Ken Ilgunas A.M. ’11, a backcountry ranger and perpetual traveler, has a new book, This Land Is Our Land: How We Lost the Right to Roam and How to Take It Back (Plume). The notion of private property seems ingrained in the American ethic; Ilgunas, however, discovers in his research that this wasn’t always the case. So, we asked him: What surprised you most about the history of property law in America?
I originally thought my book was about bringing over this European idea, so I was really surprised to learn that the right to roam is actually quite American.
Up until the Civil War, Euro-Americans had been hunting and traversing each other’s lands since colonial times. People thought of land that was unimproved (no crops) and unenclosed (no fences) with a flexibility and nonchalance that many of us today would find unimaginable. In one revealing 1818 South Carolina court case, a landowner tried to shoo a hunter off his land, but because roaming was so entrenched in early American society, the court said, “a civil war would have been the consequence of an attempt…to enforce a restraint on this privilege.”
You have people like John Muir, in 1867, taking the “wildest, leafiest, and least trodden way I could find” on a hike from Louisville, Kentucky, to the Gulf Coast of Florida. You have Henry David Thoreau, in 1862, writing about “sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements.” You have anecdotes of pretty much all the Founding Fathers roaming over private woods, hills, and waters as boys. (There’s even evidence that suggests Ben Franklin conducted his famous kite experiment on someone else’s property.) In Virginia, you could mine for ores on other people’s property. In South Carolina, militias could train and cut down trees on private property. Pennsylvania’s delegation to the Constitutional Convention tried to get a right to roam inserted into the Bill of Rights.
We tend to think that America has always had a strict understanding of private property (I certainly did), but when you look at the history, you see something very different.
I’ve already had a few critics suggest that the Founding Fathers would be rolling in their graves if we opened up private land for public recreation, but the truth is that the founders might be far more offended with our modern-day exclusionary and despotic notion of land ownership.
Enviromedics: The Impact of Climate Change on Human Health (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers) by Paul Auerbach ’73, M.D. ’77 and Jay Lemery. Auerbach, the Redlich Family Professor at Stanford University School of Medicine, and Lemery, an associate professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, explore how climate change could affect our mental health, destabilize our food and water supplies, and further pollute our air. In the excerpt below, the authors highlight how the rapid extinction of species threatens our capacity to treat our existing ills.
Over a time span of more than 3.5 billion years, the laboratory of nature has evolved a wondrous panoply of chemical compounds, such as enzymes and hormones, most of them presumably to defend certain species from external (e.g., thermal conditions, predators) and internal (e.g., infections) threats. The compounds presumably were derived to confer an evolutionary advantage, be it growth, longevity, or resistance to a specific harmful condition. In many cases, the activity and benefits of these compounds extended beyond the originating species to other plants and animals. Thus, poison from a tree frog might have benefit as a medicinal paralytic agent in humans. Whether an elm tree is fighting parasitic fungi or a cone snail is capturing its prey, opportunity exists for human benefit. If we eliminate the original species, all of this potential is lost. The South American cinchona tree and the Chinese sweet wormwood plant effectively treat and cure malaria. With only rudimentary refinement, quinine was used routinely hundreds of years ago to combat malaria. Poppies produce analgesics to treat pain that once was unbearable and debilitating. Some of the alkaloids from the Madagascar periwinkle (Catharanthus rosea) yielded essential compounds used in cancer chemotherapy. If we lose the plants we have yet to discover and analyze, we will not realize their benefits.
RECOMMENDATIONS from John Staddon, James B. Duke Professor Emeritus of psychology and neuroscience and professor emeritus of biology
In Scientific Method: How Science Works, Fails to Work, and Pretends to Work (Routledge Press), Staddon applies the same methodological standards to examples across disciplines, from physics and chemistry through social psychology, biomedicine, and economics. Here, he outlines some works that set—and have kept—him on his analytical path.
• My personal research methodology problem was solved when I began graduate school at Harvard. Methods devised by radical behaviorist B.F. Skinner allowed me to study animal learning using individual animals. The approach was described in detail in a book by one of Skinner’s disciples, Murray Sidman: Tactics of Scientific Research. Sidman’s book was groundbreaking, though. Following Skinner, he downplayed the role of theory in science.
• The best introduction to the mindset of a true scientist that I have found is physicist Richard Feynman’s “Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman!” Feynman’s humor, openness, ingenuity, and sheer brilliance as a scientist are almost without equal.
• For readers who wish a critical take on the current state of science, especially biomedical science, I recommend Richard Harris’ Rigor Mortis. Harris deals with the causes and consequences of replication crisis (in which many results of scientific studies are impossible to replicate when re-tested), the dangers of blind faith in “animal models,” and the weakness of much apparently solid cell science. It’s not just social science that has suffered from the poor incentives under which many modern scientists must work.
BY DUKE ALUMNI & FACULTY
Getting to Us: How Great Coaches Make Great Teams (Penguin Press) Seth Davis ’92
Putting Wealth to Work: Philanthropy for Today or Investing for Tomorrow? (PublicAffairs) Joel L. Fleishman, professor of law and public policy
Making Light: Haydn, Musical Camp, and the Long Shadow of German Idealism (Duke University Press) Raymond Knapp Ph.D. ’87
The Fountain: A Doctor’s Prescription to Make 60 the New 30 (Rodale) Rocco Monto H ’88, H ’92
Passionate and Pious: Religious Media and Black Women’s Sexuality (Duke University Press) Monique Moultrie ’99
Reconstructing the Gospel: Finding Freedom from Slaveholder Religion (IVP Books) Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove M.Div. ’06