Nature Incorporated

Industrialization and the Waters of New England

Cambridge University Press, 1991

Winner: Willard Hurst Prize in American Legal History and the Old Sturbridge Village E. Harold Hugo Memorial Book Prize


Nature Incorporated explores the Industrial Revolution in New England from an environmental perspective.

The advent of the industrial age brought about significant changes in gender and class relations, and also in work and culture.  But it also involved a fundamental change in the way the natural world was handled.  Focusing on the legendary Waltham-Lowell style mills, this book examines how these textile factories brought water under their exclusive control.  It examines the legal issues that arose in settling disputes over water, and describes the far-reaching ecological consequences of industrial change.

Critical Acclaim:

“Steinberg has written a major contribution to not only environmental history, but to the history of industrialization itself. He has used the tools of legal history, social history, and technological history to create an environmental history of industrialization which should be read by all students of nineteenth-century America.” —Journal of Social History

“The subject is fresh, the research is thorough, and the findings are significant….The author’s compelling story makes a significant contribution to legal history.” —Donald J. Pisani, Business History Review

Nature Incorporated is an imaginative and innovative work offering rich new perspectives on a familiar topic. It is a strong reminder of the contribution that interdisciplinary approaches so central to environmental history make to an understanding of the past.” —Thomas Dublin, Journal of Interdisciplinary History

“[a] fascinating new book…[I]t provides an object lesson on what can happen to the surrounding environment when people set out to develop just one natural resource and do not think about the others…. I loved this book.”—Carol M. Rose, Fred A. Johnston Professor of Law, Yale Law School

Nature Incorporated…adds a fresh dimension to Lowell’s rich stable of published histories…. The book enunciates an important thesis that will doubtless stimulate further inquiry. The material is rich, and Steinberg is to be congratulated for opening new terrain in American industry history.”—Merritt Roe Smith, MIT

“[T]his is an elegantly written, well-researched monograph that sets a high standard in environmental history.”—Isis

“[Steinberg’s] fine book is a challenge to other scholars….”—American Historical Review

“[Nature Incorporated] is a model for historical study of the incorporation of nature anywhere on the planet.”—Human Ecology

“lucid and makes compulsive reading”—Journal of Ecology

“The book is written in a rich, painterly style—achieved by the generous use of topographical detail, scenic description and the minute relation of personalities and local events. It makes a good read, and from it we derive a lively picture of life in nineteenth-century New England.”—British Journal for the History of Science

“Steinberg brings a much-needed environmental perspective to the study of industrial development.”—Journal of American History

“[Nature Incorporated] is a pioneering exercise in combining economic, business, technological, legal and natural history….”—Business History

“[Nature Incorporated] makes several important contributions to our understanding of the relationship between nature and nineteenth-century American industrialism.”—New England Quarterly

“This is a challenging book, and it will stimulate further studies on the conflict over nature, in other regions.”—Historical Journal of Massachusetts

“Nature Incorporated is an important book. Not only does the author add an important environmental dimension to New England’s history, but he provides a thoughtful analysis of water’s transformation from being a part of nature to a mere commodity.”—History

“Steinberg’s work is an excellent example of the new environmental history.”—Wilson Library Bulletin

“This legal and environmental history of New England rivers emerges out of a rich historical context…. Steinberg’s ability to weave these historical themes together is an important reason for the book’s success.”—Journal of Economic History

“Steinberg’s book is a clear, detailed, and sometimes moving account of the industrialization of the Merrimack River Valley.”—Choice

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