What can we learn about African American life between the world wars if we center our attention on the parks and pleasuring grounds of...

What can we learn about African American life between the world wars if we center our attention on the parks and pleasuring grounds of the urban North? That is what historian Brian McCammack endeavors to find out in his new book, Landscapes of Hope: Nature and the Great Migration in Chicago (Harvard University Press, 2017). McCammack’s study is the first book-length environmental history of black Chicago and the first sustained exploration of the how the 1.6 million black southerners who moved to northern cities between 1910 and 1940 thought about and interacted with the natural world. He follows black Chicagoans’ through both the greenspaces of the South Side and rural retreats across the Upper Midwest. He finds their experiences of nature were shaped by racial exclusion, intraracial class conflict, and paternalistic reform efforts. Many of their preferred forms of outdoor recreation blended southern traditions with new practices coded as modern. And they articulated their devotion to nature in terms often indistinguishable from white northerners, raising troubling questions about why postwar environmentalism ended up overwhelmingly white.

Brian McCammack is Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies at Lake Forest College in suburban Chicago. He earned his Ph.D. in the History of American Civilization at Harvard University in 2012.


Brian Hamilton is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Wisconsin, Madison where he is researching African American environmental history in the nineteenth-century Cotton South. He is also an editor of the digital environmental magazine and podcast Edge Effects.

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