Greetings from the Bluegrass!
I am an agricultural and environmental historian whose research focuses on the ecological and cultural transformations of the Inner Bluegrass landscape of Central Kentucky from the era prior to Euro-American incursions through emancipation. While earning my undergraduate degree from Centre College, I developed a lasting fascination with the beautiful agricultural countryside of the surrounding region. My graduate work sought to uncover the eighteenth and nineteenth century history that created the distinctive features of the Bluegrass agricultural landscape, many of which continue to characterize the region into the twenty-first century.
With the Breeder’s Cup statue at Keeneland in Lexington, Kentucky, October 2015.
My academic and professional journey has come full circle since I arrived in Danville almost a decade and a half ago as a first-year student. I am back at Centre as the Assistant Director of Experiential Learning at the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL). I also teach in the history department. Before returning to Centre, I received my MA and PhD at the University of Kentucky, where I taught in the both the History department and the Writing, Rhetoric, and Digital Studies program. While finishing my dissertation, I worked at the Kentucky Historical Society in community engagement and on the society’s scholarly publication, the Register. I’ve also done a stint on the front lines of public history as an interpreter at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill. These diverse experiences all contributed to my belief in the transformative power of experiential education and my position at CTL is a great platform to help put my convictions into action.
Hemp plot at Ashland, the Henry Clay Estate in Lexington, Kentucky, during the summer and fall of 2016.
Tobacco plot in Woodford County, Kentucky, during the summer of 2016.
I really couldn’t be happier with the way the special issue of the Register turned out this spring. Wading into topics on “Environment and Environmentalism in Kentucky” the articles run the gamut from the eighteenth century to the twenty-first and from studies of a single site to a historiographical overview that situates the Commonwealth within the broader currents of environmental history.
My own contribution, “Birth of the Bluegrass: Ecological Transformations of Central Kentucky to 1810” has a long backstory. It started as a seminar paper for a course at U.K., then transformed into a paper for the Ohio Valley History Conference in 2012, where I chatted with a former editor of the Register about the lamentable lack of environmental history on Kentucky. The good folks at the journal were kind enough to accept the expanded essay for publication and it became the seed from which the environmental special issue eventually grew. As it has moved along the publication process, I’ve also used the piece to engage a variety of audiences, from my American history students at Centre College to the American Society of Environmental Historians annual conference and, this July, the Kentucky History Education Conference. By this point, it is a well-traveled article.
Outside of “Birth,” I have to acknowledge that my fingerprints are all over the issue. Any blame for lingering smudges should likely fall to me. Along with the rest of the editorial staff, I performed substantive queries and copyedited each article, hopefully doing less harm than good. I also selected the books for the review section, recruited reviewers for each, and compiled them for publication. I am even still the person on the other end of the e-mail address if you’d like to purchase a paper copy!
All-in-all, I’m proud to have been a part of this effort to bring the environment into Kentucky history and look forward to seeing where the topic goes in the future.
Whitetail deer are frequent co-travelers on the backroads between Lexington and Frankfort, but none had deigned to pose in the foreground of any of my Year in the Bluegrass Landscape spots until yesterday. Nice surprises seem more frequent on Fridays.
I’ve had a lot of fun working with the Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition this year. My roles are largely related to production, including filming and editing, all of which I quite enjoy. But even better is the chance to work with folks like Patrick Lewis and Amanda Higgins on things with clear contemporary relevance.
Really though, it’s just always a good day when you get to spend the morning in the Old State Capitol.
The documentary edition has come a long way from where it was two summers ago when I cataloged and transcribed documents as an intern. Now, I get to use the beta for researching the conclusion of my dissertation. And yes, Kentuckians continued to obsess over their cultivated landscape in the midst of a devastating civil war.
It’s been great watching things come together and I’m looking forward to lots of exciting work coming from this project in the coming years; I know they have some good stuff in store for 2017, specifically.
It has been a fun change of pace to start working with mapping software again. For example, I made this simple map from EPA ecoregion data for my “Birth of the Bluegrass: Ecological Transformations in Central Kentucky to 1810″that will be in the Register next spring. My research focuses primarily on the Inner Bluegrass, the darkest polygon in the above map. I’m also planning maps to show regional hydrology, changes in county-level crop production and livestock numbers, and expanding nineteenth-century transportation networks. Any suggestions for other features to include?
I’m excited to say we’ll be taking copies of the special environmental history issue of the Register with us to the American Society of Environmental History annual meeting in Chicago next year. I organized a panel on “Coal, Cultivation, and Contamination: Engaging New Audiences through Southern Environmental History” that features our authors and aims to foster a discussion on how academics can effectively taken their findings off the printed page and out of conference meetings (ironic, right?) and into our classrooms and our communities. Some of my students have been guinea pigs, helping me tinker with ways to make agricultural history feel relevant. One early favorite: local sightseeing excursions.
Hemp at Ashland, the Henry Clay Estate, Lexington, Kentucky. October 24, 2016. Photo by author.
Now that I’ve designated Monday as my “Year in the Bluegrass Landscape” day, I find myself looking forward to the new week and my commute. Weird.
These before and after shots of a Bluegrass hayfield give a pretty good idea of the project. Basically, I’m attempting to let others have a window on how delightful it is to watch the seasons unfold across the various agricultural landscapes of central Kentucky. Let me know if you want to ride along some day! You could find plenty to entertain you at KHS or Bourbon on Main while I toil away on the Register.