I am an assistant professor in the Department of History at the University of Saskatchewan. I study the environmental history of Britain and the British World in the long-nineteenth century and teach environmental, European, transnational and digital history . I am currently leading an SSRCH Insight Development Grant funded project called London’s Ghost Acres, 1850-1919. During the first half of 2015 I will be a Fellow at the Rachel Carson Center in Munich.
From 2012 to early 2014 I worked on a collaborative research project, Trading Consequences, which had funding from a Digging into Data grant. Trading Consequences explored the economic and environmental consequences of commodity trading in the British world, with a particular focus on Canada, during the nineteenth century. The project team used information extraction techniques to study large corpora of digitized documents from the nineteenth century. This innovative digital resource allows historians to discover novel patterns and to explore new hypotheses, both through structured query and through a variety of visualization tools. (Other institutions: York University, University of Edinburgh and University of St Andrews.)
I completed my PhD in the History Department at York University in Toronto. In January 2011, I defended a dissertation on the environmental and social history of West Ham and the Lower Lea River, on the eastern edge of late nineteenth century London. The first part of the dissertation uses a historical GIS database to trace the industrial and suburban development of the Lower Lea’s wetlands in West Ham. The second part of the dissertation then focuses on how difficult environmental conditions shaped the social, medical, and political histories of West Ham.
The dissertation, by placing environmental change, and the interconnections between social and ecological degradation at its centre, demonstrates the importance of the environment in shaping urban, social, and political history. Droughts, disease, and floods highlighted the dysfunctional environmental conditions in this wetland suburb. The deteriorating condition of the Lower Lea contributed to economic problems and to the end of industrial growth. These conditions caused both the public and the electorate in West Ham to increasingly demand action from the borough council to provide water, improve housing conditions and health, and to protect the low-lying districts from floods.
The suburb’s environmental conditions, along with the connected social distress, contributed to the early rise of Labour and socialist politics in the suburb. The growing public demand for more stable environmental and economic conditions, led them to increasingly turn to the government and its experts, instead of private enterprise and market forces, to solve the many problems facing this industrial wetland suburb.
Along with my research, I’ve also developed an interest in public history and the role of historians in providing context and contributing to solutions for the many problems facing today’s cities, societies, and environments. To this end, I am a founding member of http://www.ActiveHistory.ca/ .