Agnes, Revisited

In June 1972, Tropical Storm Agnes inundated most of the mid-Atlantic with torrential rain and catastrophic flooding. President Nixon referred to “Agnes” as the costliest natural disaster in American history, as it took more than 125 lives and caused more than $3 billion in property damages (in 1972 dollars; more than $30 billion in 2022) from Florida to New York. Pennsylvania accounted for $2.1 billion of that total and, within the state, the Susquehanna River basin was particularly hard hit – more than 60% of Pennsylvania’s damage came in the Susquehanna Valley.

Agnes, Revisited is a multi-disciplinary, community-engaged project to document the history and legacies of this transformative flood in the central Susquehanna Valley. The project design engages community members from the start, to shape the collection of stories and sources, to share the collected information publicly, and to, hopefully, build greater social bonds and community awareness along the way – key ingredients for resilience. I have worked with several Bucknell classes, student groups, and Presidential Fellow Bethany Fitch (class of ’23) to complete nearly 50 interviews with survivors, two rounds of archival research at the Pennsylvania State Archives, a scan of  newspaper coverage of the storm and flood over more than 20 years, review hundreds of photographs and social media posts, and organize a half dozen public scholarship events. Community partners include area revitalization agencies – principally, The Improved Milton Experience and Lewisburg Neighborhoods – but also SEDA-COG’s Flood Resiliency Program, the Merril Linn Conservancy, Pennsylvania Organization of Watersheds and Rivers, WKOK News Radio, the Daily Item (newspaper), and more.

So far, this research has produced:

  • a 60 minute multi-media performance based on oral histories of Agnes survivors, in collaboration Gerard Stropnicky (formerly Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble), Elaine Williams (Bucknell, Theatre and Dance), students from two different classes at Bucknell University, Max Wilhelm (Bucknell, videographer) and eleven different community organizations.
  • a coffee-table style commemorative book for Agnes’ 50th anniversary, in partnership with The Daily Item
  • contributions to Agnes, 50, 60 minute documentary about the legacies of Agnes, directed by film-maker Al Monelli for WVIA, a PBS-affiliate in northcentral PA
  • several community presentations and commemorative events in the towns of Selinsgrove, Milton, Lewisburg, Sunbury, and Danville (PA).

The Offshore: Flows of Oil and Knowledge in the Beaufort Sea
This research project explores the history of offshore oil and gas development in the Beaufort Sea (Alaska, Yukon Territory, Northwest Territories) since the late 1960s.  I am interested in applying concepts from historical political ecology and the history of science to analyze how a range of historical actors shaped the future of the Arctic oil frontier–including corporate execs, civil servants, politicians, Inuit activists, scientists and conservationists. One such concept is “ignorance,” or the deliberate production and maintenance of a state of limited knowledge about the ecological risks of offshore oil activity. I draw on records from US and Canadian federal regulatory agencies; correspondence between Inuit organizations and those agencies; and environmental non-governmental organizations like the Canadian Arctic Resources Committee. I also employ digital text analysis methods, often through Voyant Tools.

Modern Treaties and Environmental Regimes in Canada
Modern treaties–or, the comprehensive land claim agreements signed between the federal government of Canada and Aboriginal communities since 1975–have reshaped the human relationship with nature in much of the country. This research project examines the ways modern treaties create unique environmental regimes by analyzing the history of the first two modern treaties signed, the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement (1975) and the Inuvialuit Final Agreement (1984), along with an important precursor to these, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (1971). I am particularly interested in how federal governmental bodies with regulatory authority over environmental matters–namely, the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs; Energy, Minerals, and Resources; and the Department of Environment–shaped the federal position on issues like land use planning, environmental impact assessment, and non-renewable resource management. I draw on archival records from these three departments as well as the personal collection of one of the chief federal negotiators of the Inuvialuit Final Agreement, Simon Reisman. This research responds to interests and issues presented at the “Making Treaties Work for Future Generations” conference sponsored by the Land Claims Agreement Coalition in December 2015. My work on this project was supported by a Fulbright Visiting Research Chair fellowship between January and June, 2016.

Bushel and Barrel: An Environmental History of Fermentation
A back-burner project, I’ve always wanted to explore the history of brewing as a way of understanding changing human relationships with the environment. I brew beer at home and know it involves a certain combination of lab-bench knowledge, awareness of seasons and the bounties of harvest-time, attention to sanitation and instrumentation, the social life of drinking, and the wonders of yeast. Yuengling, America’s oldest brewery, is located in Pennsylvania, not too far from Bucknell. And the region also has some orchards, which produced the United States’ original boozy beverage of choice, hard apple cider.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s