Ruin Nation is the first book to bring together environmental and cultural histories to consider the evocative power of ruination as an imagined state, an act of destruction, and a process of change. During the Civil War, cities, houses, forests, and soldiers' bodies were transformed into "dead heaps of ruins," novel sights in the southern landscape. RUIN NATION examines the narratives and images that Americans produced as they confronted the war's destructiveness. Architectural ruins—cities and houses—dominated the stories that soldiers and civilians told about the "savage" behavior of men and the invasions of domestic privacy. The ruins of living things—trees and bodies—also provoked discussion and debate. People who witnessed forests and men being blown apart were plagued by anxieties about the impact of wartime technologies on nature and on individual identities. (Publisher)
Professor Nelson is a lecturer in history and literature. She has taught American history and American studies at Texas Tech University, Cal State Fullerton, Harvard University, and Brown University. She is a writer and cultural critic. Based in Lincoln, Massachusetts, she writes for the New York Times Disunion blog and Civil War Times, and in addition to Ruin Nation, she is the author of Trembling Earth: A Cultural History of the Okefenokee Swamp. She received her Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Iowa in 2002. She presented her work as part of the Boston Environmental History Seminar Series at the Massachusetts Historical Society, the Weirding the War Conference at the University of Georgia, and the Ruins and Antiquities in 19th-Century America conference at the Huntington Library in Pasadena, California.