William Cronon

William Cronon

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William 'Bill' Cronon is the Frederick Jackson Turner and Vilas Research Professor of History, Geography, and Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison
University of Wisconsin–Madison
The University of Wisconsin–Madison is a public research university located in Madison, Wisconsin, United States. Founded in 1848, UW–Madison is the flagship campus of the University of Wisconsin System. It became a land-grant institution in 1866...

. As of March 2011 he is the President-Elect of the American Historical Association
American Historical Association
The American Historical Association is the oldest and largest society of historians and professors of history in the United States. Founded in 1884, the association promotes historical studies, the teaching of history, and the preservation of and access to historical materials...

.

Education and awards


Born in New Haven, Connecticut
New Haven, Connecticut
New Haven is the second-largest city in Connecticut and the sixth-largest in New England. According to the 2010 Census, New Haven's population increased by 5.0% between 2000 and 2010, a rate higher than that of the State of Connecticut, and higher than that of the state's five largest cities, and...

, he obtained a D.Phil from Jesus College, Oxford
Jesus College, Oxford
Jesus College is one of the colleges of the University of Oxford in England. It is in the centre of the city, on a site between Turl Street, Ship Street, Cornmarket Street and Market Street...

 as a Rhodes Scholar. (1976–1978). Cronon holds a B.A. (1976) from the University of Wisconsin–Madison
University of Wisconsin–Madison
The University of Wisconsin–Madison is a public research university located in Madison, Wisconsin, United States. Founded in 1848, UW–Madison is the flagship campus of the University of Wisconsin System. It became a land-grant institution in 1866...

 and an M.A. (1979), M.Phil. (1980), and Ph.D. (1990) from Yale University
Yale University
Yale University is a private, Ivy League university located in New Haven, Connecticut, United States. Founded in 1701 in the Colony of Connecticut, the university is the third-oldest institution of higher education in the United States...

.

In July, 1985, Cronon was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship. Cronon was Wayne Pacelle
Wayne Pacelle
Wayne A. Pacelle is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Humane Society of the United States , the nation's largest animal advocacy organization, with nearly 10 million members as of 2006. Pacelle took office June 1, 2004, after serving for nearly 10 years as the organization's chief...

's advisor at Yale in the 1980's.

Cronon serves on the board of directors for The Trust for Public Land
The Trust for Public Land
The Trust for Public Land is a land conservation nonprofit founded in 1972 by Huey Johnson and based in San Francisco, California in the United States. TPL works throughout the United States to conserve land for people as parks, gardens, and other natural places.- TPL Conservation Initiatives :TPL...

, a national land conservation group. He also sits on the governing council of the Wilderness Society
The Wilderness Society (United States)
The Wilderness Society is an American organization that is dedicated to protecting America's wilderness. It was formed in 1935 and currently has over 300,000 members and supporters.-Founding:The society was incorporated on January 21, 1935...

.

Scholarship


A noted environmental historian
Environmental history
Environmental history, a branch of historiography, is the study of human interaction with the natural world over time. In contrast to other historical disciplines, it emphasizes the active role nature plays in influencing human affairs. Environmental historians study how humans both shape their...

, Cronon is probably best known as the author of Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England
Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England
Changes in the Land is a 1983 nonfiction book by historian William Cronon.-New paradigms:In this paradigm-shifting work, Cronon demonstrated the impact on the land of the widely disparate conceptions of ownership held by native Americans and English colonists. English law objectified land,...

(1983), a work based on a seminar paper he wrote for Edmund Morgan
Edmund Morgan
Edmund Sears Morgan , an eminent authority on early American history, is Emeritus Professor of History at Yale University, where he taught from 1955 to 1986.-Life:...

 at Yale. Two insights in that book have reshaped the way historians think: The first is that the way cultures conceptualize property and ownership is a major factor that affects economies and ecosystems. The second is that the Indians were active interveners in and shapers of the ecosystems in which they lived.

Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West (1991), which won the Bancroft Prize
Bancroft Prize
The Bancroft Prize is awarded each year by the trustees of Columbia University for books about diplomacy or the history of the Americas. It was established in 1948 by a bequest from Frederic Bancroft...

 in 1992, "is credited with having radically widened many environmental historians' gaze beyond such things as forests and public lands to include cities and what Cronon calls the 'elaborate and intimate linkages' between city and country." Cronon shows how Chicago and capitalism fundamentally transformed the midwestern countryside. In one memorable chapter, for instance, he details how grain became a standardized commodity: how it went from being something sold in sacks with the farm's family name stamped on it to a standardized good, stored in silos according to grade.

In his essay, "The Trouble with Wilderness", published in the New York Times, and in Uncommon Ground: Toward Reinventing Nature (1995), Cronon traced the idea of wilderness throughout American history. Cronon argues that this history allows us to see how fantasies of untouched, pristine wilderness, are only fantasies. Even wilderness is indelibly shaped by human history and labor, and we mislead ourselves when we conceive of wilderness otherwise (as many environmentalists did). Cronon does not argue that we should therefore dispense with wilderness or fail to protect it. The trouble with our fantasy of untouched wilderness is that it distracts us from the nature everywhere about us by fixating instead on the allegedly untouched nature out there, in the wild. The task Cronon gives us is to form a responsible relationship with both the nature of the wilderness, where we play, and the nature where we live and work.

Cronon was also featured prominently in Ken Burns
Ken Burns
Kenneth Lauren "Ken" Burns is an American director and producer of documentary films, known for his style of using archival footage and photographs...

' 2009 documentary, The National Parks: America's Best Idea
The National Parks: America's Best Idea
The National Parks: America's Best Idea is a 2009 documentary film for television, DVD and companion book by director/producer Ken Burns and producer/writer Dayton Duncan which features the United States National Park system and traces the system's history...

.

Scholar as citizen: Tension between transparency and academic freedom


Amid protests
2011 Wisconsin protests
The 2011 Wisconsin protests were a series of demonstrations in the state of Wisconsin in the United States beginning in February involving at its zenith as many as 100,000 protestors opposing the Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill. Subsequently, anti-tax activists and other conservatives, including tea...

 over the Wisconsin state budget in March 2011, Cronon began a personal blog called "Scholar as Citizen." His first blog post dated March 15, 2011 was a tutorial on the American Legislative Exchange Council
American Legislative Exchange Council
The American Legislative Exchange Council is a politically conservative 501 non-profit Policy Organization, consisting of both state legislators and members of the private sector. ALEC's mission statement describes the organization's purpose as the advancement of free-market principles, limited...

, a conservative organization that provides model legislation to Republican state legislators. According to Anthony Grafton of The New Yorker, "Cronon argued from indirect evidence that ALEC had played a major role behind the scenes in Governor Walker's attack on public employee unions in Wisconsin. He also argued that this sort of political work, though legitimate, should be done in the open." Cronon's first post went viral
Viral phenomenon
Viral phenomena are objects or patterns able to replicate themselves or convert other objects into copies of themselves when these objects are exposed to them....

 and received approximately 800,000 hits in less than 10 days.

On March 17, 2011 (two days after Cronon's post about ALEC went live), Stephan Thompson of the Wisconsin Republican Party filed a freedom of information
Freedom of information legislation
Freedom of information legislation comprises laws that guarantee access to data held by the state. They establish a "right-to-know" legal process by which requests may be made for government-held information, to be received freely or at minimal cost, barring standard exceptions...

 request for any emails sent from and received by Cronon's University of Wisconsin-Madison email account that contained any on a list of 20 keywords related to the ongoing political events. (The terms were: Republican, Scott Walker, recall, collective bargaining, AFSCME, WEAC, rally, union, Alberta Darling, Randy Hopper, Dan Kapanke, Rob Cowles, Scott Fitzgerald, Sheila Harsdorf, Luther Olsen, Glenn Grothman, Mary Lazich, Jeff Fitzgerald, Marty Beil, or Mary Bell.)

In the midst of this, Cronon also wrote an op-ed
Op-ed
An op-ed, abbreviated from opposite the editorial page , is a newspaper article that expresses the opinions of a named writer who is usually unaffiliated with the newspaper's editorial board...

 for The New York Times
The New York Times
The New York Times is an American daily newspaper founded and continuously published in New York City since 1851. The New York Times has won 106 Pulitzer Prizes, the most of any news organization...

which was published on March 21, 2011 that criticized Republican Governor Scott Walker
Scott Walker (politician)
Scott Kevin Walker is an American Republican politician who began serving as the 45th Governor of Wisconsin on January 3, 2011, after defeating Democratic candidate Tom Barrett, 52 percent to 47 percent in the November 2010 general election...

.

On March 24, Cronon released his second blog entry. The post announced the Wisconsin Republican Party's freedom of information
Freedom of information legislation
Freedom of information legislation comprises laws that guarantee access to data held by the state. They establish a "right-to-know" legal process by which requests may be made for government-held information, to be received freely or at minimal cost, barring standard exceptions...

 request for his emails. In the piece, Cronon commented that the party's action had "the nakedly political purpose of trying to embarrass, harass, or silence a university professor". Citing Wisconsin's long history of protecting the right to academic freedom, Cronon also asked the Republican Party of Wisconsin to withdraw its request for the contents of his email. Between the release of Cronon's second blog entry on March 24 and April 1, when the university turned over a selection of Cronon's emails, the party did not withdraw the request.

On April 1, 2011, attorney John Dowling, acting as senior legal counsel for the University of Wisconsin-Madison, formally responded to Thompson's request for Cronon's emails. Dowling included a statement with the documents that explained the university's decision to continue to withhold some of Cronon's emails.

University of Wisconsin-Madison Chancellor Carolyn 'Biddy' Martin
Carolyn Martin
Carolyn Arthur “Biddy” Martin is an American intellectual, author, and former Chancellor of the University of Wisconsin–Madison. She assumed office on September 1, 2008, succeeding John D. Wiley. She was the ninth graduate of UW–Madison to serve as its chancellor, and the first alumna to hold that...

 further expounded upon this decision in an email to the UW-Madison campus community on the same day: "We are excluding student because they are protected under FERPA
Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 is a United States federal law.It allows students with access to their education records, an opportunity to seek to have the records amended, and some control over the disclosure of information from the records...

. We are excluding exchanges that fall outside the realm of the faculty member's job responsibilities and that could be considered personal pursuant to Wisconsin Supreme Court
Wisconsin Supreme Court
The Wisconsin Supreme Court is the highest appellate court in the state of Wisconsin. The Supreme Court has jurisdiction over original actions, appeals from lower courts, and regulation or administration of the practice of law in Wisconsin.-Location:...

 case law. We are also excluding what we consider to be the private email exchanges among scholars that fall within the orbit of academic freedom and all that is entailed by it." Martin went on to describe the idea of academic freedom
Academic freedom
Academic freedom is the belief that the freedom of inquiry by students and faculty members is essential to the mission of the academy, and that scholars should have freedom to teach or communicate ideas or facts without being targeted for repression, job loss, or imprisonment.Academic freedom is a...

 and the university's firm commitment to protecting the right of all academics to engage in the "open intellectual exchange" of ideas.

On April 4, 2011, the Faculty Senate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison passed a resolution to protect academic freedom. The body decided, according to University Committee Chair Judith Burstyn, that the university needed to take a public position to defend academic freedom in the wake of the FOIA records request directed at Cronon. Political scientist Howard Schweber, who was involved in writing the resolution alongside colleague Donald Downs, commented: "The university can't change the law, but the university can take a leading position on behalf of public employees everywhere and make a statement that we think this is wrong. What was begun as a classic notion of sunshine being the best disinfectant has turned into a law that's used as a weapon to target not government officials and offices but individual public employees."

Despite having months to report on any improprieties discovered in the email, the Wisconsin Republican Party has made no report on the contents. The Wisconsin Republican Party has similarly targeted other teachers by filing open records requests for e-mails, including public school teacher Shelly Moore and UW-Oshkosh Professor Stephen Richards. The American Association of University Professors
American Association of University Professors
The American Association of University Professors is an organization of professors and other academics in the United States. AAUP membership is about 47,000, with over 500 local campus chapters and 39 state organizations...

 concludes that "this action by the Wisconsin Republican Party is an "obvious assault on academic freedom"."

News coverage of Cronon's "Scholar As Citizen" blog


Published works

  • "The Riddle of the Apostle Islands: How Do You Manage a Wilderness Full of Human Stories?" Orion (May–June 2003), 36-42.
  • Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England
    Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England
    Changes in the Land is a 1983 nonfiction book by historian William Cronon.-New paradigms:In this paradigm-shifting work, Cronon demonstrated the impact on the land of the widely disparate conceptions of ownership held by native Americans and English colonists. English law objectified land,...

    , 20th anniversary edition, Hill & Wang, 2003.
  • "Why the Past Matters," Wisconsin Magazine of History, 84:1 (Autumn 2000), p. 2-13. Awarded the William Best Hesseltine Award for the best article published in the Wisconsin Magazine of History in 2000-2001.
  • "Only Connect...: The Goals of a Liberal Education," The American Scholar, (Autumn, 1998), p. 73-80.
  • "The Uses of Environmental History" (Presidential Address, American Society for Environmental History), Environmental History Review, 17:3 (Fall 1993), p. 1-22.
  • Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature, W. W. Norton, 1995.
  • "Telling Tales on Canvas: Landscapes of Frontier Change," In: Discovered Lands, Invented Pasts: Transforming Visions of the American West (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992).
  • "A Place for Stories: Nature, History, and Narrative," Journal of American History 78:4 (March, 1992), p. 1347-1376.
  • Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West, W. W. Norton, 1991.

External links