Fifty Years Since 'Silent Spring': Rediscovering Rachel Carson

By: Mark Roberto '13

Advising Faculty: James Downs

50 years ago, the sight of large scale DDT spraying from an aircraft flying over agricultural lands or a truck in a suburban neighborhood might not have not have been viewed as dangerous. In fact, it probably would have been seen as progress. Rachel Carson’s iconic book, Silent Spring, changed the American public’s perspective on the use of pesticides and spraying and jump-started the contemporary environmental movement.

My SIP takes a look at the making of Silent Spring, 50 years after its publication, and provides an analysis of the press and reactions it received.

I performed my research in the Linda Lear Center for Special Collections and Archives in the Rachel Carson Collection. The collection is a gift from Connecticut College alumna and author of Rachel Carson: Witness for Nature, Linda Lear. I began my research with an investigation of the reviews and reactions to the book starting in the fall of 1962 continuing into the mid-1960s. I focused largely on the critiques and negative reactions to the book with special attention the multi-million dollar publicity campaigns of the chemical and agricultural industries. My sources for this work included newspaper and magazine articles and reviews of the book and a variety of chemical and agricultural industry publications. The second stage of my research was an investigation of the books creation. My sources for this study were largely correspondence between Rachel and her publisher, literary agent, scientists, and friends. What I found within this correspondence was not always expected and made for interesting work. In an attempt to make this history project relevant today, I have applied my findings to the current environmental movement and how its leaders can learn from Rachel Carson’s success.

Related Fields: Environment, Goodwin-Niering Center, History