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Humanities Combating Isolation (2020): Walking, Mapping, and Reimagining the Environment

Public Humanities, Building Publics

May 27, 2020

This week’s Building Publics explores how mapping and walking allow us to critically and collectively think through environmental justice and history. The panel features the work of Scot McFarlane and Wright Kennedy.

Scot McFarlane is a PhD candidate in history at Columbia University. Scot's dissertation on the Texas' Trinity River extends from the antebellum period in the middle of the 19th century to the emergence of the environmental movement in the middle of the 20th century because of the ways the river changed in response to the legacy of slavery and urbanization. His research shows how rivers have uniquely heightened and transcended divisions of race, gender, and space to shape our democracy. Scot is currently teaching his own course, "Rivers, Politics and Power in the US" in the history department. Prior to arriving at Columbia, Scot taught writing and history at high schools in Oregon and Massachusetts. He has published in the leading journals of his field including an article on Maine's Androscoggin River and its influence on the environmental movement and passage of the the Clean Water Act. In 2005 Scot produced and directed a documentary on the culture and ecology of Texas' Neches River that played a key role in the movement to prevent Dallas from damming another portion of the river. He also produced a website on the history of a racist massacre in Texas that continues to engage and educate a wide audience. "Confluence" brings together Scot's experience in the digital humanities and environmental humanities by encouraging collaboration between river historians and community activists to present the historical value of rivers throughout North America.

Wright Kennedy specializes in geographic information systems (GIS) and spatial analysis to study past and present health, environmental, and socioeconomic issues in cities. He has investigated a wide range of urban history topics with GIS, including epidemics, streetcar corruption, hurricane recovery, residential segregation, and environmental injustices. He is a lecturer in the History Department at Columbia and the project lead on Mapping Historical New York, a spatial history project on immigrants and neighborhood development in the city during the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. His teaching interests include spatial history methods, urban history, environmental history, and the history of public health. His current book project uses GIS to reexamine the shifting environmental disease burdens linked to Jim Crow and residential segregation in New Orleans.