Virtual Exhibitions 2012, no. 1


Mark Stoll

This virtual exhibition presents the global reception and impact of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring as well as the book’s legacy in popular culture, music, literature, and the arts. Read chronologically starting with the overview, or go directly to a specific chapter that interests you by clicking on the navigation slider below.

For further reading

Introduction: An very good general account of the reaction to Silent Spring, both domestic and foreign, is Frank Graham, Jr., Since Silent Spring (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1970). Linda Lear’s excellent biography, Rachel Carson: Witness for Nature (New York: Holt, 1997), is essential reading. Lear also maintains a useful website. Several chapters also cover the reception and impact of Silent Spring. Other excellent resources include biographies by Paul Brooks, who was Carson’s editor and friend, entitled The House of Life: Rachel Carson at Work (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1972 and 1989), and Mark Lytle’s recent The Gentle Subversive: Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, and the Rise of the Environmental Movement (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007). The basic story of Silent Spring and its impact have been well known since Graham’s book. I have relied on Graham, Lear, and Brooks, especially for the American sections, supplemented by the works described below. The sections on Silent Spring in popular culture, television, literature, and the arts are largely based on primary research and appear for the first time in this online exhibition. Original research also supports the sections on Silent Spring’s reception and impact outside the United States.

See also Priscilla Coit Murphy, What a Book Can Do: The Publication and Reception of Silent Spring (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2005) and Gino J. Marco, Robert M. Hollingworth, and William Durham, eds., Silent Spring Revisited (Washington, D.C.: American Chemical Society, 1987).

US government response: For the response of the United States Department of Agriculture, see Linda J. Lear, “Bombshell in Beltsville: The USDA and the Challenge of Silent Spring,” Agricultural History 66 (2) (Spring 1992): 151–70. See also “Testimony of Steve Owens, Assistant Administrator, Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, before the Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection, Committee on Energy & Commerce, U.S. House of Representatives, November 17, 2009,” View PDF

Industrial and agricultural interests fight back: See R. H. White-Stevens, Address, The Synthetic Organic Chemical Manufacturers’ Association, New York City, April 9, 1963, cited in Roland C. Clement, “The Pesticides Controversy,” Boston College Environmental Affairs Law Review 2 (1972): 445–468 (View Source, accessed 24 February 2012).

Public reaction in the United States: On the reasons for the positive public response in the United States to Silent Spring, see Ralph H. Lutts, “Chemical Fallout: Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, Radioactive Fallout, and the Environmental Movement,” Environmental Review 9 (3) (Autumn 1985): 210–25. Other perspectives are explored in Carol B. Gartner, “When Science Writing Becomes Literary Art: The Success of Silent Spring,”; and Craig Waddell, “The Reception of Silent Spring: An Introduction,” both in Craig Waddell, ed., And No Birds Sing: Rhetorical Analyses of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2000); and M. Jimmie Killingsworth and Jacqueline S. Palmer, “Millennial Ecology: The Apocalyptic Narrative from Silent Spring to Global Warming,” in Carl G. Herndle and Stuart C. Brown, eds., Green Culture: Environmental Rhetoric in Contemporary America (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1996).

Gender: Two excellent articles that focus on attacks on Carson as a woman are Michael B. Smith, “‘Silence, Miss Carson!’ Science, Gender, and the Reception of Silent Spring,” Feminist Studies 27 (3) (Autumn 2001): 733–52; and Maril Hazlett, “‘Woman vs. Man vs. Bugs’: Gender and Popular Ecology in Early Reactions to Silent Spring,” Environmental History 9 (4) (Oct. 2004): 701–29.

Literature: Terry Tempest Williams’s essay is in Peter Matthiessen, ed., Courage for the Earth: Writers, Scientists, and Activists Celebrate the Life and Writing of Rachel Carson (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2007), 129–46.

For Carson’s influence on nature writing, see Simmons B. Buntin interview with Alison Hawthorne Deming, A Journal of the Built & Natural Environments 26 (2010),View Source, accessed 1 February 2012; Kathleen Dean Moore, “The Truth of the Barnacles: Rachel Carson and the Moral Significance of Wonder,” in Lisa H. Sideris and Kathleen Dean Moore, eds., Rachel Carson: Legacy and Challenge (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2008), 267–80; Kathleen Dean Moore, Wild Comfort: The Solace of Nature (Boston: Trumpeter Books, 2010); Scott Russell Sanders, A Conservationist Manifesto (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009); and Rebecca Solnit, Storming the Gates of Paradise: Landscapes for Politics (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007).

The works that this section discusses are: Marjorie Agosin, “Rachel Carson,” in Melodious Women, trans. Monica Bruno Galmazzi (Pittsburgh: Latin American Literary Review Press, 1998), 21-22; John Burnside and Maurice Riordan, eds., Wild Reckoning: An Anthology Provoked by Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (London: Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, 2004), 13–22; Danielle Devereaux, “Letter to the New Yorker”; “First Lady of the Environment”; “Rachel Carson Comes to my House for Tea”; “Memo in which Miss Carson Gives the Poet Advice on Being a Spinster”; and “Untitled,” ARC Poetry Magazine 64 (Summer 2010) 13; 66 (Summer 2011): 46, 47, 48, and 49; and Anthony Walton, “In the Rachel Carson Wildlife Refuge, Thinking of Rachel Carson,” Ecotone 3.2 (2008), anthologized in Camille T. Dungy, ed., Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2009), 54; and Robert Wrigley, “The Gift of the Bear,” in Wild Reckoning: An Anthology Provoked by Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, eds. John Burnside and Maurice Riordan (London: Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, 2004), 189-91.

See also Jorn Ake, “Rachel Carson,” The Circle Line (Omaha: Backwaters Press, 2009), 9; and Elizabeth Robinson, “Rachel Carson Talks to a Blank Sky,” Interim 29 (2011).

Art: Alexis Rockman is described as an “artist-activist” in Thomas Lovejoy, “From Chameleons in the Curtains to Manifest Destiny,” in Joanna Marsh, ed., Alexis Rockman: A Fable for Tomorrow (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2010), which is the catalog for the exhibition by the same name. Mark Dion talks about the “Museum of Poison” in “Mark Dion,” in Judith Olch Richards, ed., Inside the Studio: Two Decades with Artists in New York (New York: Independent Curators International, 2004), 242–245.

Sweden: A good work on the Scandinavian response is Andrew Jamison, Ron Eyerman, and Jacqueline Cramer, The Making of the New Environmental Consciousness: A Comparative Study of the Environmental Movements in Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1990). See also Martin Kylhammar, Nils Dahlbeck: En Berättelse om Svensk Natur och Naturvårdshistoria (Stockholm: Carlsson, 1992); and Harri Siiskonen, “Silent Spring and the Nordic Agricultural Magazines,” Scandinavian Economic History Review 50 (1) (2002): 7–23. Also useful is Lennart J. Lundqvist, Environmental Policies in Canada, Sweden, and the United States: A Comparative Overview (Beverly Hills, CA: Sage, 1974).

Britain: John Sheail, An Environmental History of Twentieth-Century Britain (Basinstroke, Hampshire: Palgrave, 2002) is an excellent source. See also G. R. Conway, D. G. R. Gilbert, and J. N. Pretty, “Pesticides in the UK: Science, Policy and the Public,” in D. J. L. Harding, ed., Britain Since ‘Silent Spring’: An Update on the Ecological Effects of Agricultural Pesticides in the UK (London: Institute of Biology, 1988). For a detailed study, see John Sheail, Pesticides and Nature Conservation: The British Experience 1950–1975 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985).

The remarkable debate in the House of Lords can be found in Parliamentary Debates (Hansard): House of Lords, vol. 247 (1963), 1118–220.

Netherlands: A good account is in Andrew Jamison, Ron Eyerman, and Jacqueline Cramer, The Making of the New Environmental Consciousness: A Comparative Study of the Environmental Movements in Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands. See also C. J. Briejèr, Zilveren Sluiers en Verborgen Gevaren: Chemische Preparaten die het Leven Bedreigen (Leiden: Sijthoff, 1968), ch. 12; Jacqueline Cramer, De Groene Golf: Geschiedenis en Toekomst van de Milieubeweging (Utrecht: Jan van Arkel, 1989); and J. L. van Zanden and S. W. Verstegen, Groene Geschiedenis van Nederland (Utrecht: Het Spectrum, 1993).

Germany: There is a large literature on the rise of Germany environmental concerns and of the Green movement. See Winfried Kösters, Umwelt-Politik: Themen, Funktionen, Zuständigkeiten (Munich: Olzog, 1997); Kai F. Hünemörder, Die Frühgeschichte der globalen Umweltkrise und die Formierung der deutschen Umweltpolitik, 1950–1973 (Stuttgart, 2003); Horst Mewes, “A Brief History of the German Green Party,” in Margit Mayer and John Ely, eds., The German Greens: Paradox between Movement and Party (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1998); Ernst U. von Weizsäcker, Earth Politics (London: Zed, 1994); Colin Riordan, ed., Green Thought in German Culture: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1997); Jean Jacob, Histoire de l’Écologie Politique (Paris: Albin Michel, 1999); Gayil Talshir, The Political Ideology of Green Parties: From the Politics of Nature to Redefining the Nature of Politics (Houndmills: Palgrave, 2002); and Anna Branwell, Ecology in the 20th Century: A History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989), 219.

For a sample of Christ und Welt coverage, see H. Merbitz, “Wenn der Acker zur Fabrik wird: Eine Diskussion über unbekannte Gefahren des chemischen Pflanzenschutzes,” Christ und Welt 16 (9) (10 May 1963): 30; Richard Kaufmann, “Sind sie wirklich harmlos? Die Frage der Pflanzenschutzmittel im Licht eines amerikanischen Regierungsberichts,” Christ und Welt 16 (23) (7 June 1963): 21; and Hans-J. Wasserburger, “Das Gift im Boden: Schädlingsbekämpfung muß ‘integriert’ erfolgen,” Christ und Welt 16 (46) (15 November 1963): 22.

France: The French reaction to Silent Spring has been analyzed by Nathalie Jas, “Public Health and Pesticide Regulation in France Before and After Silent Spring,” History and Technology 23 (4) (2007): 369–88. Other histories of the French environmental movement take little notice of the book. An excellent history of French environmentalism is Michael Bess, The Light-Green Society: Ecology and Technological Modernity in France, 1960–2000 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003). See also Brendan Prendiville, Environmental Politics in France (Boulder: Westview Press, 1994).

Different reactions in Europe and the United States: On European worry about radioactive fallout, see Ilona Stölken-Fitschen, Atombombe und Geistesgeschichte: Eine Studie der fünfizer Jahre aus deutscher Sicht (Baden-Baden: Nomos, 1995); and Lawrence S. Wittner, The Struggle Against the Bomb, vol. 2, Resisting the Bomb: A History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement, 1954–1970 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997), ch. 10. On the Torrey Canyon accident and the rise of European environmental concern, see Jost Hermand, Grüne Utopien in Deutschland: Zur Geschichte des Ökologischen Bewußtseins (Frankfurt: Fischer, 1991); Mike Robinson, The Greening of British Party Politics (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1992); and Stanley P. Johnson, The Politics of Environment: The British Experience (London: Tom Stacey, 1973).

On the rise of Italian environmentalism, see Mario Diani, Green Networks: A Structural Analysis of the Italian Environmental Movement (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1995); and James Sievert, The Origins of Nature Conservation in Italy (Bern: Peter Lang, 2000).

To read about the influence of the anti-nuclear movement and Chernobyl on the rise of environmentalism in Europe, see Diani, Green Networks; E. Gene Frankland, “The Austrian Greens: From Electoral Alliance to Political Party,” in Wolfgang Rüdig, ed., Green Politics Three (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1995); Graeme Hayes, Environmental Protest and the State in France (Basingstroke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002), ch. 1. On the impact of Chernobyl, see Martin Rhodes, “Italy: Greens in an Overcrowded Political System,” in Dick Richardson and Chris Rootes, eds., The Green Challenge: The Development of Green Parties in Europe (London: Routledge, 1995), 174; and Joseph Szarka, The Shaping of Environmental Policy in France (New York: Berghahn, 2002).

On the reddening of the Greens, see John Burchell, The Evolution of Green Politics: Development and Change within European Green Parties (London: Earthscan, 2002), ch. 1; Paul Lucardie, Jelle van der Knoop, Wijbrandt van Schuur, and Gerrit Voerman, “Greening the Reds or Reddening the Greens? The Case of the Green Left in the Netherlands,” in Rüdig, ed., Green Politics Three; and Tad Shull, Redefining Red and Green: Ideology and Strategy in European Political Ecology (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999), ch. 2.