American Studies Program

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“New Perspectives in Environmental History”
A Northeast Regional Conference
Burke Auditorium, Kroon Hall
Yale University, Saturday, April 12, 2014
New Haven, Connecticut


Graduate Student Presenters    *     Faculty Chairs and Commentators

Abstracts for each paper are also available.

Additional biographical information coming soon.

Graduate Student Presenters

Leah Aronowsky: Leah Aronowsky is a graduate student in the History of Science Program at Harvard University. She is currently developing a dissertation project on the history of science exploration and natural history collecting in the nineteenth-century United States, with a particular focus on the visual and material culture of expeditions. Leah graduated from Wesleyan University with a BA in Science in Society, and worked at a health policy think-tank at Columbia University before coming to Harvard. 

Steven Elliot: Steven Elliott is a PhD. student in history at Temple University. He holds a BA in history from The College of New Jersey and an MA in history from Rutgers University-Newark. Primarily interested in early American military history, Steven’s research has focused on the Continental Army during the American Revolution and its relationship with civilian populations, as well as the army’s interaction with the natural world. A lifelong northern New Jersey resident, Steven has also worked intermittently as a historical interpreter with the National Park Service for the past five years.

Faisal Husain: Faisal Husain is a PhD student at Georgetown University’s Department of History, where he holds the Environmental History Fellowship offered by the Department. In 2011 and before going to Georgetown, he earned a master’s degree in history from Yale University. Husain’s doctoral dissertation research focuses on the environmental history of the Mesopotamian alluvium during the Ottoman period, with particular focus on the Tigris and Euphrates river systems, wetland formation and habitation, and steppe-sown relations.

Adrián Lerner: Adrián Lerner is a third year student in the History PhD Program and a member of the first cohort of the Interdisciplinary Graduate Concentration in the Humanities at Yale University. His dissertation project at Yale focuses on the environmental and public health aspects of the history of urban growth in Amazonia during the twentieth century. Previous research and publications deal with the history of public health and human rights in Fujimori’s Peru, the history of Peruvian-Brazilian diplomatic relations, and ideas about development and inequality in Latin America. 

Timothy Lorek is a PhD student in Yale’s History Department and the student coordinator of the Environmental History Working Group. His dissertation focuses on agricultural development projects in Colombia’s Cauca Valley in the context of the hemispheric Cold War. He has also conducted research on agrarian landscapes in the New Mexico-Chihuahua borderlands and, on a different note, Chilean history textbooks during the Pinochet regime. He holds a MA in history from the University of New Mexico and formerly worked with the Agri-Cultura Network, a farming cooperative in Albuquerque.

Laura Martin: Laura Martin is a doctoral candidate at Cornell University studying the intellectual and cultural history of ecological restoration in the twentieth-century United States. She is the recipient of a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship in evolutionary ecology, and is interested in the convergence of humanistic and scientific research.

Derek Lee Nelson: Derek Lee Nelson is a PhD candidate in History at the University of New Hampshire, where he studies marine and littoral environmental history.  His dissertation, “The Ravages of Teredo” explores the long forgotten, but significant relationship between coastal communities and marine invasive species around the turn of the twentieth century.  His teaching interests lie in North American environmental history and American food systems. 

Peter Oviatt: Peter Oviatt is a first year doctoral student in the HASTS program (History | Anthropology | Science, Technology and Society) at MIT. He earned a MA in Politics from the New School for Social Research. His research explores how fungi beneficially impact ecologies and economies. Peter’s current work examines the wide array of cultivation methods for edible and medicinal mushrooms, as well as the emerging technologies that employ microfungi for agricultural applications and bioremediation.

Sayd Randle: Sayd Randle is a doctoral student in the combined forestry & environmental studies and anthropology program at Yale University. Her dissertation research traces the history and politics of water supply “relocalization” initiatives in Los Angeles. She holds a BA in English literature from Williams College, an M.Phil in geography from the University of Cambridge, and a home greywater system installation certification from the California-based non-profit group Greywater Action. She plans to begin her dissertation fieldwork in July 2014.

Philip Rotz: Philip Rotz is a Ph.D. candidate in African history at Boston University. Prior to graduate study, he worked in public health programs in Southern Africa for the Harvard School of Public Health and Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI). Phil’s primary research interests are located at the intersection of environmental, urban, and health history. He will begin fieldwork later this year on a dissertation that focuses on dengue fever and the vector ecology of the aedes aegypti mosquito to explore the urban environmental of history of Durban, South Africa.

Matthew Shutzer: Matthew Shutzer is a graduate student in the Department of History at New York University. In addition to his current focus on geology and development planning, he is broadly interested in the creation of scientific and economic knowledge in the context of global imperialism. Matthew holds a BA in History from Northeastern University and was previously a Fulbright-Nehru grantee in Odisha, India where he studied land redistribution and forest policy.


Faculty Chairs and Commentators

Robert Harms, is the H. J. Heinz Professor of History and African Studies at Yale University.  He is the author of River of Wealth, River of Sorrow:  The Central Zaire Basin in the Era of the Slave and Ivory Trade, 1500-1891 (Yale University Press, 1981), the award-winning book Games Against Nature: An Eco-Cultural History of the Nunu of Equatorial Africa (Cambridge University Press, 1987/1999), the multiple-award-winning book The Diligent: A Voyage Through the Worlds of the Slave Trade (Basic Books, 2002), and co-editor of Paths Toward the Past:  African Historical Essays in Honor of Jan Vansina. (African Studies Association Press, 1994), and Indian Ocean Slavery in the Age of Abolition (Yale University Press, 2013).  He is currently doing research on the making of colonialism in equatorial Africa.

Karen Hébert is a cultural anthropologist whose research examines the development and implications of changing forms of natural resource production and consumption. Her work is situated in resource-dependent communities in the subarctic North. She has conducted long-term ethnographic fieldwork in southwest Alaska, where she has analyzed historical and recent transformations in the region’s salmon industry. Her research and teaching interests focus on issues of globalization and economic restructuring; the rise of market-driven policy paradigms and new modes of consumerism; the regulation of fisheries and agro-food systems; the production and experience of ecological risk and vulnerability; human-environment relations and sustainable livelihoods; and the sociocultural theory of environment and economy.

Karl Jacoby teaches environmental, borderlands, and Native American history at Columbia University.  His books include Crimes Against Nature: Squatters, Poachers, Thieves and the Hidden History of American Conservation and Shadows at Dawn: A Borderlands Massacre and the Violence of History.

Daniel J. Kevles, who took his doctorate at Princeton, teaches and writes at the intersection of the history of science and technology and the history of modern America. His works include The Physicists: the History of a Scientific Community in Modern America (1978), In the Name of Eugenics: Genetics and the Uses of Human Heredity (1985), and The Baltimore Case: A Trial of Politics, Science, and Character (1998). He is a coauthor of Inventing America: A History of the United States (2002; 2nd ed., 2006), and he is a contributor to the New York Review of Books, where several of his essays on environmental history have appeared. He teaches the History of Science and Technology in the U.S., which deals in part with environmental issues, and the Engineering and Ownership of Life. He is currently writing a history of innovation and intellectual property in living organisms. He is the Stanley Woodward Professor of History as well as Professor of American Studies and adjunct Professor of Law and former chair of the Program in the History of Science and Medicine.

James McCann’s research and teaching interests include agricultural and ecological history of Africa, Ethiopia, and the Horn of Africa, field research methods in African studies, the agro-ecology of tropical disease, and the history of food/cuisine in Africa and the Atlantic world. He is the author of five books: Stirring the Pot: A History of African Cuisine (2010); Maize and Grace: A History of Africa’s Encounter with a New World Crop (2005); Green Land, Brown Land, Black Land: An Environmental History of Africa (1999); People of the Plow: An Agricultural History of Ethiopia (1995); From Poverty to Famine in Northeast Ethiopia: Rural History, 1900-1995 (1989). He has published articles and reviews in the American Historical Review, Journal of African History, the International Journal of African Historical Studies, Comparative Studies in Society and History, the Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Environmental History, International Journal of Sustainability, and Northeast African Studies. His books have been reviewed in Nature, Foreign Affairs, the Times Literary Supplement, and the Times Educational Supplement.

Alan Mikhail is Professor of History at Yale University.  He is the author of The Animal in Ottoman Egypt (Oxford University Press, 2014) and Nature and Empire in Ottoman Egypt: An Environmental History (Cambridge University Press, 2011), and editor of Water on Sand: Environmental Histories of the Middle East and North Africa (Oxford University Press, 2013).

Peter C. Perdue has a Ph.D. (1981) from Harvard University in the field of History and East Asian Languages. He is the author of Exhausting the Earth: State and Peasant in Hunan 1500-1850 A.D.(Council on East Asian Studies, Harvard University, 1987) and China Marches West: The Qing Conquest of Central Eurasia (Harvard University Press, 2005), which won the Joseph Levenson Prize of the Association of Asian Studies. He has also written on grain markets in China, agricultural development, and environmental history. His research interests lie in modern Chinese and Japanese social and economic history, history of frontiers, and world history. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2007. Follow him on Twitter at @Pcperdue.

Harriet Ritvo teaches courses in British history, environmental history, the history of human-animal relations, and the history of natural history. She is the author of The Dawn of Green: Manchester, Thirlmere, and Modern Environmentalism (Chicago UP, 2009), The Platypus and the Mermaid, and Other Figments of the Classifying Imagination (Harvard UP, 1997), The Animal Estate: The English and Other Creatures in the Victorian Age (Harvard UP, 1987), and Noble Cows and Hybrid Zebras: Essays on Animals and History (Virginia, 2010); she is also the co-editor of Macropolitics of Nineteenth-Century Literature: Nationalism, Imperialism, Exoticism (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991), and the editor of Charles Darwin's The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998). Her articles and reviews on British cultural history, environmental history, and the history of human-animal relations have appeared in a wide range of periodicals, including The London Review of Books, Science, Daedalus, The American Scholar, Technology Review, and The New York Review of Books, as well as scholarly journals in several fields.

Paul Sabin is Associate Professor of History at Yale University.  He is the author of The Bet: Paul Ehrlich, Julian Simon, and Our Gamble Over Earth’s Future (2013) and Crude Politics: The California Oil Market, 1900-1940 (University of California Press, 2005).  His current research examines the evolution and impact of modern environmental law and regulation in the United States. Sabin coordinates Yale Environmental History, and helps run Yale’s undergraduate Environmental Studies major.  Sabin received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley, and was a Newcomen Post-Doctoral Fellow in business history at the Harvard Business School.  He was the founding executive director of the Environmental Leadership Program, a national nonprofit organization.

Aaron Sachs is Associate Professor of History at Cornell University. He is the author of The Humboldt Current: Nineteenth-Century Exploration and the Roots of American Envionmentalism (2006) and Arcadian America: The Death and Life of an Environmental Tradition (2013). He teaches courses on environmental history, commodification and consumerism, and the practice of writing history.

Alistair Sponsel is a historian of modern science with special interest in the history of geographical exploration, the environmental and life sciences, and the physical and earth sciences. His current research focuses on Charles Darwin's early career and on the history of coral reef science. His book "Darwin's First Theory" will be published in 2014 by the University of Chicago Press. Alistair received his PhD in history of science from Princeton University in 2009. He comes to Vanderbilt from Harvard University, where he was a postdoctoral fellow and lecturer in the Department of the History of Science and manager of the U.S. office of the Darwin Correspondence Project. He was previously a Smithsonian Institution postdoctoral fellow. His research has been awarded prizes by the History of Science Society and the Geological Society of America. In 2013 he was named the Ritter Memorial Fellow by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. The Ritter Fellowship is a biennial award to a historian, scientist, or other scholar whose research enlarges and deepens understanding of the history of the earth, ocean, and atmospheric sciences. At Vanderbilt he teaches courses on the history of science, science and empire, environmental history, and the history of exploration. He will be on leave in 2013-2014.

We are grateful to our Co-Sponsors and Supporters:

Department of History, Yale University
MacMillan Center at Yale
Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies

Program in the History of Science and Medicine, Yale University