Current Projects

My new project is an environmental history of agricultural drainage in the former tallgrass prairie region of North America– the “corn belt.” A somewhat unsung and perhaps unlikely topic for a history book, ag drainage (burying “tiles” in fields) was and is a massive feat of engineering, representing as consequential a change in the wetland environments of the Midwest as more recognizable water engineering—dams and irrigation projects—ever made in the arid West. It is a primary component of one of the biggest environmental problems in North America today—nitrogen and phosphorus pollution from agricultural runoff in downstream bodies of water like the Gulf of Mexico and Great Lakes. I am planning a new book that centers this often invisible engineering project as the key event in Midwestern environmental history.

For an initial foray into this topic, see my essay, “The Drains out of Town.”