I am a social and cultural historian of early America and the Atlantic world with particular interest in the human dimensions of environmental change. And specifically, I’m draw to salty spaces and fascinated by slimy creatures in the sea.
In 2014 I published Between Land and Sea: The Atlantic Coast and the Transformation of New England, which examines the environmental transformation of Narragansett Bay (Rhode Island) from first European settlement in seventeenth century to industrialization in the mid-nineteenth century. To what extent, this work asks, does the liminal nature of coasts, and estuaries in particular, blur legalities and shape local economies, and how did that in turn lead to environmental change?
I am currently writing a new book about marine creatures and the Atlantic environment. Taking its title from lines in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” (1798), A Thousand Thousand Slimy Things examines the natural history of the seas from prehistory to the age of plastic pollution. Guided by the conviction that human history is inextricably tied to the rhythms of nature, this book shows how people across the Atlantic world and over time made sense of a mysterious ocean. It turns out that slimy things—from sea serpents to micro-plastics—have long tended to lurk among the frontiers of natural knowledge, reflecting not only the anxieties of each age but also, in many cases, new possibilities. Accordingly, slime’s generative qualities nourished narratives of progress while the rhetoric of oceanic decay often flowed through stories of societal decline. Imagined as a window into the earth’s ancient past, the slimy sea seemed at once timeless but always changing, masculine but sometimes feminine, and at once a space of rot and regeneration. Connecting the local and the global, the ocean was a source of extraction but also a sink for disposal. Some were inspired to protect it, while others were willing to neglect it. Indeed, as this book argues, the mutable nature of the sea and its slimy creatures has shaped the ways humans have treated it and them.
I am interested in working with graduate and undergraduate students who want to study early America, the Atlantic world, environmental history, and maritime/oceanic history.