“An American Place:” Noted Environmental Historian Closes Lawrence University 2003-04 Convocation Series

Lawrence University will recognize award-winning author and historian William Cronon with an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree Tuesday May 25 during the annual Honors Convocation, which closes the 2003-04 series.

Cronon, whose scholarship combines the disciplines of history, geography and environmental studies, will deliver the address “The Portage: History and Memory in the Making of an American Place” at 11:10 a.m. in the Lawrence Memorial Chapel. He also will conduct a question-and-answer session at 2 p.m. in the Lawrence Memorial Union. Both events are free and open to the public.

The author of two books and editor several others, Cronon, 49, has earned critical acclaim for his writing and research on the ways human communities modify the landscapes in which they live and how people in turn are affected by changing geological, climatological and ecological conditions.

His first book, “Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England,” which explored the changes the New England landscape underwent as control of the region shifted from Native Americans to European colonists, was awarded 1984’s Francis Parkman Prize of the Society of American Historians.

His second book, 1991’s “Nature’s Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West,” an examination of Chicago’s relationship to its rural hinterland during the latter half of the 19th century, earned Cronon the Chicago Tribune’s Heartland Prize for the best literary work of non-fiction, the Bancroft Prize for the best work of American history and was one of three nominees for the Pulitzer Prize in history.

In addition, “Nature’s Metropolis” was recognized with the George Perkins Marsh Prize from the American Society for Environmental History and the Charles A. Weyerhaeuser Award from the Forest History Society for the best book of environmental and conservation history.

The Frederick Jackson Turner and Vilas Research Professor of History, Geography and Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Cronon is currently working on a local history of Frederick Turner’s hometown, Portage, Wis., in which he is exploring ways to integrate environmental and social historical methods with non-traditional narrative literary forms. He is also completing an anthology of first person accounts of past landscapes of the United States and the lives people have lived on them entitled “Working on Life on the American Land: A Commonplace Book.”

Cronon joined the UW-Madison faculty in 1992 after spending more than a decade teaching at Yale University in his hometown of New Haven, Conn. Among numerous academic awards he’s received, Cronon was named a Rhodes Scholar and a Danforth Fellow in 1976, received a $500,000 “genius grant” from the MacArthur Foundation in 1985 and was named the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1995. In addition to UW-Madison, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in history and English, Cronon holds advanced degrees Oxford University in Britith urban and economic history and from Yale in American history.

His professional affiliations include serving on the Board of Curators for the Wisconsin Historical Society, the Governing Council of The Wilderness Society and the editorial boards of Environmental History and the Journal of Historical Geography.