Writing

My current writing project is a book on the place of nature in American holidays. My work on this topic draws from my graduate dissertation and has been featured in the Boston Globe.

I have published an assortment of book reviews, encyclopedia entries, and other small materials, but the two significant pieces–the ones I take the most pride in–are the two academic journal articles described below.

“Raising the Thanksgiving Turkey: Agroecology, Gender, and the Knowledge of Nature,” Environmental History 16:4 (October 2011): 651-77. The article is available for free. Simply click on the journal title. The article received some popular attention here.

In this essay, I examine the transformation of environmental knowledge from the nineteenth to the twentieth century, using the example of the Thanksgiving turkey. We often assume that knowledge about nature builds in our culture like scaffolding using all that is below to reach one floor higher. But as this piece shows, our culture is capable of forgetting a great deal of basic information about the natural world.

In the nineteenth century, American farmwomen commonly raised turkeys by crossing barnyard flocks with wild turkeys, yet a century later wildlife biologists and others claimed that wild turkeys and domestic turkeys had no common ancestor. The reasons for this historical amnesia stemmed from the gendered labor divisions of farming and hunting and how those practices themselves changed during the twentieth century. The result was a bird on every Thanksgiving table that Americans knew embarrassingly little about.

“Tracking the Kaibab Deer into Western History,” Western Historical Quarterly 39:4 (Winter 2008): 413-38.  The article, copyright by the Western History Association and posted by permission, is available by clicking the journal title above.

The essay takes a fresh look at the infamous Kaibab deer overpopulation, or irruption, in northern Arizona during the 1920s.  Victims of their own numbers, they had stripped the forest of browse.  Starving to death by the thousands, they captured the country’s imagination, leading many to rethink the human place in nature.

Ecologists first lamented the loss of predators, which the Biological Survey had eradicated years before. But in later decades, as a later generation of ecologists looked back upon the irruption, the notion of a balance in nature came under question: perhaps nonlinear climate and vegetational change mattered as much as predator-prey relationships.  “Tracking the Kaibab Deer into Western History” layers the analysis further.

It addresses the cultural meanings that Southern Paiutes, Mormon settlers, and railroad tourists held in the deer.  Each group used the deer’s position as prey to create a metaphor of innocence, although they put that metaphor to far different uses, ones that reflected their own position in the conquest of the American West.

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