Let Us Now Praise Famous Gullies

Providence Canyon and the Soils of the South

Title Details

Pages: 288

Illustrations: 38 b&w photos

Trim size: 6.000in x 9.000in



Pub Date: 03/15/2018

ISBN: 9-780-8203-5382-1

List Price: $26.95


Pub Date: 12/15/2015

ISBN: 9-780-8203-3401-1

List Price: $34.95

Subsidies and Partnerships

Published with the generous support of Wormsloe Foundation Publications

Let Us Now Praise Famous Gullies

Providence Canyon and the Soils of the South

The 'Little Grand Canyon' and its lessons for environmental history

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Providence Canyon State Park, also known as Georgia’s “Little Grand Canyon,” preserves a network of massive erosion gullies allegedly caused by poor farming practices during the nineteenth century. It is a park that protects the scenic results of an environmental disaster. While little known today, Providence Canyon enjoyed a modicum of fame in the 1930s. During that decade, local boosters attempted to have Providence Canyon protected as a national park, insisting that it was natural. At the same time, national and international soil experts and other environmental reformers used Providence Canyon as the apotheosis of human, and particularly southern, land abuse.

Let Us Now Praise Famous Gullies uses the unlikely story of Providence Canyon—and the 1930s contest over its origins and meaning—to recount the larger history of dramatic human-induced soil erosion across the South and to highlight the role that the region and its erosive agricultural history played in the rise of soil science and soil conservation in America. More than that, though, the book is a meditation on the ways in which our persistent mental habit of separating nature from culture has stunted our ability to appreciate places like Providence Canyon and to understand the larger history of American conservation.

Paul Sutter finds in these thousand acres of backwoods Georgia a powerful and complicated story of humans on the land. He is a wonderful storyteller, but more, he digs deeply into the past to explain how and why this place became both a “park” and a “horrible example" of soil erosion. This is one of the finest local environmental histories we have, and it offers important insights for all of us today.

—Donald Worster, author of A Passion for Nature: The Life of John Muir

So what is there in a book about west Georgia gullies for academic readers? Quite a bit, actually, for these are very instructive gullies that illustrate the use and abuse of soil worldwide. Writing skillfully, with a wry eye for environmental irony, historian Sutter traces a history of Providence Canyon, where erosion of ill-kept farmland resulted in some of the most spectacular gullies in the world during the 19th century.

—B. E. Johansen, Choice

Public historians will be particularly pleased to read Sutter’s arguments for interpreting this story to visitors at Providence Canyon Park. . . . His vision for bringing the complexities of environmental history to our public parks and forests is certainly a welcome one, and an approach full of exciting possibilities.

—Al Hester, H-Net Reviews

Let Us Now Praise Famous Gullies is not light reading, but the book is essential to those interested in the history of geologic surveys and soil conservation from a national perspective, and it is vital to the understanding of a lost economy based on farming, and of how an economically depressed area might rise from the gullies to reinvent itself.

—A. W. Blalock, Northeast Georgia Living

This is a great history of forest use, agricultural practice, market dictates, federal policy, and the soils on which they all act. Sutter put in considerable research trying to find any and all mentions of the gullies, unearthing some that might easily have been missed. Not many people, even among environmental historians, go this deeply into the soils and subsurface geology for answers. This book makes clear a host of reasons why we should.

—James H. Tuten, Environmental History

Every landscape has two histories, a physical one and a cultural one. In Let Us Now Praise Famous Gullies: Providence Canyon and the Soils of the South, Paul Sutter masterfully integrates these two histories to shed new light on our most underappreciated natural resource and its influence on the history of American conservation. . . . What makes a great environmental history text is the use of multiple lines of evidence and the inclusion of different perspectives. Like historical soil erosion in the American South, Sutter's insight is both broad and deep.

—Jason P. Julian, Journal of Historical Geography


Award for Excellence in Research, Georgia Historical Records Advisory Council

About the Author/Editor

PAUL S. SUTTER is an associate professor of history at University of Colorado, Boulder. He is the author of Driven Wild: How the Fight against Automobiles Launched the Modern Wilderness Movement.