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Distributed for Reaktion Books

Trees, Woods and Forests

A Social and Cultural History

Distributed for Reaktion Books

Trees, Woods and Forests

A Social and Cultural History

Forests—and the trees within them—have always been a central resource for the development of technology, culture, and the expansion of humans as a species. Examining and challenging our historical and modern attitudes toward wooded environments, this engaging book explores how our understanding of forests has transformed in recent years and how it fits in our continuing anxiety about our impact on the natural world.
            Drawing on the most recent work of historians, ecologist geographers, botanists, and forestry professionals, Charles Watkins reveals how established ideas about trees—such as the spread of continuous dense forests across the whole of Europe after the Ice Age—have been questioned and even overturned by archaeological and historical research. He shows how concern over woodland loss in Europe is not well founded—especially while tropical forests elsewhere continue to be cleared—and he unpicks the variety of values and meanings different societies have ascribed to the arboreal. Altogether, he provides a comprehensive, interdisciplinary overview of humankind’s interaction with this abused but valuable resource.

312 pages | 50 color plates, 50 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2014

Biological Sciences: Natural History

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“Charcoal, warships, fruit, houses, shade and sheer beauty—the manifold uses of trees have bound them inextricably to human culture. Geographer Watkins’s interdisciplinary exploration of that long, convoluted relationship is a fact-packed dazzler. With Watkins we walk a Neolithic 'road' of ash planks, delight in Pliny’s description of German forests as ‘untouched by the ages and coeval with the world,’ celebrate the rise of scientific forestry and ponder the diseases and creeping urbanization now threatening the future of these stupendous organisms. Sumptuously illustrated.”


“Watkins constantly sets imaginative or lyrical appreciation against a stricter focus on forest and woodland management, and on human intervention in the landscape over the centuries. . . . Always brisk and informative, Watkins draws on a variety of disciplines. . . . The ‘history of trees’ is constantly being rewritten,’ Watkins concludes—and his book is a welcome, lively and intriguing addition to this continuing line.”

Times Literary Supplement

“Rural geographer Watkins’s history of the interactions between humans and trees is both sprawling and highly detailed. . . . Weaves together evidence from the sciences (archaeology, genetics, ecology), the humanities (history, poetry, prose, painting), and the social sciences (politics, policy, economics) to document the ever-changing perception that Western culture has had of trees and forests.”


"Written with clear enthusiasm, in accessible language, Watkins's Trees, Woods and Forests will appeal to academics and nonacademics alike, and its broad scope will attract readers from a variety of disciplines: history, geography, archaeology, ecology, even art history and literature. Anybody interested in the landscape will find this book informative, engaging, and, indeed, inspiring."

Time & Mind

"Watkins wants to revivify our tree-sense our awareness of the labor and the language woods inspire so that we might cultivate a healthful arborary future. . . . Today, as one thousand years ago, trees are in society with one another, with us, and with the rest of the globe and their lives are historical lives. We'd do well to reacquaint ourselves with them."

Make Literary Magazine

"This splendid and highly readable book examines social and cultural aspects of trees, woods, and forests throughout history and is strongly recommended to all interested in trees and historical landscapes. . . . A book not to be missed."

Landscape History

"This is a beautifully produced reference book for anybody with an interest in the cultural history of woods and trees in Britain. While forestry enthusiasts will find some familiar material here, almost everybody will find new, different, and interesting insights that make this well worth adding to the book collection."

Quarterly Journal of Forestry

"Trees establishes—if it were in any doubt—Watkins as the bard of all things bosky. This is a beautifully written book, one that never gets lost in the detail, the narrative skipping along from one place and time to another with grace and ease. It is also richly illustrated, much of the credit for which must go to publishers Reaktion who continue to set the standard for sensibly priced accessible books with high production values. . . . A splendid, timely book that will no doubt become a standard work of reference for all interested in the history of that which singularly unites all countries and all times—trees."

Agricultural History Review

"The book is a wood lovers delight of ancient forest lore and custom, forestry and arboriculture and changing scientific, economic, aesthetic, and cultural perceptions of trees. . . . Grab yourself a haversack and boots and take a tour with Watkins through forest glades, hoary old oaks, estate plantations, and royal forests, during which you will meet a splendid array of woodland characters from an ancient Alpine iceman to a medieval hunting parson, from an acquisitive tree-loving metropolitan bishop and proud Victorian ducal estate improvers to plucky commoners fighting for their rights to graze, lop, and pollard. The focus moves from the frozen woods of the lower Alps, the primeval forests of Northern Germany, the royal forests of Epping and Sherwood, and through the great estate plantations and arboretums of the Victorian aristocracy towards the development of modern forestry, conservation, tourism, and management."

Paul Elliott, professor of modern history, University of Derby

Table of Contents

1. Ancient Practices
2. Forests and Spectacle
3. Tree Movements
4. Tree Aesthetics
5. Pollards
6. Sherwood Forest
7. Estate Forestry
8. Scientific Forestry
9. Recreation and Conservation
10. Ligurian Semi-natural Woodland
Select Bibliography
Photo Acknowledgments

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