Kathryn Morse is Professor of History and John C. Elder Professor in Environmental Studies at Middlebury College, where she teaches courses in U.S. History and American environmental thought in both the history department and the environmental studies program. A graduate of Brookline High School (Mass.), Yale University, Utah State University, and the University of Washington, she is the author of The Nature of Gold: An Environmental History of the Klondike Gold Rush (2003), and several articles including "There Will Be Birds: Images of Oil Disasters in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries" in the Journal of American History. She is currently working on a born-digital, image-based history of New Deal Rural Rehabilitation Programs run by the Farm Security Administration, focusing on connections between land, race, and ideas of conservation. Her interests include the material and environmental history of the U.S. West, ideas of nature, race, and environment in American culture, the power and role of photography in environmental and social history, the digital humanities broadly, digital-focused pedagogy in the undergraduate classroom, and the challenges of interdisciplinary work in environmental studies programs at liberal arts colleges.
Erosion threatened soil and human rootedness on land in 1930s America; it also threatened whiteness. As white families lost land and homes, they slid downward, like silt on a treeless hillside, from the socio-economic tier of landownership and yeoman independence into the gullies and wastelands of tenancy—a “place” historically, socially and agro-ecologically reserved for and defined by non-whites. In seeking to restore white families to security on agricultural land, Farm Security Administration rural rehabilitation programs conserved the material, cultural, and social meanings of race as defined by particular connections to the earth.