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Here is the life-long work of a wonder-filled woman. The care and completeness of her work, her compassion for our landscape and its deep history, her unquenchable desire to tell the story so precisely and so well...puts into your hands the very life of those who pioneered this place. Treat it well, learn from it, find the essence of the unchangeable threads of our history.
Jubilee Emeritus Professor of Geography and Geographic Information Science and School of Earth, Society, and Environment
The Illinois black-soil-prairie region, shown unshaded on the map, is judged to be among the best regions in the world for agricultural production, and is thus especially worthy of interest.
Mindful of forces in play across the whole Illinois prairie region, the author chooses to focus on a small, fairly homogeneous tract that represents the black-soil region. “The Study Area” is shown on the map as a small rectangle bounded on the west and east by human-surveyed lines: the Third Principal Meridian and the Illinois-Indiana State Line.The north-south boundaries are chosen to include the southern extreme of the “Bloomington Ridged Plain,” a succession of end-moraines deposited during the Woodfordian Age.
The three intellectual themes of the narrative are presented as the three parts of the book.
Part I (Landforms and Ecosystems in the Making: 20,000 years) describes ancient geological developments of landform, of flora and fauna, and how the study region developed in response to the end of glaciation and the introduction of human-managed prairie ecology.
Part II (Hunting Territory to U.S. Public Domain: 1607–1819) moves into the early centuries of the recorded history of the region, and the ways in which the American tribal populations and the Euro-American populations interacted as territories under the dominion of native hunting populations were changed, by treaty, into the U.S. Public Domain.
Part III (Measured, Marked, and Recorded: Wilderness Becomes Real Estate: 1805–1845) proceeds with the remarkable history of the surveying and management of the original prairie and its transformation into a cultural and economic resource with the features of private property.
Each part is preceded by a map reminding the reader of the modern context of the study area, together with maps pointing out particular features important to the temporal context of the section's narrative.