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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 375

Nature's Metropolis, William Cronon's classic contribution to the field of environmental history, shifts the focus of its narrative from the individual to the systemic. In other words, it bucks the most popular form of historical storytelling in favor of a more complicated and impersonal one, with the goal of describing factors in the history of Chicago that had been largely overlooked by other scholarship.

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As a consequence of this narrative choice, it can be hard to identify "main" characters in his book. In a retrospective interview on the twenty-fifth anniversary of Nature's Metropolis, Cronon said:

There are almost no people in Nature’s Metropolis. And almost no lived, textured reality of classed, gendered, raced people. They’re just not in there. J.M.D. Burrows with his potatoes going down the Mississippi River is probably the most poignant human being in that entire book.

In the largest sense, the main characters in the book are the city of Chicago itself, and the ecosystems that surround it (nature, in the broadest sense). The city is a central actor in the environmental history of the American West and Midwest, as its industrial and infrastructural appetites transformed natural resources into commodities: it is a vortex at the crossroads of the American frontier. Although there are many businessmen and politicians who facilitated the transformation of Chicago's hinterland as part of the rise of the metropolis (the most influential of whom are bear much responsibility for the course of...

(The entire section contains 375 words.)

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