B.S., Washington and Lee University; A.M., Brown University; Ph.D., Princeton University
James Morton TurnerAssociate Professor of Environmental Studies
Researcher on the recent history of U.S. environmental politics and policy, including public lands, climate change, and science and technology.
I have taught in the Environmental Studies Program at Wellesley College since the fall of 2006. My training is in environmental history and environmental studies. I have also been active in college sustainability initiatives, especially those pertaining to energy and climate change.
I have recently published a co-authored book titled, The Republican Reversal: Conservatives and the Environment from Nixon to Trump, with Drew Isenberg. At a moment when environmental laws and policies are under attack, this book considers the historical evolution of conservative opposition to environmental reform, starting with Nixon's support for core environmental laws in the early 1970s to the culmination of the Republican reversal on the environment with the Trump administration. The book also makes clear the key role that environmentalists and their allies played in deflecting previous moments of anti-environmental activism, such as at the start of the Reagan administration. In addition to the book, I also helped develop an extensive teaching website on conservatives and the environment.
Currently, I am finishing a book on the environmental history of batteries. Today, batteries are seen as crucial to a wide range of sustainable technologies, such as electric automobiles and renewable energy. But batteries have a long history as an enabling technology, making possible the systems of transportation and communication that transformed society in the twentieth century. By focusing on the history of lead-acid batteries, which are both highly toxic and the most highly recycled consumer product in the world, this book asks what lessons we can draw from the history of batteries, as we chart our way toward a battery-powered future. This research has been supported by a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities and a grant from the National Science Foundation (SES #1230521).
My first book, The Promise of Wilderness: American Environmental Politics since 1964, is available from the University of Washington Press (2012). The book chronicles the expansion of the federal wilderness system since 1964 and the shift toward a broader agenda for public lands reform. It explores two nested questions: how have debates over the public lands affected modern environmental politics and how have debates over environmental reform affected American politics more broadly? A short video about the book is available here.
My teaching at Wellesley includes a range of courses in the Environmental Studies Program. I teach an introductory course focused on issues and concepts important to environmental studies which is organized around climate change. I teach a 200-level course on U.S. Environmental History that considers the dynamic relationship between the environment and human history from the Civil War to present. I teach two 300-level seminars: My U.S. Environmental Politics seminar examines the laws, stakeholders, and political and policy processes important to the federal environmental regulatory state through a series of contemporary case studies. My other 300-level seminar is a capstone course on public writing, during which students spent the semester reporting on environmental beats of their choosing, which can be seen here.
At Wellesley, I've enjoyed working with students on research projects pertaining to public lands politics, international nature protection, and public attention to climate change.
I received a B.S. from Washington and Lee University in 1995, an A.M. in American Civilization from Brown University in 1996, a Ph.D. in History (History of Science) from Princeton University in 2004, and a certificate in Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy from the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton in 2005.