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Brad Edmondson on “Saving” the Adirondacks

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We asked author Brad Edmondson three questions about his new book, A Wild Idea: How the Environmental Movement Tamed the Adirondacks, and his research on the birth of the Adirondack Park Agency.

What’s your favorite anecdote from your research for this book?

In 1971, Louis Papparazzo wanted to build a 7,000-unit development in the middle of the wild Adirondack Park. He hired a graduate student to write an environmental impact statement. The EIS was an untested idea, and Papparazzo probably didn’t know or care what he would say. George Davis didn’t want to see the development built, but he needed the money.

Davis’s survey of Papparazzo’s land tested the method he would use a year later, when he lead a team that made detailed maps of the six-million-acre park. His research powered the largest regional land use plan ever enacted, and in 1973, the new Adirondack Park Agency cancelled Papparazzo’s plans. 

What do you wish you had known when you started writing your book, that you know now?

I knew that journalism is often called “the first draft of history.” But I didn’t know that a newspaper’s house archives are often the best source for detailed information about a local topic. The clipping files maintained by local newspapers, also known as “morgues,” are usually far better than microfilm, which is often spotty and illegible. Morgues can also contain reporters’ notes and other one-of-a-kind goodies. If you’re making a deep dive into a local subject and you can get to a newspaper morgue, go there first.

How do you wish you could change the field of History?

I came to historical writing through journalism, not academia. I’d like to see less theory and more story. The first thing they teach you in a newsroom is “show, don’t tell.” In other words, the best way for a writer to communicate a big idea is to tell a story that brings the idea to life. I would change the field by encouraging young historians to develop the skills of reporters and use evidence to support their theoretical constructs. Imaginative research and great sources yield far better material than does mere intellectual brilliance.

*Featured photo from Pixabay.

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Brad Edmondson is the author of Environmental Affairs in New York StateIce Cream Social, and Postwar Cornell. Visi bradedmondson.com for more information.

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