled. I like, too, that the author put “race” in quotation marks.I was greatly moved by the images Savoy paints, and the memories. Imagine being a very educated young woman, nailing a phone interview for a first job, and then having a door slammed in your face when the employer finally sees the color of your skin. Imagine finding, only after his death, a novel written by your father about an African-American man who could “pass”.Lauret Savoy tells us her story but all along invites the reader, too, to the land itself. Here’s an example:I take many lessons from Madeline Island. One is this: I am both a collector and an arrangement. I might gather stones, collect books, or save momentos. But my own experiences, too, are gathered up and swept along by currents of a still-unfolding history on this vast continent. This northland touched me as a child and knows me still. Though I was unaware, its own life included mine. I suspect it might include yours, too.Yes, I was personally drawn into the book. I could not help but reflect on my own life and follow the traces, of family and places and moments. My own ideas on race are well-intentioned, I believe, but probably naïve. There are numerous American racial issues and many more sub-issues. It is foolish for one to state his thoughts on these. So, you know, I’ll only broach three of them.-- Many people here on Goodreads are chagrined, to say the least, that Donald Trump has been elected President. I understand that. But a surprisingly large percentage of those people believe this is evidence of a pervasive and endemic American racism. Yes, racists voted for Trump and found comfort in his rhetoric. But racists alone could not have elected Trump. Racists and the Russians together would not have been able to elect Trump. He did not even win a majority of the popular vote. It is so easy to forget: Americans elected Barack Obama twice by a majority of votes. No, that’s wrong. America elected Barack Hussein Obama twice. We are a diverse population . . . with diverse views. Even in our self-loathing, we should never forget our capacity for hope.-- I mentioned above that the author is multi-racial. That was not gratuitous. Like the Rockies and the Appalachians, Lauret Savoy is the product of fault lines. It was fascinating watching her trace these threads. And sad, too. Savoy traced her African-American ancestry. She traced her Native-American ancestry. She only acknowledged her European, Caucasian genes. Not the people. And that is: 1) her choice; and 2) understandable. Here’s where, perhaps, the naivete comes in: why must we classify? Sure, I understand there might be scientific reasons. But once we start a classification of races for sociological, political or media discussion or analysis, we oversimplify, we create prejudices and biases, we de-humanize. I cringe when Donald Trump says, “the Blacks”, but I cringe when Wolf Blitzer says that, too. As if we must view certain people as a voting bloc or an unfortunate statistic. Harken back to the unfolding history. You may not always see it even if you look. Anonymous gravestones in a State Registered Plantation; and anonymous statistics in a college survey, a campaign precinct, or the nightly news.I remember that Tiger Woods, when he turned pro, was very proud that he was African, Caucasian and Asian. He saw himself as all three. We would not let him be all three. Liberals, conservatives; it didn’t matter. He would have to be Black.I have three bi-racial grandchildren. Must we eliminate the traces that lead to me?-- And what about me? I was not here when slavery was here. Nor was any ancestor of mine. The author suggests this doesn’t matter. Well, where does this stop? Forget me. Classify me. Convict me. And throw away the key. But what of last year’s immigrants? What of this year’s Dreamers? Have you considered the irony?I believe that I, too, am both a collector and an arrangement.----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- Back to the book. Let nothing I’ve said dissuade you from reading this. It is a special journey. The fact that it made me think these things, and ruined more than a few nights of sleep making me think about these things, is the best praise I can give. Two final lessons. Because parents know best. Her father once stood by her at the Grand Canyon and told her that once there was a land here before hate. And her mother told her: I am not a race, I am a human being.

  • Lauren
    2019-05-07 16:20

    Be still my heart: A scientist (geologist) who writes like a poet! Essays that combine family history with geologic time: childhood memories of the Grand Canyon and desert and coasts of California, retracing her father's work while also describing the alluvial plains and glaciation that created the Great Lakes, southern plantations where her ancestors and many thousands of others lived and died in slavery, the Potomac River and surrounding marshlands and the various cultures of Washington, DC. Each essay is so rich and full.While each of the eight essays were extraordinary, I had three that stood out to me - one for personal reasons and my own "closeness" to the subject matter, and the other two because Savoy's research and passion for the subject came through so strongly. * Madeline Trace is a continuation of sorts from the previous essay, Alien Land Ethic, and they really should be read together (the way she juxtaposes the work with Aldo Leopold is brilliant). Savoy's father died when she was young, and she did not get to know him. In Alien she shares that many years after his death, in her own adulthood, she learned that her father wrote a novel, based on many of his own life events as a young black man in 1949. Madeline Trace picks up on this previous essay with Savoy, her father's boxes of book research materials in hand, moves into her friend's cottage on the south shore of Lake Superior for the summer. While describing the natural history, the cultural history of the indigenous people, she learns more of her own personal history, by acquainting herself with her father through his materials. * What's In a Name? A geographical linguistic journey of place names, their meaning, their politics, and the way places are remembered in codified form (maps) and in memories. This one was of particular interest to me - before I left research/academia, I served as a contract map archivist at a large federal agency. Place names, their history, and the way they appeared on maps and nautical charts was my daily work. (That and making sure that they were digitized and cataloged properly!) This essay obviously had that connection for me, and I am grateful that Savoy drew attention to the importance, and the consequences of naming conventions. * Migrating in a Bordered Land is the longest essay in the book, and encompasses another family history, as well as natural history of the deserts of Arizona at a very specific time: during WWII. Savoy's mother, a nurse in the Army Nurse Corps during its desegregation in 1944, worked at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. Through her extensive research at the National Archives, Savoy has pieced together the story of her mother and many others like her who were sent to the southwest to nurse prisoners of war and other patients. This essay is deeply personal for Savoy, and by telling it, she pulls the curtain back on this forgotten segment of society - nurses, aids, and doctors who had less rights as African Americans than the Nazi POWs that they were treating. I spent time with this book - reading the end notes, the bibliography, the acknowledgements, and several portions of essays over again. I am so glad I did.

  • Lark Benobi
    2019-05-08 16:13

    These essays frequently hit the same combination of extreme beauty with detailed observation that the best of Loren Eiseley's essays do (and Savoy quotes Eiseley in the first essay in the collection). Reading these, I felt exalted, and instructed, and more often than not a little weepy too--as with Eiseley, there is an underlying sadness and the tone of an elegy in many of these essays. They leave me with a feeling not unlike being sad to see your child grow up however happy you are about the way they've turned out.The excellent writing would be reason enough to pick up this collection and read it, but also, read it for the subjects it covers, for the unique way Savoy blends observations about "memory, history, race, and the American landscape." Savoy draws on many disciplines, as well as from her own experiences, to reveal new ways of looking at the world.

  • Laurie Neighbors
    2019-05-07 22:04

    This book will be placed alongside Michel-Rolph Trouillot's Silencing the Past in the mental bookshelf on which I keep my favorite meta-history books. Goodreads has truncated the title, which is actuallyTrace: Memory, History, Race, and the American Landscape. Deleting "race" from the title feels like an attempt to drain the blood from the narrative -- this is definitely a book about race.Savoy is a woman of mixed-race heritage and a professor of geography and environmental studies, and while the book's structure relies on her parents' and ancestors' geographic migrations, Trace is much less a book about genealogy/finding the historical self and much more a book about our very young, very complicated, very self-contradicting country. Natural history, social history, economic history are seamlessly entwined with nuanced considerations of what constitutes and has constituted social justice in the formation of the United States. Plus, the writing is gorgeous. This will be one I re-read many times, probably starting in the very near future.

  • Asa Wilder
    2019-05-05 18:24

    Kinda like Loren Eiseley if he weren't an old white dude. I wish more scientists wrote beautiful personal stuff like this!

  • Abby
    2019-04-27 17:07

    A very different sort of nature writing. Savoy is a professor of environmental studies and geology at Mount Holyoke, and a person of mixed racial heritage. In this lyrically written meditation on race, history and geography, Savoy traces her family history across the continent while unearthing forgotten stories about the ways in which encounters between free and enslaved African Americans, indigenous peoples and white settlers shaped the history of the places we call home today. So much of mainstream American history seems predicated on willfully forgetting the violent acts of erasure that made this country possible; this book is a graceful and strong corrective to that impulse. I especially appreciated her chapter, "What's in a Name" where she describes how most of the place names we associate with native tribes are based on inaccurate and corrupted translations of tribal names and words. But "Migrating in a Bordered Land" might be the strongest chapter, in which she returns to the site of segregated barracks at Fort Huachuca in Arizona, where her mother worked as a nurse during WWII. Here she skillfully interweaves numerous histories, including that of the tribes we call the Apaches, the Spanish conquistadores, and African American soldiers serving in a Jim Crow army. Highly recommended for anyone interested in more complex and layered accounts of American history that highlight the experiences of voices normally absent from the historical record.

  • Charlie Quimby
    2019-05-05 21:09

    This is a subtle book as befits the title, a gentle correction and amplification of the views of classic American writers about landscape, such as Wallace Stegner and George R. Stewart.Savoy is of mixed heritage. She applies her writing skills and academic understanding of how to read the land to places familiar to me—including Madeline Island, WI, and southeastern Arizona—and references texts also familiar, to show what I have missed. And what American histories have missed as well.No, not missed, so much as obscured, hidden, denied. The records of land and the land itself still bear trace marks of those histories. America's slave history shows up in surprising places, not just in the south but in the building of Plymouth colony, New York City as a financial capital and Washington, DC, as the nation's capital, instead of Philadelphia.The pilgrims shunned owning slaves, for example, except when they were taken in just wars, traded for, surrendered voluntarily, or sold. George Washington made certain the capital was lodged in a slaveholding region and close to his own property, which increased its value. And on to the West, where Indian treaties shifted with the discovery of minerals and a segregated military could be managed.The author's own family history runs through the story, and it, too, must come from traces. Her mother doesn't talk about running segregated surgeries at a military hospital. Her father never mentions a youthful novel published. An aunt insists Savoys were never slaves.Fragments of the truth are found. But writing history eliminates more than it describes. It's up to us to read the traces.

  • Jen
    2019-05-10 17:09

    In this excellent book, Lauret Savoy sets out to explore and better understand the history and landscapes that shaped her parents, and in the process, uncovers many hidden and painful truths about the histories and legacies of these places that have so often been minimized, ignored, or completely silenced. As she delves into the natural and cultural history of places like the Potomac River in D.C., Fort Huachuca in Arizona, Walnut Grove plantation in South Carolina, and the headwaters of the Mississippi River in Minnesota, Savoy braids history with personal memory and story in an incredibly captivating way. Along the journey with her, we understand the word "trace" in a number of ways-- we think of it as literally following the roots of family history and legacy, but we also begin to see it, as she clearly does as well, in terms of a faint line that has been deliberately erased, but is still visible to those with intention and perception. This book is a blend between memoir and history and belongs on the shelf of every reader who wishes to fully understand the roots of the racial divides in America, and the ways in which they are inextricably linked to our relationship to the American landscape.

  • Emily
    2019-05-23 17:14

    Lyrical writing that revels in the geographic and geological names of North America, and history that is a necessary supplement to and critique of what most of us learned in school. It sounds incredibly difficult to weave together billions of years of geological history with mere hundreds of American history and a few generations of an individual family history. (Clearly it was, in fact, difficult; this is a book where you see not only the work than went into it but also the years of life experience and research that went into thinking about it in the first place.) But Savoy pulls these threads together so gracefully, taking the reader through diverse landscapes and eras. Each essay has a personal angle, like a childhood memory or family connection, and that flows seamlessly into the story of the physical and social history of the places involved.Recommended if, like me, you have childhood memories of reading maps and wondering what all those names and places could possibly mean, and now you're ready to think more deeply about them and understand what you've missed.

  • Skylar Primm
    2019-04-22 19:00

    I'm not even sure where to begin reviewing this book. Simply put, I loved it. Everyone who has any interest in America's natural and/or cultural history should read it. It's very rare that I reread a book, but I am certain I will be rereading Trace. To fully absorb its impact and import, I will need to. (The only other book that comes to mind is A Sand County Almanac, which is entirely apropos.)Beyond the fascinating content, Ms. Savoy writes beautifully. A few of my favorite phrases: "Sand and stone are Earth's memory" (p. 16); "I liked to sit among the cobbles of basalt, granite, and layered sandstone, a strandline clutch of red and black lithic eggs" (p. 50); and "The American landscape is palimpsest" (p. 80)GO READ THIS.

  • Ryan Mishap
    2019-05-01 21:21

    "Dissecting learned stories might yield some retrievable fragments of context and relationship, and reveal the vector of storying's power--its direction, its magnitude, and its agency."In this fantastic collection of essays, Savoy asks the questions about her and her parent's life; about history and who tells those stories and who is disappeared; about the geologic forces that shape the land and the people; about the names of places and people, those lost, those twisted, and those deliberately disappeared."What troubles me is how some readers embrace these namings as America's history, "our" heritage, without asking if there might be other narratives, too.""How is the past remembered and told? Who owns memory."Far ranging, Savoy perfectly writes the personal into the political, referencing history, personal experience, stories, geology, literature, and more. I was blown away by the quiet power of her voice, especially in "migrating in a Bordered Land." I could go on quoting at length, but just go get this book and read it.Yes, now!

  • Emma
    2019-04-23 21:25

    This is a really important book: mostly about place and race, but equally about history and memory and how and why we consider what's important. Although I found the form a bit difficult to initially get into, Savoy combines personal narrative, history and knowledge (as we commonly understand them), and insights about our country and how we've gotten to where we are. I ended the book feeling unfinished -- as she intended, I think.

  • Lauconn
    2019-05-10 21:19

    This is a beautiful, and beautifully written, book. Part memoir, part natural history, part social history, it's the story of how landscape affects us, on scales both large and small. Savoy shows how individual stories can be lost in time, deliberately or carelessly, but how traces can remain if we can find where to look. The writing is deeply personal and moving, and I found myself re-reading passages often. Highly recommend.

  • Melanie Jones
    2019-05-18 14:00

    Beautiful melding of history, genealogy, geography, and geology. I really loved this book. The depth with which she builds her landscapes left me in awe and illustrated just how troubled our recent history is, while reminding me that it is part of a larger story. It was personal and introspective without being insular. It could be fairly dense, and will require another pass.

  • Simone
    2019-05-21 17:08

    I didn't a class with Lauret Savoy at Mount Holyoke, though I had friends that did. So when I saw this pop up last year on one of Vulture's books to watch out for last year, I put it on my to read list. It's a beautiful, lyrically, meditative book on landscape, memory, history and race.

  • Lillian
    2019-04-24 18:00

    This was a interesting look at American history and how it still effects us today.

  • Caroline
    2019-04-29 20:03

    An extraordinary book, and impossible to classify. Part family history, part American history, part American geology and geography. Prof. Savoy goes looking for the places where her ancestors lived, so she can learn more about them and what they did, but also about the land they lived in and what if anything remains of it. In every place she visits (Fort Huachuca AZ, Deerfield MA, Walnut Grove SC, etc.) she knows the history that is not included in the official histories and the historical presentations made to visitors. Imagine a southern plantation that was worked by enslaved Africans being described to visiting schoolchildren as having "resident workers." Imagine finding your great-great-great-grandmother AND HER MONETARY VALUE listed in a will inventorying a wealthy man's property. I am proud to say Savoy teaches at my alma mater. I would love to take one of her classes. I have to buy a copy of this to reread, underline in, and put on my small stack of books about the real America, not the mythological America that doesn't exist and never did.

  • Miz Lizzie
    2019-04-24 20:26

    Of mixed heritage, Lauret Savoy tries to trace her family history through the geography, geology, and history of the United States. Her personal family story was silenced and thus lost in many ways but is still apparent in the landscape. These are stories that need to resurface and be told and listened to for our country to heal. Her essays, while lyrically written, are a bit heady at times. Best read slowly and contemplatively in large swathes of time. I particularly enjoyed the broad geographic swatch that Lauret examines, which allowed me to re-visit many parts of the country I have lived or spent time in. A professor of environmental studies and geology at my alma mater, Mount Holyoke College, Lauret is one of the gems nurtured in that environment. I envy the young women who have the opportunity to study with her. Book Pairings:Terry Tempest Williams for the memoir-esque nature writing.Barbara Kingsolver's essays for the science and landscape writing.

  • Ms. Waterman
    2019-05-07 21:28

    I'm biased, Lauret was one of my professors at Mount Holyoke, and in part is why I'm a teacher today. A course that she taught where we looked at the landscape through the lens of both primary documents, nonfiction work, and origin stories was astounding. The longer I teach, the more I believe that science "sticks" more when there is a story connected with it, not "just the facts, ma'am". With that too comes the respect that we as teachers need to include all voices in those stories, not just the ones that we may most closely identify with from our background. The argument "I just want to teach (fill in the science blank) the humanities should be handling this" is invalid. We will not have more students choosing STEM careers unless we widen the narrative to include their voices and experiences as well.

  • Ali
    2019-05-15 17:12

    I love the subjects covered in this book: travel, genealogy, race, and history. But the writing was just not my style. Very lyrical, with the author using lists as a device that becomes tiring to read. I think if I listened to the book I would enjoy it more. It was also very academic in that it relies heavily on quotes, and sometimes I felt I was reading a graduate thesis. There were shining moments where I felt like, yes, now I’m interested. This was mainly when she was talking about her own story and her family’s genealogy. But, it would abruptly end. I need something to grasp onto, and unfortunately I found this to be stream-of-consciousness writing. Just not my cup of tea.

  • Chris Leuchtenburg
    2019-04-29 15:18

    Savoy's personal search for connection to the land and more vigorously for the meaning of her African American, Native American and European American ancestors is filled with poignant moments and quiet revelations, such as the large number of slaves in Deerfield, MA and the role of African American "Buffalo Soldiers" in subduing and displacing Arizona indigenous people. She poses so many questions with sad answers. Why, in a beautifully maintained cemetery, is the African American section untended? What silences have shaped our historical narratives?

  • Renée
    2019-05-13 16:04

    Gorgeous. A profoundly moving book exploring absence in personal and recorded history. A beautifully curious exploration of place. Compassionate, realistic, and inspirational. I'm thinking of using this book in my English Composition course (a research course). Grateful to have found and read Savoy's "Trace."

  • Heather
    2019-04-24 22:15

    I'll read this one again for sure. It was a new experience reading a book by a person I know. Lauret's courses were ones I enjoyed greatly, and have influenced how I teach today.

  • Steven
    2019-05-06 19:24

    A geologist and environmentalist writes about the land and how it is marked by racial and social issues.

  • Ramin
    2019-05-22 21:02

    Here's an excerpt of a book review I wrote on my blog: I work on improving my essay writing skills, I’ve attempted to expand my horizons and read a wide variety of authors, including those with whom I’m not familiar. I recently came across Lauret Savoy, who in her new book, Trace, offers us a different perspective of nature, the environment, geography and American history, including its evolving race relations. She focuses on how people and communities interact with nature, which shouldn’t be viewed as some pristine thing that white people enjoy every once in a while. Her writings dovetail with environmental justice, which is something I’ve been thinking about over the past few years. It refers to the “fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income” (as the EPA defines it) with respect to environmental regulations and policies. In my opinion, people whose work or activism involves race, class, gender and other power relations often ignore environmental issues, while environmentalists are often white and operate in a vacuum as if those other divisions aren’t important.But environmental justice brings these issues together. It grew out of the civil rights movement when people of color realized they were often suffering silently while disproportionately affected by toxic waste sites, power plants, landfills, and other environmental hazards. In one of my first guest blog posts (outside of this blog), for the Union of Concerned Scientists a couple years ago, I argued that climate change is an environmental justice issue, as the people most harmed by rising sea levels, floods, extreme droughts and heatwaves are those who did the least to contribute to the problem. Savoy considers these kinds of issues as she weaves in environmental justice in her new book, referring to “people of color and the economically poor [who] live, and die, next to degraded environments.” She argues that the concept of “ecological footprint” should account for dispossessed people and people’s labor.In Trace, a slim yet powerful volume, Savoy invites us to accompany her as she traces through her travels, her past, and her family history, following the paths she and her predecessors have taken. She explores varied and uneven terrain through ever changing and troubled relations between race and the American landscape. The book is sort of a collection of interconnected essays, which fit together into a cohesive story. Each chapter searches a particular place, asks questions about its origins and names, and considers her and others’ experiences there. “The American landscape was in some ways the template, but also the trigger, to each of the searches,” she said in an interview about the book...

  • Cat
    2019-04-30 22:20

    A lyrical and powerful book about the painful erasures effected by U.S. maps and popular histories. Savoy delves into what Wai Chee Dimock might call "deep time" to connect geology and landforms with place names and colonial histories; the obfuscation of slavery, Jim Crow, and segregation in museums and landmarks with the traces of indigenous and enslaved African histories; the constant fact of migrations, both non-human and human, with the violent use of borders to assert national (and white) power. By unearthing the scant records of her own family history, Savoy writes back against nature writing that both taught her to value the non-human world aesthetically and philosophically (Aldo Leopold) and also universalized an American past that applied onto the European settlers and not the people they displaced, killed, and erased. Savoy reminds us that all landscapes are political, that environmental history is also racial history, and that these stories can and should be woven together and placed against the grain of the oversimple regnant narratives.

  • Taran
    2019-05-03 14:58

    I thought this book was okay. I read it over a long span of time and each time I came back to it the new chapters did not seem tied into what I had remembered reading. I thought the writing was thought-provoking and intellectual, but I did not personally relate to it. I don't think I had the same curiosity for the book's topics that the author obviously exemplified. The book was well-written.

  • Courtney
    2019-04-27 16:28

    The gentle, honest vulnerability of a searching author juxtaposed with a history of silence profound in its implications or so harsh it is hard, at times, to fully absorb leaves the reader with a new appreciation for lands and paths not commonly spoken in our shared vernacular. In Ms. Savoy's own words:"I don’t have answers but I do have desires. That the intricate relations implicating us in each other’s lives could be acknowledged by recent immigrant and native, by descendant of colonists and those enslaved by colonists. This isn’t being trapped by history or consumed by guilt over the past, nor is it being victim without end. It is instead honoring the lives of those so often unacknowledged by taking responsibility for the past-in-present- by opposing injustices today for which accountability of the living is direct. This comes closest in my mind to a true re-pairing toward truth and reconciliation."

  • Mary Rose
    2019-05-17 17:01

    Lauret Savoy is an amazing writer with sophisticated, beautiful prose. Her story is meaningful and personal, but she clearly has an eye for other people who her stories will touch: the experiences of American people of color, especially mixed race people, feature prominently in her narrative. She also has an amazing eye for how the land holds the keys to the historical past. Overall, a beautiful and very pleasurable read.