Minnesota’s Twin Cities have long been powerful engines of change. From their origins in the early nineteenth century, the Twin Cities helped drive the dispossession of the region’s Native American peoples, turned their riverfronts into bustling industrial and commercial centers, spread streets and homes outward to the horizon, and reached well beyond their urban confines, setting in motion the environmental transformation of distant hinterlands. As these processes unfolded, residents inscribed their culture into the landscape, complete with all its tensions, disagreements, contradictions, prejudices, and social inequalities. These stories lie at the heart of Nature’s Crossroads. The book features an interdisciplinary team of distinguished scholars who aim to open new conversations about the environmental history of the Twin Cities and Greater Minnesota.

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Christopher W. Wells is an environmental historian and professor of environmental studies at Macalester College. His other books include Car Country: An Environmental History (2012) and Environmental Justice in Postwar America: A Documentary Reader (2018). His research focuses on the ways that technology—and especially technological systems—have reshaped the American environment, mediating and structuring people’s relationships with the natural world.


“Examining the intertwined histories of Minnesota’s two largest cities, Minneapolis and St. Paul, which emerged in the mid-nineteenth century fourteen miles apart on opposite shores of the Mississippi River, Nature’s Crossroads offers significant insights on the ways in which environmental change is deeply connected to broader histories of settler colonialism, capitalism, industrialization, urbanization, culture, politics, gender, race, and labor…. [T]he anthology offers a sophisticated model for how urban environmental historians might approach situating a city within a broader regional

analysis spanning a range of communities (local, Indigenous, state, regional, national, global) and ecosystems (forests, farms, aquatic systems, and extractive industrial landscapes).”

Nature's Crossroads takes a serious look at Minnesota's history of western settlement, development, and land use, especially in the Twin Cities, and the impact of those activities on the Indigenous people and natural communities. Editors George Vrtis and Christopher Wells—both environmental historians—bring together chapters from 17 historians to highlight various stories about how we as Minnesotans changed the land for agriculture, forestry, and development…. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of environmental and ecological change in Minnesota.”

  • John J. Moriarty, Minnesota History, Spring 2023 (68/5), 197.

Nature’s Crossroads is likely to become the definitive book on Minnesota’s environmental history. This engaging volume explains how the dynamic flow of resources, people, and ideas between the Twin Cities and their hinterlands shaped the state’s history. Nature’s Crossroads will appeal not only to those who love Minnesota but to environmental historians, geographers, rural sociologists, urban planners, and others interested in understanding the complexity of seemingly simple midwestern landscapes.”

  • Sarah Mittlefehldt, author of Tangled Roots: The Appalachian Trail and American Environmental Politics

“Here are compelling stories about the changing human communities of the Twin Cities and how they shaped and were shaped by their environments, from riverfronts to hinterlands. Topics range from water, energy, and acid rain to imagined eco-cities, bicycle paths, suburban sprawl, historic preservation, and, yes, lakes. Though the reader can move among chapters in any order, Vrtis and Wells provide structure and themes, including varied environmentalisms, Indigenous resistance, and environmental justice.”

  • Kathryn Morse, author of The Nature of Gold: An Environmental History of the Klondike Gold Rush