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Environmental Humanities Working Group

Spring 2012

Why do we have environmental problems? What shapes our ideas about nature, and about the human place in the natural world? The Environmental Humanities Working Group is bringing together the insights of history, literature, journalism, philosophy, aesthetics, and other disciplines to analyze and understand the environmental predicaments of the 21st century. Although we look to the sciences and the social sciences for their own expertise, we take for granted that neither are sufficient to understand the complex ways people relate to the non-human world.

The Environmental Humanities Working Group has three principal missions.

  • We have designed a new minor to help students use the tools of the humanities to think more rigorously and imaginatively about environmental issues. Information on the humanities minor can be found on the english website.
  • We are creating opportunities for scholars in different fields to collaborate on environmental research.
  • And we are planning public programs about environmental questions, including community readings and discussions of important books and ideas.

McKay Jenkins is a journalist, nonfiction writer, and scholar of American studies, specializing in environmental studies and the history, journalism, and literature of race relations and social justice. Books include What’s Gotten Into Us: Staying Healthy in a Toxic World (Random House, 2011), which chronicles the myriad synthetic chemicals we encounter in our daily lives, and the growing body of evidence about the harm these chemicals do to our bodies and the environment. Other books: Bloody Falls of the Coppermine: Madness and Murder in the Arctic Barren Lands (Random House, 2005), the true tale of a pair of French Catholic missionaries who were murdered in the Arctic by a pair of Inuit hunters, and the trial and troubling cultural consequences of this strange event. The Last Ridge: America’s First Mountain Soldiers and the Assault on Hitler’s Europe (Random House, 2003), the story of the fabled 10th Mountain Division’s exploits training at high altitudes in Colorado and its missions in the mountains of Italy during World War II. The White Death: Tragedy and Heroism in an Avalanche Zone (Random House, 2000) is the true story of five young mountaineers who, after setting out to make the first winter ascent of the highest peak in Montana’s Glacier National Park, were killed in a massive avalanche that led to one of the country’s largest search and rescue missions. The South in Black and White: Race, Sex, and Literature in the 1940s (Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1999) explores the influence of racial history and sexual mores on the literature of the American South in the decades immediately preceding the Civil Rights Movement. Jenkins is also the editor of The Peter Matthiessen Reader (Vintage, 2000), an anthology of the American nature writer’s most enduring nonfiction work.

Adam Rome is an environmental historian of the United States. His first book, The Bulldozer in the Countryside: Suburban Sprawl and the Rise of American Environmentalism, won the Organization of American Historians’ Frederick Jackson Turner award. His history of the first Earth Day (1970) is forthcoming from Hill and Wang. He also has written about environmental reform in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era – the period when Americans first tried to stop pollution, conserve natural resources, and preserve wild places and wild creatures. From 2002 through 2005, he edited Environmental History, the leading journal in the field. He also is a member of the English department, where he teaches courses on environmental non-fiction, and he is co-director of the College of Arts and Sciences’ environmental-humanities initiative. He earned his B.A. from Yale and his Ph.D. from the University of Kansas.

Susan Barton, Ph.D. is an extension specialist and associate professor in the Plant and Soil Sciences Department at the University of Delaware. She has worked closely for the past 13 years with DelDOT to research and implement new roadside vegetation management strategies. She has also worked with partners to develop the Plants for a Livable Delaware Program, designed to provide alternatives to known invasive plants species. She teaches Plants and Human Culture, Nursery and Garden Center Management, Students of Our Environment and coordinates the Landscape Horticulture Internship. She also works closely with the nursery and landscape industry, writing newsletters, organizing short courses and conducting horticulture industry expos with the Delaware Nursery and Landscape Association. Barton is working on a collaborative team with USDA watershed funding to measure water quality and other ecosystem services (carbon sequestration, plant and insect diversity, etc.) in five watersheds at Winterthur Museum and Gardens (2012-2014). She is spearheading the educational role in the project demonstrating and communicating sustainable landscape practices to homeowners and green industry members. Barton recently published a brochure entitled Livable Ecosystems: A Model for Suburbia, the fourth in the Plants for a Livable Delaware series. She received the Nursery Extension Award in 1995 from the American Nursery and Landscape Association and the Ratledge Award for service from UD in 2007.

Jacob (Jake) L. Bowman is an associate professor of Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware. He received his B.S. in Forestry and Wildlife with a minor in Biology from Virginia Tech in 1992, his M.S. in Wildlife Ecology with a minor in Statistics from Mississippi State University (MSU) in 1996, and his Ph.D. in Forest Resources with an emphasis in Wildlife Ecology from MSU in 1999. Additionally, he has worked for the USDI National Park Service at Shenandoah National Park and contracted with the USDOD at the Armed Forces Experimental Activity. He was vice-president of the Student Chapter of the Wildlife Society at VA Tech and president of the Student Chapter of the Wildlife Society at MSU. He has served as Delaware delegate-at-large, president-elect, president, and past-president of the Maryland/Delaware State Chapter of the Wildlife Society. His research is focused on large mammal ecology and management (primarily black bears and white-tailed deer) with interests in human-wildlife interactions, GIS applications in wildlife ecology, and population dynamics. He is graduate and undergraduate coordinator for the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology. He teaches three required courses in the Wildlife Conservation Curriculum and has led seven study abroad programs to five continents.

Huantian Cao is an associate professor in the Department of Fashion and Apparel Studies at the University of Delaware. He obtained his Ph.D. degree in Textile Sciences from the University of Georgia. Prior to joining UD in 2008, he had been a faculty member in Oklahoma State University for six years. He teaches Fundaments of Textiles I and II and online graduate certificate courses in Socially Responsible and Sustainable Apparel Business. His research interests include: protective clothing for agricultural, industrial, homeland security and military applications; and sustainable design and development in textiles and apparel. His teaching, research and outreach projects have been funded by the National Science Foundation, Environmental Protection Agency, and Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology. He has advised seven student projects to participate in the EPA People, Prosperity, and the Planet Student Design Competition for Sustainability (P3 Award). His research has been published in a variety of peer-reviewed journals, including Textile Research Journal, Dyes & Pigments, International Journal of Clothing Science & Technology, and the American Journal of Environmental Sciences.

James Kendra, Ph.D., is an associate professor in the School of Public Policy and Administration and Director of the Disaster Research Center. Previously, he was coordinator of the Emergency Administration and Planning Program in the Department of Public Administration at the University of North Texas. His research interests focus on individual and organizational responses to risk, improvisation and creativity during crisis, post-disaster shelter and housing, and planning for behavioral health services. Projects have included research on the reestablishment of New York City’s emergency operations center after the 9/11 attacks, a major study of the waterborne evacuation of Manhattan on 9/11, research on the social impacts of the Indian Ocean tsunami, and research on the organization of disaster behavioral health services.

Kendra has participated in several quick response disaster reconnaissance trips, including the 2001 World Trade Center attacks, 2003 Midwest tornadoes, the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, and Hurricane Ike in 2008, as well as documenting maritime relief efforts in the U.S. following the 2010 Haiti earthquake. He has been involved in several emergency planning and exercise efforts, and he is a Certified Emergency Manager. He graduated from Massachusetts Maritime Academy with a degree in marine transportation and served several years at sea, attaining a Master Mariner license. His master’s degree is in geography from the University of Massachusetts, and his Ph.D. is in geography from Rutgers University.

Sandy Isenstadt teaches the history of modern architecture in the Art History department at the University of Delaware, concentrating on developments in Europe and the United States, but including as well the global spread of modernism. His writings span post-World War II reformulations of modernism by émigré architects, along with various aspects of the material culture of everyday life, including refrigerators, picture windows, landscape views, real estate appraisal and electric light. His 2006 book, The Modern American House: Spaciousness and Middle-Class Identity, which won the Spiro Kostof Award from the Society of Architectural Historians, describes the visual enhancement of physical space in the architectural, interior, and landscape design of American domestic architecture from the mid-19th to the mid-20th century. A co-edited volume, Modernism and the Middle East: Politics of the Built Environment, published in fall 2008, is the first book-length treatment of modern architecture in the Middle East. Current projects include "Electric Modernism," which historicizes the novel luminous spaces introduced by electric lighting in the early 20th century and "The Rise and Fall of Modern Shopping," a co-authored book focusing on the spatial infrastructure of shopping as it changed from the Renaissance through today.

Del Levia is an associate professor of Ecohydrology in the Geography Department with a secondary appointment in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences. He also serves as associate chair of Geography and is director of the Environmental Science and Environmental Studies Programs. His research seeks to better understand the transport and alteration of water and solutes as they are transmitted through forest canopies. Such research ranges from the effects of trees on the character of dissolved organic matter to the effects of canopy drip on snowpack strength in relation to the avalanche hazard. Levia’s teaching includes Conservation of Natural Resources (GEOG 235), Proseminar in Environmental Science (ENSC 450), Bioclimatology (GEOG 342), and Environmental Field Methods (ENSC 425).

Victor Perez is an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice. His current research examines the social construction of lay health knowledge online and in the local community. A recent project examined how the internet functioned to propel the movement linking vaccines to autism, and he is currently working on how lay persons understand cancer clusters in Delaware. His work will involve students interested in environmental justice and health social movements in local Delaware.

Thomas M. Powers is an assistant professor in the Department of Philosophy and in the School of Public Policy at the University of Delaware, and a faculty research fellow of the Delaware Biotechnology Institute. He directs the Center for Science, Ethics, and Public Policy (SEPP ) at UD. His research concerns ethics and emerging technologies, environmental ethics, and the responsible conduct of scientific research. He is principal investigator of NSF-RAISE, an educational program in research ethics for science and engineering graduate students, which is ongoing at UD.