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American environmental historian to visit Otago

18 May 2005
Leading American environmental historian to visit University of Otago

An American environmental historian, widely regarded as a world leader in his field, will visit the University of Otago later this month.

Professor Donald Worster, from the University of Kansas, has written several influential books, which have helped shape thinking on environmental history.

Professor Tom Brooking, from the University of Otago’s History Department, says that Professor Worster is well known to both historians and environmentalists alike.

“Ecology is a fairly new discipline and his first book, Nature’s Economy: A history of ecological ideas was the first on the history of ecology. He is certainly a key founder in this way of looking at the past.”

Professor Worster also penned Dust Bowl, considered a classic work of environmental history examining the cause and devastating effects of this 1930s ecological disaster.

His reflections on the past have also given him a focus on the future with his work Rivers of Empire which delves into irrigation and the problem of salination, the effects of which are being seen in the Indian sub-continent and parts of Australia.

“In some ways he is a bit of an Old Testament prophet, warning people to learn from their past mistakes,” Professor Brooking says.

One of Professor Worster’s current projects, a biography of pioneering conservationist John Muir has something of a Dunedin connection. Muir, a Scot who was heavily influenced by the poet Robbie Burns and in particular his works on nature, visited the city in 1904.

Professor Worster will give a lecture in Archway Lecture Theatre One (Union Street) on Friday 27 May at 5.10pm entitled "John Muir and the Modern Passion for Nature: From Scotland to America and the World"; and on Saturday morning, 28 May from 9 a.m to 1 p.m. he will lead a seminar at the University College (Unicol) seminar room on "Living in Nature: Environmental History and Biography."


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