Cloth $35.00 ISBN: 9780226053899 Published September 2013
Paper $30.00 ISBN: 9780226273754 Will Publish March 2015
E-book $7.00 to $28.00 About E-books ISBN: 9780226053929 Published September 2013

The Lost History of the New Madrid Earthquakes

Conevery Bolton Valencius

Conevery Bolton Valencius

472 pages | 26 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2013
Cloth $35.00 ISBN: 9780226053899 Published September 2013
Paper $30.00 ISBN: 9780226273754 Will Publish March 2015
E-book $7.00 to $28.00 About E-books ISBN: 9780226053929 Published September 2013
From December 1811 to February 1812, massive earthquakes shook the middle Mississippi Valley, collapsing homes, snapping large trees midtrunk, and briefly but dramatically reversing the flow of the continent’s mightiest river. For decades, people puzzled over the causes of the quakes, but by the time the nation began to recover from the Civil War, the New Madrid earthquakes had been essentially forgotten.
In The Lost History of the New Madrid Earthquakes, Conevery Bolton Valencius remembers this major environmental disaster, demonstrating how events that have been long forgotten, even denied and ridiculed as tall tales, were in fact enormously important at the time of their occurrence, and continue to affect us today. Valencius weaves together scientific and historical evidence to demonstrate the vast role the New Madrid earthquakes played in the United States in the early nineteenth century, shaping the settlement patterns of early western Cherokees and other Indians, heightening the credibility of Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa for their Indian League in the War of 1812, giving force to frontier religious revival, and spreading scientific inquiry. Moving into the present, Valencius explores the intertwined reasons—environmental, scientific, social, and economic—why something as consequential as major earthquakes can be lost from public knowledge, offering a cautionary tale in a world struggling to respond to global climate change amid widespread willful denial.     
Engagingly written and ambitiously researched—both in the scientific literature and the writings of the time—The Lost History of the New Madrid Earthquakes will be an important resource in environmental history, geology, and seismology, as well as history of science and medicine and early American and Native American history.

“Weaving deep time with human time, Valencius gives us exemplary science history: accu­rate yet erudite, entertaining but substantial, adroitly marshalling the past to interpret the present.”
Carla Nappi | New Books in Science, Technology, and Society
“Valencius beautifully narrates a riveting tale of the production and forgetting of knowledge surrounding these earthquakes, massively disruptive events that liquefied the soil in much of the Mississippi floodplain and briefly made the Mississippi River flow backward. . . . Because of the wide range of historical actors treated in the book, the account is of relevance not only to the histories of early American science and environmental studies, but also to the histories of religious practice and native American politics and culture. Undoubtedly a rich and fascinating story, The Lost History of the New Madrid Earthquakes is also a special pleasure to read, thanks to the warm (and often very funny) asides and anecdotes with which Valencius peppers the book.”
T. L. T. Grose, Colorado School of Mines | Choice
“In this most beautifully written book, Valencius integrates prodigious research about how the history of the central US, including its economy, society, and environment, were shaped by seismicity and geology. While a few recent books deal skillfully with the ramifications of the New Madrid earthquakes, this book in particular delves deeply into the larger cultural meaning and influence of the value of deep scientific analysis and application to modern social and environmental problems. And, it is worth repeating, the writing is superb. . . . Highly recommended.”
Journal of Interdisciplinary History
"Provides not only a detailed account of the various peoples in the region of New Madrid and the effect of the earthquakes upon them, [but] also contemplates the history of knowledge of the event. . . . Valencius manages to recover vividly an emotional, somatic, and environmental moment."
Sam Worley | Chicago Reader
“In an obscenely interesting new book, The Lost History of the New Madrid Earthquakes, Valencius uncovers the quakes and their rich and various meanings—to increasingly diminished Native populations, who interpreted them as a sign to return to tradition in the face of colonial encroachment; to a young nation about to enter into another war with Great Britain, with some religious revivalists of its own; and to a burgeoning scientific community that still placed a premium on anecdotal evidence. . . . Valencius is an engaging, frequently funny storyteller.”
Deborah R. Coen, author of The Earthquake Observers
“How is it possible for a natural disaster to remake an entire region, physically and socially—and yet to be erased from history within two generations? In The Lost History of the New Madrid Earthquakes Conevery Bolton Valencius tells a moving and mind-boggling tale of the production and destruction of natural knowledge. She follows the motley cast of amateurs who first tracked down the scientific evidence, as well as the modernizing forces that buried it once again. Her prodigious research reveals exactly how these earthquakes changed the course of history in the Mississippi Valley region. Remarkably, she shows that if we want to understand race relations in this part of the country in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, we need to understand geology. This beautifully written book will stand as a model for integrating environmental and social history with the history of science.”
Joyce E. Chaplin, Harvard University
“How do we know what we know about earthquakes—or indeed anything? In her fine new book, Conevery Bolton Valencius gives us a history of a single place, of a handful of seismic events that occurred there, and of how people knew about them. In so doing, she gives us a history of modern scientific knowledge itself.”

James L. "Skip" Rutherford III, University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public
“Having lived my entire life in the Mississippi River Valley, I have encountered fascinating facts about the New Madrid Earthquakes but also countless absurd fabrications. Conevery Bolton Valencius’s The Lost History of the New Madrid Earthquakes shakes these popular myths to their foundations, offering a thorough historical and geological account of what really happened in 1811–12. It also addresses the implications of another major New Madrid Earthquake in the future—a possibility our disaster planners need to keep in mind.”
Elliott West, University of Arkansas
“Through deep research, acute perception, and lovely writing, Conevery Bolton Valencius has taken one of the great natural events of early America and made of it a revelation of its time—its scientific practice and thinking and its people’s understanding of the land, of themselves, and even of their spirituality and relation to the divine. A masterful blend of the history of science and society.”
Introduction: Earthquake Cracks

1    A Great Commotion: The Experience of the New Madrid Earthquakes
2    Earthquakes and the End of the New Madrid Hinterland
3    Revival and Resistance: Earthquakes on Native Ground
4    The Quaking Body: Sensation, Electricity, and Religious Revival
5    Vernacular Science: Knowing Earthquakes in the Early United States
6    Sunk Lands and Submerged Knowledge: How War, Swamps, and Seismographs Hid Evidence of the New Madrid Earthquakes
7    The Science of Deep History: Old Accounts and Modern Science of New Madrid

Conclusion: Memory and Earth in the Mississippi Valley

Bibliographic Essays
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