OAH Distinguished Lecturer Profile

Mark Fiege

Portrait of Mark Fiege

Mark Fiege is the Wallace Stegner Chair in Western American Studies at Montana State University and the author of The Republic of Nature: An Environmental History of the United States (2012) and Irrigated Eden: The Making of an Agricultural Landscape in the American West (1999), which received the Forest History Society's Charles A. Weyerhaeuser Book Award. His article "The Weedy West," published in the Western Historical Quarterly (2005), won several honors, including the American Society for Environmental History's Alice Hamilton Prize. Prior to moving to Montana State, he was a founding member of the Public Lands History Center at Colorado State University and a participant in its Parks as Portals to Learning, a research and learning program based on environmental history that brings together faculty, students, and resource managers at Rocky Mountain National Park. His current research includes a book on conservation in the national parks.

Featured Lecture

OAH Lectures

Abraham Lincoln is one of the most iconic figures in American history. This lecture reinterprets his life and the Civil War through the lens of environmental history.
Henry David Thoreau, Yellowstone National Park, and the Dust Bowl are easily understood as important topics in American environmental history. Yet, as this lecture demonstrates, nothing in the history of the United States, not even the subjects that define the canonical textbook account of the nation’s past, occurred outside the natural world. The American Revolution, the life of Abraham Lincoln, and the Brown v. Board of Education civil rights case in Topeka, Kansas are among the standard American history events that also can be understood as episodes in environmental history.
In the late twentieth century, scientists, citizens, and resource managers began to create new forms of environmental stewardship that combined ecological holism and systems thinking with philosophical pragmatism. Ranging from collaborative conservation to ecological process management, these democratic, pluralistic, historically informed approaches countered the disintegrative political and cultural trends characteristic of an era that Daniel Rodgers calls the “age of fracture.” This lecture explains the history of an overlooked but vitally important intellectual movement, with emphasis on elegant conservation, a model that appeared in the central Rocky Mountains in the 1990s and which adopted environmental history as a central feature of its methodology.
Over the last three decades, environmental history has become a vital and innovative field of historical scholarship. This lecture assesses the role of environmental history in the national parks and suggests that the field can play an important role in the management and interpretation of all parks, from Civil War battlefields to the large, ostensibly natural parks predominant in the American West.