Taking the Field


Taking the Field

Soldiers, Nature, and Empire on American Frontiers

Amy Kohout

Many Wests Series

394 pages
33 photographs, 3 maps, index


January 2023


$65.00 Add to Cart

January 2023


$30.00 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)
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January 2023


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eBook (EPUB)
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January 2023


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About the Book

Published in Cooperation with the William P. Clements Center for Southwest Studies, Southern Methodist University.

In the late nineteenth century, at a time when Americans were becoming more removed from nature than ever before, U.S. soldiers were uniquely positioned to understand and construct nature’s ongoing significance for their work and for the nation as a whole. American ideas and debates about nature evolved alongside discussions about the meaning of frontiers, about what kind of empire the United States should have, and about what it meant to be modern or to make “progress.” Soldiers stationed in the field were at the center of these debates, and military action in the expanding empire brought new environments into play.

In Taking the Field Amy Kohout draws on the experiences of U.S. soldiers in both the Indian Wars and the Philippine-American War to explore the interconnected ideas about nature and empire circulating at the time. By tracking the variety of ways American soldiers interacted with the natural world, Kohout argues that soldiers, through their words and their work, shaped Progressive Era ideas about both American and Philippine environments. Studying soldiers on multiple frontiers allows Kohout to inject a transnational perspective into the environmental history of the Progressive Era, and an environmental perspective into the period’s transnational history. Kohout shows us how soldiers—through their writing, their labor, and all that they collected—played a critical role in shaping American ideas about both nature and empire, ideas that persist to the present.

Author Bio

Amy Kohout is an associate professor of history at Colorado College.


"Taking the Field is a thought-provoking consideration worthy of attention."—Erin Stewart Mauldin, Western Historical Quarterly

"In the best tradition of environmental history, Kohout's graceful prose brings these far-flung places to life and invites readers to share an encounter with landscapes, labs, and libraries where material traces of the imperial past persist. Chapters from Taking the Field would work well as readings for undergraduate classes on US environmental history and the nineteenth-century US. Kohout's emphasis on methodology and sources also make this engaging book an ideal assignment for graduate seminars."—John Mayer Crum, H-Environment

“Amy Kohout’s fascinating book examines soldiers as naturalists, the U.S. empire at home and abroad, and nature at the heart of expansionism. Her writing is both deeply moving and persuasive. Taking the Field is a thoroughly original study of the West and the nation.”—David Igler, author of The Great Ocean: Pacific Worlds from Captain Cook to the Gold Rush

“Deeply researched and beautifully written, Taking the Field helps readers think about environment, science, labor, and the U.S. military in new ways. With Amy Kohout as our guide, we see American soldiers at work on the frontiers of empire, both in the U.S. West and the Philippines, turning landscape and nation into a new form of American power. Taking the Field is a marvelous success.”—Christopher Capozzola, author of Bound by War: How the United States and the Philippines Built America’s First Pacific Century

“An eye-opening new narrative exploring how the American drive for empire was bound up with a quest to control and preserve nature. . . . Through innovative and affective writing, Kohout takes us vividly into the field—where the building and breaking of both empire and nature took place. In her hands, taxidermied birds collected by soldiers for American museums of natural history take flight again, allowing us to see the vast expanses of American empire with new insight and better appreciate its manifold impacts.”—Douglas Cazaux Sackman, author of Wild Men: Ishi and Kroeber in the Wilderness of Modern America

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Introduction: Preparation
1. The Nature of Frontier Army Work
2. Collecting the West
Interlude 1: Revising and Remembering
3. The Nature of the Philippine Frontier
4. Collecting the Philippines
Interlude 2: Looking for Arrowhead Lake
5. The Frontier in Miniature
Conclusion: Unnatural History

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