George Perkins Marsh Prize winning environmental historian and geographer Joseph E. Taylor III
's new book, Persistent Callings: Seasons of Work and Identity on the Oregon Coast
(Oregon State University Press, 2019), takes an innovative approach to the history of fisheries and work in the Pacific Northwest. Focusing on the Nestucca river valley, Taylor shows how nature, culture, markets, and technology affected the "callings," or identities, of residents from pre-colonial times to the very recent past.
The first chapter gives readers a sense of the Nestucca Native Americans who developed ceremonies that centered on the region's abundant diadromous salmon populations. After this chapter, the book leaps to the second half of the nineteenth century when settler-colonists exterminated and removed Indians and began farming. Taylor shifts attention away from itinerate wage workers as the primary source of labor in the Pacific Northwest and centers his analysis instead on the families who took to the ocean as one of a number of economic survival strategies. After 1927, fishing in Nestucca slowly transformed from a subsistence activity to a form of recreation for tourists. The tourist were incursions in Nestucca but also a source of revenue for locals.
Using oral histories as evidence, Taylor spends a lot of time describing the minutia of fishing work; its physicality, technological stagnation, and its dangers. These details expose workers' connections to the landscape, connections which shaped their identities. The short book is a vital addition to environmental studies because of the way that Taylor seamlessly integrates environmental history into the history of one community. His method shows how and why environmental factors should be a part of all historical narratives.
Jason L. Newton is a visiting assistant professor of history at Cornell University. His book manuscript,
Cutover Capitalism: The Industrialization of the Northern Forest, 1850-1950, is a history of the changing types of labor performed by people, trees, and the landscape in the American Northeast as that area industrialized. He has also published on nature, race, and immigration. He teaches classes on labor and the environment.