Ernst Haeckel, Kunstformen der Natur (Leipzig und Wien: Verlag des Bibliographischen Instituts, 1904), Library of Congress
I am a social and cultural historian of early America and the Atlantic world with particular interest in the human dimensions of oceanic environmental change.
I am currently writing a new book about marine creatures and the Atlantic environment. Taking its title from lines in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” (1798), A Thousand, Thousand Slimy Things examines the natural history of the seas from prehistory to the age of plastic pollution. Guided by the conviction that human history is inextricably tied to the rhythms of nature, this book shows how people across the Atlantic world and over time made sense of a mysterious ocean. It turns out that slimy things—from sea serpents to micro-plastics—have long tended to lurk among the frontiers of natural knowledge, reflecting not only the anxieties of each age but also, in many cases, new possibilities. Accordingly, slime’s generative qualities nourished narratives of progress while the rhetoric of oceanic decay often flowed through stories of societal decline. Imagined as a window into the earth’s ancient past, the slimy sea seemed at once timeless but always changing, masculine but sometimes feminine, and at once a space of rot and regeneration. Connecting the local and the global, the ocean was a source of extraction but also a sink for disposal. Some were inspired to protect it, while others were willing to neglect it. Indeed, as this book argues, the mutable nature of the sea and its slimy creatures has shaped the ways humans have treated it and them.
My 2014 book, Between Land and Sea: The Atlantic Coast and the Transformation of New England(Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014), examines the environmental history of Narragansett Bay (Rhode Island) from first European settlement in 1636 through industrialization during the first half of the nineteenth century. This study uses one of the largest estuaries on the East Coast and one situated at the heart of early English settlement in New England as a means to write estuaries into Atlantic history. For too long oceans and their tidal arms have been presented as immutable spaces—trackless, eternal, and beyond the control of humans. This work recovers that history by examining the ways settlers drew resources from rivers and creeks and the bays into which they flowed. I explore the ways coasts were mapped by explorers, promoters, and professional cartographers and how those processes reflected cultural conceptions of water through time. I also show how water was partitioned among competing interests when it became the primary source of industrial power. Ultimately, this book examines the ways the coastal people of southern New England added order to the edge of the sea both materially and imaginatively over time.
“[An] excellent book, a creative study that sparkles with insights. … With this book, Pastore will cause historians of early America to realize that they ought never to take for granted the places where their stories unfold.” —Ted Steinberg, Reviews in American History
“Pastore ventures onto the marshes and mudflats between them … in a fascinating, detailed, and often lyrical study of Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay. … [Pastore] writes clearly and perceptively about the ways in which inhabitants shaped, and were shaped by, these tidal waters.”—Peter H. Wood, Journal of Interdisciplinary History
“Written with panache and startling flashes of insight, [Between Land and Sea] succeeds in illustrating the hidden perils of ordering a coastal landscape. It is also successful in drawing together the methodologies of historical geography and environmental history, and in piloting both disciplines into uncharted waters. … Pastore’s book treats terra firma and terra aqua as a single ecosystem, which adds immeasurably to the understanding of both. … As a thought-piece as well as a study in history and geography, this book has great merit.” —Richard W. Judd, Journal of Historical Geography
“Pastore’s work [is] thoughtful, elegantly written, and clearly presented. In his hands, Narragansett Bay becomes not just an extension of the sea but also a set of ideas, attitudes, uncertainties, and ambiguities that accommodate a range of human understandings. … [O]ne of the book’s greatest strengths [is] its ability to sit comfortably, engagingly, and provocatively between the imaginary and the material. [A]nyone interested in coasts and margins will enjoy his examination of this small but provocative place.” —Matthew McKenzie, Journal of American History
[A]n exceptional history that weaves broad and compelling theories with [Pastore’s] impressive, place-specific research. [Between Land and Sea] is easy to read and should be useful to professional historians interested in a wide variety of fields including environmental, colonial, maritime, and Atlantic world history, as well as to graduate and undergraduate students looking to expand their understanding of either the region or new methodological approaches to geographic-based historical investigation.” —Brian Payne, American Historical Review
“Written with grace and with admirable attention to both cultural and physical transformations, Between Land and Sea is an eminently readable (and teachable) book. It deserves a prominent place on any shelf of early American environmental histories.”—Andrew Lipman, Environmental History
“Between Land and Sea presents an instructive case study of how ‘coastal people’ and ‘coastal nature’ have changed over time and represents an exemplary environmental history of one muddy early American place. … Pastore demonstrates that Narragansett Bay is a distinctive place that rightfully deserves its own history. His book speaks to pressing twenty-first-century concerns and should have wide appeal among historians.”
—Thomas Wickman, The William and Mary Quarterly
“Pastore’s book is so well written that it borders on poetic. He seems to delight in the nature of the Bay as a space where Rhode Islanders for so many centuries had to throw up their hands and accept that it was never completely controllable. … Pastore’s narrative soars as he digs into the complicated ironies of this space. … [He] adroitly interweaves Native and European interactions with economic forces and ecological science.”
—Catherine McNeur, Journal of the Early Republic
“In this imaginative and remarkably well-written study of the coastal history of Narragansett Bay, Christopher Pastore offers a cautionary tale three centuries in the making. … [Between Land and Sea] adeptly integrates archaeological, biological, economic, environmental and religio-political evidence to craft a genuinely interdisciplinary argument.”—Craig Gallagher, Itinerario
“Between Land and Sea offers a glimpse at man’s ability and desire to exploit and change natural space. It offers a rich environmental history, clearly and concisely peering into Rhode Island’s past through the lens of its most defining physical feature. It is an essential contribution to the environmental and maritime history of Rhode Island and Southern New England.” –Morgan Breene, Sea History
“Human, animal (and oyster), and land interactions? The non-material construction of landscape? Encounters between Europeans and a new world? Humanly-induced environmental change? In this wide-ranging and finely-written book, infused with an autobiographical affection for the land and seascapes that he describes, Pastore touches all these topics and more.” —Graham Fairclough, Landscapes
“Pastore’s Between Land and Sea is a fascinating read and thought provoking on various levels. It addresses the intersection of environmental history with the maritime history of an important American historical location. It is scholarly in nature, yet quite readable, and at times, entertaining. This work deserves a place on the shelf of anyone interested in ecological history, particularly that of the Narragansett Bay region, and its influence on the maritime and political history of Rhode Island.” —Louis Arthur Norton, The Northern Mariner/Le Marin du Nord
“With a nod to current concerns about rising sea levels and the inability to meet nature with technological advancement, Pastore’s book provides a thought-provoking reflection upon the relationships between humans and nature, and the ways that powerful efforts to contain nature through language or force often founder in the face of ambiguity and impermanence. Ultimately, … Pastore … enrich[es] the literature about the colonization of New England by extending [his] analysis past its material realities to its equally revealing ephemeral realm.”
—Erika Gasser, Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History
“Between Land and Sea is … a welcome addition to the growing number of texts that strive to read, ecologically, the field of early American literature and history without resorting to or fixating on “nature writing” or “travel literature.” … As the waves pound upon the shore to change the coastline, so Pastore’s book erodes traditional historiography and narrative in favor of a more systematic and diverse story concerning ecology at its widest conception.”—Jesse Lobbs, Modern Language Studies