Edited and with an Introduction by Richard E. Barringer, Illustrated by Jon Luoma

Gardiner and Portland: Tilbury House, Publishers, and the Muskie School of Public Service, 2004


Maine, Then and Now

As a onetime editor of Maine Times I can claim a minority interest in this fascinating book: editor Dick Barringer dedicates it to that newspaper’s founders, John Cole and Peter Cox, and the many talented people who contributed to it. “Without them,” he writes, “much of what is recorded here, and more, would not have come to pass.”

If Barringer is suggesting that much of the change that has occurred in Maine since 1960 is due to the influence of Maine Times, I’d beg to differ. (Newspapers, in my experience, rarely cause change or even make things better – if they’re doing their job they help us understand change by providing perspective.)

But he may be saying something else. Even little newspapers like Maine Times can effect some change by inducing us to think differently. In 1960, as Changing Maine makes clear, Maine was still the “company state,” dominated by paper companies, railroads and utilities; a place where the real decisions got horse-traded in the old Augusta House or up at the camp of one or another prominent (usually Republican) legislator. What Cole, Cox and Maine Times did was to look at this state of affairs and question it, and then move on from there to a lot of other states of affairs Mainers had accepted since the Great Depression and before.

And whether we attribute all of this to the aggressive reporting of the alternative press, or to demographic, technological, social and economic changes sweeping the country at the time, Maine changed. It began to grow in population; it developed a two-party political culture; it modernized its state and local governments; it moved away from dependence on traditional resource-based industries; it became part of the information economy; it took on many of the characteristics of the rest of the country, some good, some bad. It became less unique, in other words.

The fishing industry is a case in point. In 1960 Maine boats were still a major element in the New England groundfish fishery, heading far offshore to bring back healthy catches of cod and other species. By 2000, as we all know, the groundfish business was essentially gone, ruined by the combination of technology, poor management, greed and foreign competition that has done in other fisheries around the world. That’s the bleak side, reported in Changing Maine by Prof. Jim Wilson of the University of Maine. But Wilson, in his chapter, also reports the other, brighter side of the fisheries picture: the lobster industry’s remarkable success in developing a locally-based management system that has helped it thrive as groundfish and urchins have collapsed. The remaining questions for fisheries in general, Wilson notes, are whether we can develop management methods that work, and whether we’ll be able to preserve enough essential infrastructure for any fishing industry to function in the future.

Changing Maine originated in a series of lectures sponsored by the Muskie School of Public Service, where Barringer teaches. The lecturers – economists, sociologists, higher education experts, political scientists, planners and others – considered matters from housing to tax policy; government and civil society to the arts and the roles of women and Native Americans; from shifts in energy policy to changes in tourism and agriculture. It’s a very long list of topics, and the lectures (you’ve heard some of them on Public Radio) extended over many months.

The published result is a seminal volume that – in my opinion – reflects accurately the revolutions and evolutions that have occurred in Maine over the past four decades. If you were fortunate enough to live here back when things were getting started, or if you think you missed all the fun and want to know about it, read this book.

I only wish it had an index!

David D. Platt is editor of Working Waterfront.