Story posted April 11, 2011
Matthew Klingle, Bowdoin Associate Professor of History and Environmental Studies, has been awarded a New Directions Fellowship from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Klingle was one of only 15 scholars nationwide chosen for the fellowship.
The highly competitive grant supports established scholars in the humanities and humanistic social sciences who are embarking on new, long-term scholarship that holds great potential, but often requires substantive and methodological training outside their discipline.
Klingle is an expert on the history of the American city and the North American West. His book, Emerald City: An Environmental History of Seattle (Yale University Press, 2007), was named best book in American frontier history by the Organization of American Historians in 2009.
Klingle's new research explores the environmental history of diabetes and chronic disease in the United States, beginning in the late 19th century to the present day. Klingle will track how changes in nutrition, plus other environmental and social factors, explain the increase of diabetes—particularly Type 2 diabetes—among certain groups: Native Americans, African Americans, and the rural and urban poor.
"Until recently, scientists believed that only microorganisms generated epidemic disease," observes Klingle. "Soaring rates of diabetes nationally and globally have prompted many to reconsider what defines an epidemic. As a result, some epidemiologists now consider diabetes both an 'old' ailment, like smallpox, as well as a 'new' or emerging disease, like HIV/AIDS.
"The possible causes of the explosion are complicated," he says. "Obesity is a major basis for Type 2 diabetes, but other factors interact with genes and diet, including, possibly, exposure to persistent organic pollutants found in pesticides and herbicides, or reduced contact to allergens thanks to modern hygiene. All of these sources are environmental and ultimately historical too."
Klingle will work closely with faculty at Harvard School of Public Health, colleagues at Bowdoin, and with biomedical authorities in Maine over the next three years to explore the complexities of diabetes through new scholarship in biomedicine, public health, medical history and ethics.
"The Mellon award is an incredible honor," says Klingle. "It provides a rare opportunity to follow new intellectual paths, take scholarly risks, and receive the necessary training to make the journey successful."