How did I arrive here and what do I have to offer students? It all happened through a series of accidents and opportunities as I pursued my many interests and efforts to do something in the world. I set out to become a biologist, became and educator, and am now an historian (among many other things). I’ve been employed as a naturalist, museum director, bookseller, and college professor. I’ve studied and written about popular culture and film (I’m an authority on Bambi), children’s literature, eco-criticism, environmental history, Appalachian history, and place.
Long ago, I aspired to be a playwright, poet, and nature photographer. My interests are wide-ranging but my entire career has addressed issues related to environment and sustainability in a variety of contexts. I spent twenty years providing environmental and place-based approaches to education as an educator and manager at museums and nature centers. In these capacities I also worked for open space and endangered species protection. I am interested in the power and potential of the local, which is an important aspect of my work in place studies.
I am an environmental historian who has studied the history of sustainability, semi-subsistence living in the Appalachian Mountains, and environment and popular culture, and who is now examining the history of violence in appropriating natural resources from African Americans. In addition, I am a naturalist who delights in helping people to read the stories in the landscapes around them. I believe that effective efforts to promote sustainability work on the levels of both personal practice and public policy.
The ultimate solutions to our problems lie in a complex mix of natural and social science approaches to understanding, personal practices, community mobilization, and transformations in social values and spiritual roots. These solutions also need to respect and reflect the rich diversity of cultural values and practices throughout our nation and around the world. Each person can contribute to this effort in ways that work best for themselves.
To look at my background more specifically, I have written and edited two books about the nature fakers controversy that involve Teddy Roosevelt and a multitude of naturalists and nature writers. Some of my other publications examined the impacts of Disney's Bambi on American attitudes toward nature, the historical context of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, the role of story and home in creating a sense of place, and the historical importance of chestnuts to poor mountain folk in the southern Appalachians. I recently did a presentation at the Sterling College’s Rural Heritage Institute regarding the concept of place as related to localist movements. I am presently studying the massacre in Rosewood, Florida, which occurred early in the twentieth century. I taught a series of field courses on place-based approaches to natural history for the University of Virginia and worked as a naturalist at Hampshire College. I enjoy working with students in a variety of fields, including popular culture studies, place studies, history, environmental studies, education, literature, the natural and social sciences, Appalachian and regional studies, natural history, museum studies, the management of nonprofit organizations, and much more. I particularly enjoy helping students in interdisciplinary projects. Thought, emotion and spirit must go hand-in-hand as we try to understand and deal with the major social issues of our times. I recognize the individual and cultural importance of story, myth, and emotion, and am interested in ways to balance them with our larger understandings of our world. I tend to approach issues as a skeptic who likes to test and probe beneath easily accepted assumptions and have some fun in the process.
I am editor of ”George”. You can see samples of my photography at TheBlueRidge.com.