My research explores connections between environmental history in the context of the historiography of the Early American Republic. it asks how people understood the natural world during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and how they used this understanding in everyday life, politics, and society.
As a contribution to environmental history, my work explores how historical actors understood nature's agency. Environmental historians spent a great deal of their field's existence maintaining the premise that nature played an active role in human history. This argument boiled down to the question of when exactly nature matters; always, sometimes, or only when mediated through the perceptions of human actors. What all of these answers shared, was a conviction that natures agency remained an object of recent provenance, historiographically important to relate the past to our present outlook, but fundamentally a question that inhabitants of the present posed about the past and not a question that historical actors trifled with. By contrast, my own work historicizes conceptions of nature's agency. It asks how people understood and adapted to nature's power as part of a life far removed from contemporary understandings of how climate, geography, and ecology shape society.
My dissertation research explores the working practices that enabled people to live along a river that flowed out of their control. It asks how they dealt with floods, changing river courses, washed out dams, and other indicators of nature's power. Through a reflective treatment of these processes, my research revels a politics and social order grounded in accounts of the river's power and strategies for managing the human relationship with that power.
As I look beyond my dissertation, one avenue for future research is the ecological transformation of the United States through the mining, processing, and use of lead. In addition to its well known environmental health impacts, lead played a key role in shaping the landscape