I had emailed historian Donald Worster for his thoughts on some criticisms of Ken Burns’ Dust Bowl documentary (more background here). Worster, who is teaching in China, didn’t respond by deadline. But here’s a representative excerpt from what I got from him today:
Riney-Kehrberg omits one additional factor: When you destroy the native vegetation, you remove the only defense against those other variables. I am amazed that she and a few others stolidly refuse that obvious fact, one that many farmers up and down the plains would readily (admit).
As for children giving a worse reading of the tragedy, this seems to me to run counter to historical memory. Usually the kids don’t know how bad things are; it is the parents who know and have to face the hard times. And who else but former children are we to talk to today? The film did quote extensively from ADULT observers of the time, including the remarkable writer Caroline Henderson.
I have not read Cunfer’s latest article on GIS analysis. Is he claiming that the dust was blowing worse on native grasslands than on tilled areas? If so, that runs against the observations of many others, including notable scientists who were observing conditions in the thirties. Go look at the work of Paul Sears at the University of Oklahoma, in that period, or especially the field research of John E. Weaver at the University of Nebraska. Plus more recently (1970s) satellite photos taken by Oklahoma scientists dramatically show how native vegetation holds the soil in place far better than tilled fields.
Once again, I suggest that we have one or two people trying to “prove” with dubious methods what runs against all direct observation, ecological knowledge, and common sense. I am reminded of the climate deniers.