Human history is often actually the story of biotic interactions between people and land . . .
_ I’m an environmental historian and the Julie and Rocky Dixon Chair of U.S. Western History at the University of Oregon.
Environmental history focuses on how humans and the natural world have shaped each other over time. My work also examines conservation policy and environmental and social justice in an effort to create usable histories that foster more sustainable places. My most recent book, Dreaming of Sheep in Navajo Country, was published by the University of Washington Press (now available in paperback). It examines the history of pastoralism on the Navajo Reservation and explores the failure of a New Deal soil conservation program. In the 1930s, the federal government made an ambitious attempt to eliminate overgrazing and better the lives of Navajos by dramatically reducing the numbers of livestock—mainly sheep, goats, and horses. Officials ignored Diné (Navajo) cultural traditions and the historical importance of women to the livestock economy, and they rebuffed the advice of Navajo men. The government’s well-intentioned policies thus proved disastrous, resulting in the loss of livelihood for Diné and a chronically degraded landscape.
My current research is on western rivers, with three planned books. “Danger River” will examine the ways in which men and women have narrated their adventures down the Colorado River. “The River Runs Wild” examines rivers in the Colorado River watershed, the Rio Grande, and several northwestern rivers to consider what we mean by “wildness,” historically, ecologically, intellectually, and experientially. Finally, “Living Rivers”—a collaborative, interdisciplinary project involving scientists, historians, and a photographer—will explore the Green River to assess changes in their condition over the course of the historical record and evaluate the prospects for resilience in an era of climate change.
I am a native of the American West. I grew up in central Oklahoma, then moved to Arizona, which I called home for many years. After earning my Ph.D. in Wisconsin, I lived in Las Cruces, New Mexico, where I taught history at New Mexico State University for nearly a decade. I now make my home in Eugene, Oregon.
For my curriculum vita, please click here.