My first book, Emerald City: An Environmental History of Seattle, surveys almost two hundred years of human and natural history in one of North America’s most beautiful cities. Combining environmental history, urban history, and human geography, Emerald City shows how attempts to reshape nature in and around Seattle have often ended not only in ecological disaster but also social inequality. The price of Seattle’s centuries of growth and progress has been paid by its wildlife, including the famous Pacific salmon, and its poorest residents. In this book, I propose a new way of understanding the interdependence between nature and culture, arguing for an “ethic of place.” Using Seattle as a compelling case study, Emerald City offers important insights for every city seeking to live in harmony with its natural landscape.
My current book project, Sweet Blood: Diabetes and the Nature of Modern Health, under contract with Yale University Press, combines incisive research and engaging storytelling to explain how today’s crisis grows from our changing relationship with nature. It asks questions at the heart of the humanities: Who or what is to blame for the diabetes outbreak: human behavior, genetics and evolution, or an altered environment? Why has diabetes afflicted Americans unevenly, and should society address these inequities? And what connections between human nature and physical nature might promote and sustain health? The project illuminates these questions by examining the environmental, cultural, political, and scientific history of diabetes in the United States and the world from the Gilded Age to the present day. In the process, Sweet Blood argues for an expanded idea of what counts as the environment, an important contribution to address the diabetes epidemic. The project combines archival research with oral history and new training in the biomedical sciences and public health thanks to a New Directions Fellowship from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and a Public Scholar Award from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Given the staggering complexity of diabetes, an historical study of its etiology and ecology can pose vital questions about medical research, disease prevention and treatment, public policy, and the shifting meanings of health and nature in America. Ultimately, I hope to help tell stories that explore the origins of the diabetes epidemic that may shed light on possible ways to address it today and into the future.
In another project, I’ve collaborated with my friend and Bowdoin colleague, Michael Kolster (Visual Art), to explore America’s maligned industrial waterways. One river in our project, the Androscoggin River of Maine/New Hampshire, which allegedly inspired the 1972 Clean Water Act, remains veiled in stereotype and hides in plain sight. Our project reconsiders the hidden past and neglected present of this and other iconic rivers through photography, oral history, archival research, and creative non-ﬁction writing. In our work, we ask how injured rivers might reveal an ethic of place whereby Americans might rediscover the beauties and possibilities of the great nearby that so many of us call home. Our project has yielded a website--A River Lost and Found: The Androscoggin River in Place and Time--plus articles and a book--Take Me to the River: Photographs of Atlantic Rivers--showcasing Kolster's photographs and including essays by me and Alison Nordström, former Senior Curator at George Eastman House
Emerald City: An Environmental History of Seattle, The Lamar Series in Western History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007; trade paper edition and Kindle, 2008). Ray Allen Billington Prize, Best Book in American Frontier History (awarded biennially), Organization of American Historians, 2009
“Atlantic Rivers, Lost and Found” for Michael Kolster, Take Me to the River: Photographs of Atlantic Rivers with essays by Alison Nordström and Matthew Klingle (Staunton, VA: George F. Thompson Publishing, 2016), 213-27
“Inescapable Paradoxes: Diabetes, Progress, and Ecologies of Inequality,” in “Forum: Technology, Ecology, and Human Health since 1850,” Environmental History 20 (October 2015): 736-50
"The Nature of Desire: Consumption in Environmental History," in The Oxford Handbook of Environmental History, Andrew C. Isenberg, ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 467-512
“Frontier Ghosts along the Urban Pacific Slope,” for Frontier Cities: Recovering Encounters at the North American Crossroads of Empire, Jay Gitlin, Adam Arenson, and Barbara Berglund, eds. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012), 121-45
“Fishy Thinking: Salmon and the Presence of History in Urban Environmental Politics,” in Cities and Nature in the American West, Char Miller, ed. (Reno: University of Nevada Press, 2010), 73-95
“Fair Play: Outdoor Recreation and Environmental Inequality in Twentieth-century Seattle,” in The Nature of Cities: Culture, Landscape, and Urban Space Studies in Comparative History Series, Andrew Isenberg, ed. (Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press in association with the Shelby Cullom Davis Center for Historical Studies at Princeton University, 2006), 122-56
“Changing Spaces: Nature, Property, and Power in Seattle, 1890-1945,” Journal of Urban History 32 (January 2006), 197-230
“Fluid Dynamics: Water, Power, and the Reengineering of Seattle’s Duwamish River,” (Special Issue: Urban Water in the West), Journal of the West 44 (Summer 2005): 22-29
“Spaces of Consumption in Environmental History,” (Theme Issue: Environment and History), History and Theory 42 (December 2003): 94-110
“Plying Atomic Waters: Lauren R. Donaldson and the ‘Fern Lake concept’ of Fisheries Management,” Journal of the History of Biology, 31 (Spring 1998): 1-32. Awarded the 1999 Alice Hamilton Prize, Best Article in Environmental History (published outside of the journal Environmental History), American Society for Environmental History
Talks and Web Sites
Selected Invited Presentations
“Solvent Stories: Water and Power in North American History,” keynote address for "Water and the Making of Place in North America," 2016-17 Graduate Student Conference, Program in American Studies, Princeton University, October 14-16, 2016
"Commodities Enchained: Diet, Environment and the Diabetes Epidemic in Native North America,” 2016 Sigerist Circle Panel: “Environment, Justice and Health History” at the American Association for the History of Medicine, Minneapolis, April 28, 2016
“‘Killer Diseases,’ the McGovern Committee and the Nature of American Health Inequities,” Wellesley College, November 28, 2015
“‘Pathfinders for Health’?: Diabetes and the Co-Construction of Health Knowledge in Cold War North America,” Cold War Indigeneity in Science and Medicine Symposium, Yale University, September 3-4, 2015
"A Disease of Civilization?: Diabetes, Race, and the Changing Nature of American Health," Harvard History of Medicine Working Group, September 30, 2013; and part of "Environmental History: A Lecture Series," Carnegie Mellon University, February 13, 2014
“Sweet Blood: Toward an Environmental History of Diabetes, Chronic Disease, and Race in North America,” Center for Historical Research, Program in Health, Disease, and Environment in World History, The Ohio State University, March 1, 2013
“Natives, Environment, and the Changing Nature of Diabetes Mellitus Epidemiology,” History of Science and History of Medicine Colloquium, Yale University, November 12, 2012
“A River Lost and Found: The Androscoggin River in Place and Time” (with Michael Kolster, Associate Professor of Art, Bowdoin College), Bates College, October 17, 2011
“Goodbye Yellow Brick Road: The Nature of Inequity in the American Metropolis,” Environmental Studies Program Colloquium, Colby College, March 8, 2011
“Hard Green: The Changing Natures of American Inequality,” Keynote Address, Mellon 23 Collaborative Workshop on Nature, Race, and Ethnicity: Curriculum and Pedagogy, Middlebury College, October 15, 2010
“Natural Desires: Toward an Environmental History of American Consumerism,” Organization of American Historians Distinguished Lecturer, Nichols College, April 20, 2010
“The Nature of Equity in the American City,” Urban History Association Annual Luncheon at the Organization of American Historians Annual Meeting, Seattle, March 27, 2009
“Metronatural: The Northwestern City and Nature,” James Connelly Lecturer, University of Portland, October 2, 2008
“Beyond the Emerald City: History and an Ethic of Place,” University of Washington, April 18, 2008
“Metronatural Dreams, Metrotoxic Nightmares: History and Geographies of Inequality in Seattle,” Academic Salon Series “Human/Nature,” Seattle University, April 17, 2008
“Beyond the Emerald City: History and an Ethic of Place,” Washington State University, April 16, 2008
“Metronatural Dreams, Metrotoxic Nightmares: History and Geographies of Inequality in Seattle,” University of Idaho, April 15, 2008
“Metropolitan Empire: American Cities and the Pacific Rim” for “Frontier Cities: A Conference Commemorating the Work of John Francis McDermott and Richard Wade,” co-sponsored by the Howard R. Lamar Center for the Study of Frontiers and Borders, Yale University, and The St. Louis Mercantile Library Association, March 1, 2008
Selected Websites and Exhibitions
Guest Curator, “Frontier Visions: The American West in Image and Myth,” Bowdoin College Museum of Art, co-curated with the students of HIST 1020/ENVS 1015: Frontier Crossings: The Western Experience in American History, May 8-June 8, 2014
“A River Lost and Found: The Androscoggin River in Time and Place,” invited exhibition with Michael Kolster, Associate Professor of Visual Art, Bowdoin College Museum of Art, July 13-September 16, 2012
Interviewee and consultant, Field Notes: Observing Lake Union—An Audio Tour of the Cheshiahud Loop, Studio for Urban Projects, commissioned by Seattle Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs, 2010
“Solvent Stories: Water and Power in North American History,” keynote address, “Water and the Making of Place in North America,” Princeton University, October 14-15, 2016
“The Androscoggin River: A Living History,” curriculum project for Maine middle school students with Bowdoin College students & staff, 2006-10
“Building Nature: Topics in the Environmental History of Seattle and Spokane—A Curriculum Project for the History of the Pacific Northwest in Washington State Schools,” Seattle: Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest, University of Washington, 2006
Guest Curator, Beyond the Frontier: The Mythic West in American Art and Culture, Bowdoin College Museum of Art. Temporary exhibit for Environmental Studies/History 015: Frontier Crossings: The Western Experience in American History, February-March, 2002
Historian and Consultant, Salmon Stakes: People, Technology, Nature, Museum of History and Industry, Seattle. Permanent exhibit, opened January 1998“A History Bursting With Telling: Asian Americans in Washington State History—A Curriculum Project for the History of the Pacific Northwest in Washington State Schools,”
Honors and Service
Selected Honors and Fellowships
Public Scholar Award, National Endowment for the Humanities (for “Sweet Blood”), 2017-18
Franklin Research Grant, American Philosophical Society, 2016
Finalist (with Michael Kolster, Bowdoin College), Dorothea Lange-Paul Taylor Prize, Center for Documentary Studies, Duke University (for “Rivers Lost and Found”), 2014
Andrew W. Mellon Foundation New Directions Fellowship, 2011-15
Organization of American Historians Distinguished Lecturer, 2009-12, 2012-15, 2015-18
Ray Allen Billington Prize (for Emerald City), biennial award for the best book in American frontier history, Organization of American Historians, 2009
Sydney B. Karofsky Prize for Junior Faculty (for distinction in teaching), Bowdoin College, 2006
American Council of Learned Societies/Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship for Junior Faculty, 2004-05
Summer Stipend Award, National Endowment for the Humanities, 2004
National Fellow, Environmental Leadership Program, 2002-04
Best Dissertation in Urban History Prize, Urban History Association, 2002
Alice Hamilton Prize, Best Article in Environmental History (published outside of Environmental History), American Society for Environmental History, 1999
Selected Professional Service
Editorial Board, Environmental History, 2011-15
Committee Member, Ray Allen Billington Award for the Best Book in American Frontier History (biennial award), 2011-13
Board of Directors, Urban History Association, 2003-06, 2009-12
Best Dissertation in Urban History Prize Committee, Urban History Association, 2006
Board of Trustees, Environmental Leadership Program, 2004-06
Letters of Recommendation and Graduate School Advice
If you need a letter of recommendation from me, please follow these seven steps:
First, contact me by email, phone, or in person as soon as possible. Tell me exactly about the purpose of your letter. You can find my contact information on my official Bowdoin College web page.
Second, give me least two (2) weeks (preferably a month) in advance of any deadline so I can write a strong letter. Please note that I write letters ONLY for graduate or professional school applications, academic awards and fellowships, study away programs, pre-professional or academic internships, and post-graduate jobs. In general, I do NOT write letters for general summer jobs, camp counselor positions, etc. although I am happy to serve as a reference provided that you check with me first.
Third, tell me the purpose of your letter (internship, scholarship, graduate school, job application, etc.), your goals or motivations, and what you want from me as a recommender.
Fourth, include a short résumé or curriculum vitæ detailing your academic and extra-curricular activities, work experience, study abroad courses, etc. so I can add these details, if relevant, to my letter.
Fifth, include any forms (filled out in advance, please) and other material that you think might be helpful (personal statement, unofficial transcript, statement of purpose) to me before I write your letter. Also, please give me a self-addressed stamped envelope if I need to send the recommendation for you. One important suggestion: if you have the option to waive access to your letter, you should do so. Confidential letters carry more weight, and I will not agree to write a letter for any student that I cannot support.
Sixth, you should consider if you also need a general letter of recommendation. As of 1 July 2003, all credential file services, except for seniors pursuing teacher certification, will be managed by Interfolio. If you need to establish a credential file, contact the college's Career Planning Center for details. Realize that general letters come with certain advantages (you can use them indefinitely, or if I'm unavailable to write you another letter) and disadvantages (personalized letters can be more convincing), so plan accordingly.
Finally, if you need future letters, give me enough advance warning so I can tailor the copy I already have on hand for your needs.
Best of luck and keep in touch!
Advice for prospective graduate school applicants
Attending graduate school in any field is an exciting yet daunting decision, regardless of what degree you pursue. It is not a choice to be made lightly. Unlike college, graduate school is a full-time job; you are training to enter a competitive, specialized profession. It is no different in this sense than attending law, business, or medical school.
If you are considering graduate school, I urge you to read any one of the wonderful guidebooks listed below. I've found the Peters book to be especially useful.
(All but one of the links take you to Powell's, the world-famous independent bookstore in Portland, Oregon. If you purchase from Powell's, consider visiting the ILWU Local 5 Powell's Workers Portal, where 10% of your purchase be will paid directly to Powell's workers through the store's unique profit-sharing agreement.)
Robert L. Peters, Getting What You Came For: The Smart Student's Guide to Earning a Master's or a Ph.D (New York: Noonday Press, 1997).
Melanie S. Gustafson, Becoming a Historian: A Survival Manual--2003 Edition (Washington, D.C.: American Historical Association, 2003). Purchase on-line by visiting American Historical Association Publications.
Environmental Careers Organization, The Complete Guide to Environmental Careers in the 21st Century (Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 1998).
Julie Degalan, Great Jobs for Environmental Studies Majors (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2002).
Richard and Margot Jerrard, The Grad School Handbook: An Insider's Guide to Getting in and Succeeding (New York: Penguin, 1998).
Dale F. Bloom, Jonathan D. Karp, and Nicholas Cohen, The Ph.D. Process: A Student's Guide to Graduate School in the Sciences (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998).
Honors Theses Directed
An honors thesis is an opportunity for Bowdoin students to undertake advanced independent research on a topic of their choosing during their senior year while working closely with a faculty advisor. My colleagues in History and Environmental Studies advise honors theses in a variety of fields. Below is a list of the honors projects that I've supervised, along with the names of my colleagues who served on each reading committee.
If you are interested in undertaking an honors project in either History or Environmental Studies, be sure to contact your prospective faculty advisor well in advance of the fall semester of your senior year. Look on the departmental webpages (or contact Eileen Johnson in ES or Josie Johnson in History) for specific honors requirements.
Castro, Eduardo Enrique. "'En La Unión Está Fuerza': Social Activism and Latino Identity in Postwar Milwaukee" (Honors thesis, Department of History, 2014). ** Recipient of the Class of 1875 Prize in American History **
Committee members: David Hecht (History), Nishtha Singh (History/Asian Studies) and Connie Chiang (History/Environmental Studies)
Bernstein, Jennifer I-Ling. "Outpost of Idealism: The Amalgamated Housing Cooperative and the Pursuit of a Just Society" (Honors thesis, Department of History, 2006). **Recipient of the Class of 1875 Prize in American History**
Committee members: Jill Pearlman (Co-advisor, Environmental Studies), Daniel Levine (History), and David Hecht (History)
Branch, John Milo Mahaffey. "The Beat Cop is Back: Community Policing and the Politics of Crime in Post-1960s New York City" (Honors thesis, Department of History, 2016). **Recipient of the Class of 1875 Prize in American History**
Committee members: Brian Purnell (Africana Studies and History), Patrick Rael (History), and Jill Pearlman (Environmental Studies)
Clark, Gordon Clement. "Against the Current: The Yakima Struggle for Native Fishing Rights in Washington State, 1850-1950" (Honors thesis, Department of History, 2003). **Recipient of the Class of 1875 Prize in American History**
Committee members: Daniel Levine (History), Allen Wells (History/Latin American Studies), and Connie Chiang (History/Environmental Studies)
Davis, Ryan Ann Moloney. "No Common Ground: Management, Politics, and Compromise in the Gulf of Maine — A Documentary Video" (Honors thesis, Environmental Studies Program, 2004).
Committee members: DeWitt John (Government/Environmental Studies) and Anne Hayden (Environmental Studies)
Hon, Jimei Louise. "Becoming Cosmopolitan: Women, Alcohol, and Class Politics in New York City, 1880-1930 (Honors thesis, Department of History, 2009).
Committee members: Jennifer Scanlon (Gender and Women's Studies), David Hecht (History), and Karen Teoh (History)
Katzen, Jeremy Binder. "'Political Smog': Edmund Muskie and the Emergence of Modern Environmental Politics" (Honors thesis, Department of History, 2004). **Co-recipient of the Class of 1875 Prize in American History**
Committee members: DeWitt John (Government/Environmental Studies), Connie Chiang (History/Environmental Studies), and Daniel Levine (History)
Lipinoga, Sarah Beth. "Managing Oil and Nature in Eden: Transculturation and Resistance among the Huaorani of Eastern Ecuador" (Honors thesis, Environmental Studies Program, 2003).
Committee members: Allen Wells (History/Latin American Studies) and Enrique Yepes (Romance Languages/Latin American Studies)
McFarlane, Wallace Scot. "The Limits of Progress: Walter Lawrance and the Shifting Terrain of Science, Pollution, and Environmental Politics on Maine's Androscoggin River, 1941-1977" (Honors thesis, Department of History, 2009). **Co-recipient of the Class of 1875 Prize in American History**
Committee members: William Taylor (Muriel McKevitt Sonne Professor Emeritus, Department of History, UC Berkeley), Sarah McMahon (History), and Aaron Windel (History)
** Published as Wallace Scot McFarlane, “Defining a Nuisance: Pollution, Science, and Environmental Politics on Maine’s Androscoggin River,” Environmental History 17, no. 2 (April 2012): 307-335.
For more about Scot's journey from honors project to peer-reviewed publication, read this article from the Bowdoin Daily Sun, "Honors Thesis by Scot McFarlane '09 Published in Top Academic Journal," posted March 30, 2012; and this blog post by Scott on the Oxford University Press website in honor of 2012 Earth Day, "Cool, Clear Waters? On Cleaning Up US Rivers," posted April 20, 2012.
McKay, Luke Joseph. “‘No Man’s Garden’: The Changing Nature of the Wilderness Idea in Maine” (Honors thesis, Environmental Studies Program, 2007).
Committee members: David Vail (Economics) and John Lichter (Biology/Environmental Studies)
Thomson, Matthew William. "'A Personal Share in This Great Contest': The Civil War and Maine’s Fessenden Family" (Honors thesis, Department of History, 2006).Daniel LevineRachel SturmanConnie Chiang