Professor speaks to layered history of land

Professor of environmental studies Lauret Savoy

By Keely Savoie

Whether it’s a river called “Potomac” or a canyon called “Grand,” the name given to the land tells a story of “conquest and relabeling,” said Lauret Savoy.

Even our prized national parks contain within them the history of Native American oppression, according to Savoy, who noted that whole populations were forcibly moved off their ancestral lands to make way for “wilderness.”

Savoy, a professor of environmental studies, discussed the meanings embedded in the names of places in a recent interview with the nationally syndicated radio show To the Best of our Knowledge. The interview was part of a series marking the centennial of the National Park Service. Notable nature writer Terry Tempest Williams, who was also interviewed for the series, will read from her new book, The Hour of Land, on August 13 at Mount Holyoke College.

Savoy’s book, Trace, has been widely praised and short-listed for numerous awards, and was a finalist for the PEN Open Book Award.

“If you understand the history of naming as a history of overlay, the name is not the place but they are overlays that tell us much about history—about the history of possession, of conquest, of relabeling,” she said. “We are marked by residues of the country’s still unfolding history and residues that include silence and displacement that cross generations.”

Listen to the full interview.