Steven Stoll on Private Property

The notion of private property—that land can be owned and put to private use—is deeply ingrained in contemporary society. Yet it’s an idea that’s barely five-hundred years old. Orion editor Scott Gast speaks with Steven Stoll, a scholar of environmental history, who makes the case that private property isn’t only a relatively recent cultural artifact, but one with consequences that are deep and troubling. Stoll’s essay on the subject, “No Man’s Land,” appears in the January/February 2016 issue of the magazine.


  1. I find the idea of land ownership and private property so fascinating. It has never sat well with me that a small quarry across the road from my family cabin was for decades a common space, due to the fact that the owners gave us loose permission to be there. Then the land changed ownership and we lost that right. Still, it is hardly occupied, and we can’t presumably set foot on it. Conversely and oddly I would feel strange if I knew people were occupying my family’s cabin land, though no one from our family was there. I know we just have to get over this strange feeling of exclusive ownership of land that really is all of ours.

    The author brings up an excellent model of owning your small house ply and sharing most of the land around in common. I wonder if the land trust that we live in is something close to this? We have a 99 year lease with the land trust. If the land trust folds, the land goes to the city. We own our house and are stewards of the land. The odd thing is that we could still could destroy everything on the land if we wanted and it is not set up on purpose for the common good. Though maybe I haven’t read the lease that closely!

  2. Most land trusts can be bought out at a price….Hire a Good Lawyer.
    My Dad did it with Railroad Property so I know it can be done.

Submit Your Comments

Please Note: Before submitting, copy your comment to your clipboard, be sure every required field is filled out, and only then submit.