Montpelier: James Madison University Magazine

The Writer's Block
Montpelier Spring 2000

Preserving Charleston's Past, Shaping its Future
The Life and Times of Susan Pringle Frost
University of South Carolina Press, 1999
ISBN 1-57003-290-4
by Sidney Bland

Sidney Bland is professor of history and co-chair of the American Studies Department. His book, Preserving Charleston's Past, Shaping its Future: The Life and Times of Susan Pringle Frost, was a finalist in the 1999 South Carolina Historical Society's "best book of the year in South Carolina history" competition. The book illuminates the life of Susan Pringle Frost, a pioneer in historic preservation and a feminist whose activism helped save Charleston's old architecture and generated a wider preservation movement. Frost was an outspoken champion of a host of important causes, including women's rights, a more active and accountable local government, and better treatment of African Americans.
In this biography, Bland enumerates Frost's many accomplishments and chronicles what he considers to be her greatest achievement - spearheading a historic preservation movement in Charleston that became the model for preservation throughout the country.
Frost founded the Society for the Preservation of Old Dwellings, one of the nation's oldest historic preservation groups and the forerunner of the Preservation Society of Charleston. Bland offers vivid insight into the courage, perseverance and eccentricity of a woman he considers complex. The book traces specific staples of present-day historic preservation to Frost's visionary initiatives. Bland has published numerous articles in historical magazines and historic preservation journals.

Flowering Plants of the Galápagos
Cornell University Press, 1999
ISBN 0-8014-8621-1
by Conley K. McMullen

Flowering Plants of the Galápagos by biology professor Conley K. McMullen may be the world's first and last look at the endemic plants of the Galápagos, which are in imminent danger of extinction due to pressures exerted by man. The Galápagos, a 13-island chain off the coast of Ecuador, was made famous in 1845 by naturalist Charles Darwin. "Many plants native to these islands are tremendously threatened," says McMullen. "Some of them are found nowhere else in the world. To lose them because of interference by humans would be a tragedy."
McMullen, who first traveled to the Galápagos in 1983 as a graduate student studying plant pollination, says that some areas of native vegetation are being choked out by imported plants that thrive in the moderate climate. "Many of these imported plants have no practical uses," he says. "Even the quinine tree, which produces a treatment for malaria, is useless in the Galápagos. There is no malaria in the islands, but the tree is there in nearly uncontrollable numbers."
Not written as an "environmental proclamation," McMullen's book is a practical, in-depth guide to the plant life of the islands based on his fieldwork over the last 16 years. Many reference works have been written on the animal life of the Galápagos, but McMullen's book on the flora of the region is the only one of its kind and is geared toward both the layman and the scientist. "On many of my visits to the islands, naturalist guides would ask me to accompany them on their trips," he says. "They knew plenty about the animals, but didn't know the plants, and thus couldn't answer the tourists' questions on these beautiful plants."
McMullen says that protecting plant life in the Galápagos is a concern of the Ecuadorian government, but one that is subject to available funding. "Certainly from a practical standpoint no one will miss some of the Galápagos plants if they become extinct," admits McMullen, "but if we allow that to happen, we help reduce the wonderful diversity of life in nature. We impoverish ourselves and our world."

The Appalachian Forest: A Search for Roots and Renewal
Stackpole Books, 1998
ISBN 0-8117-0126-3
by Chris Bolgiano

"In her book, Chris Bolgiano writes with knowledge and passion about the region's history and ecology and strikes a strong, intelligent blow for the preservation of eastern wilderness," writes Christopher Camuto, author of Another Country: Journeying Toward the Cherokee Mountains.
Chris Bolgiano is director of special collections at JMU's Ronald E. Carrier Library. She has published articles in The New York Times, Audubon, Wilderness and The Washington Post. She has also authored Mountain Lion: An Unnatural History of Pumas and People (1995 Stackpole Books).
The Appalachian Forest describes a place once rich with old-growth woodlands - American chestnut trees 10 feet in diameter, tulip poplars more than 200 feet tall, warbler and wild turkey abundant beyond imagine - whose landscape has been systematically devastated by continuous tree farming, cutting and mining. Meticulously researched, Bolgiano's book compares the past and present land and people of this region once known as "The Great Forest" and explores the hope of an ecological recovery.
Above and beyond its biological overview, this book explores mountain life and its many contrasts, such as generations of human poverty amid a wealth of natural resources. The mountain farmers, Cherokee, foresters, biologists, bear hunters and grassroots activists that Bolgiano comes to know all define a part of the diverse Appalachian region. The message of Bolgiano's Appalachian Forest is the need to preserve mature, connected forests for the benefit of all living things in the great Appalachian wilderness.


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