Top Young Historians: 111 – Thomas G. Andrews

TOP YOUNG HISTORIANS

Edited by Bonnie K. Goodman

111: Thomas G. Andrews, 7-12-10

Basic Facts

Teaching Position: Assistant Professor, Department of History, University of Colorado, Denver, Fall, 2007-present
Area of Research: The social and environmental history of the Rocky Mountain West
Education: Ph.D., University of Wisconsin-Madison, United States History, May, 2003; Dissertation: “The Road to Ludlow: Work, Environment, and Industrialization in Southern Colorado, 1870-1915”
Major Publications: Andrews is the author of Killing for Coal: America’s Deadliest Labor War. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2008, winner of the 2009 George Perkins Marsh Prize for Best Book in Environmental History, American Society for Environmental History; 2009 Bancroft Prize, Columbia University; Thomas G. Andrews JPG2009 Vincent P. DeSantis Book Prize, The Society for Historians of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era; 2009 Colorado Book Award, History Category; 2009 Spence Award, Mining History Association; Honorable Mention, 2009 Hundley Prize, The Pacific Coast Branch of the American Historical Association; Finalist, 2009 Clements Prize, Southwest History category, Clements Center at SMU; Noteworthy Book in Industrial Relations and Labor Economics, Industrial Relations Section of Princeton Firestone Library; 2009 Caroline Bancroft History Prize, Denver Public Library.
Andrews is also the author of numerous scholarly journal articles, book chapters and reviews including among others: “Contemplating Animal Histories: Politics and Pedagogy across Borders,” Radical History Review 107 (Spring, 2010): 139-165; “Making Meat: Efficiency and Exploitation in Progressive Chicago.” Organization of American Historians Magazine 24 (January, 2010): 37-40; Flannery Burke and Thomas Andrews, “The Five Cs of History: Putting the Elements of Historical Thinking into Practice in Teacher Education.” Pp. 151-167 in History Education 101: The Past, Present, and Future of Teacher Preparation, eds. Wilson J. Warren and D. Antonio Cantu. Charlotte, N.C.: Information Age Publishing, 2008; “What Does It Mean to Think Historically?” Perspectives: The Newsmagazine of the American Historical Association (January, 2007): 32-35l; “‘Made by Toile’? Tourism, Landscape, and Labor in Colorado, 1858-1917.” Journal of American History 92 (December, 2005): 837-863; “Turning the Tables on Assimilation: Oglala Lakotas and the Pine Ridge Day Schools, 1889-1920s.” Western Historical Quarterly 33 (Winter, 2002): 407-430; “Tata Atanasio Trujillo’s Unlikely Tale of Utes, Nuevo Mexicanos, and the Settling of Colorado’s San Luis Valley.” New Mexico Historical Review 75 (January, 2000): 4-41.
Andrews is currently working on An Animals’ History of the United States. Under contract with Harvard University Press, and “An Environmental History of the Kawuneeche Valley, Rocky Mountain National Park.” Book-length National Park Service contract report
Awards: Andrews is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including among others:
W. P. Whitsett Lecturer in Western History, California State University-Northridge, 2010;
Bancroft Prize, Columbia University, 2009;
George Perkins Marsh Award, American Society for Environmental History, 2009;
Vincent DeSantis Prize, Society for Historians of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, 2009;
Caroline Bancroft Prize, Denver Public Library Western History Department, 2009;
Colorado Book Award, History, 2009;
Clark Spence Award, Mining History Association, 2009;
Honorable Mention, Clements Prize, Clements Center for Southwest Studies, Southern Methodist University, 2009;
Honorable Mention, Hundley Book Award, Pacific Coast Branch-American Historical Association, 2009;
Alice Hamilton Article Prize, American Society for Environmental History, 2007;
Ray Allen Billington Article Prize, Western History Association, 2006;
Polished Apple Teaching Award, California State University-Northridge, 2005;
Rachel Carson Dissertation Prize, American Society for Environmental History, 2004;
Arrell M. Gibson Article Prize, Western History Association, 2003;
John Topham and Susan Redd Butler Faculty Fellowship, Charles Redd Center for Western Studies, Brigham Young University, 2004-5, 2009-10;
CRISP Grant, UC-Denver College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, 2009;
American Council for Learned Societies Contemplative Practice Fellowship, 2007-8;
Bill Lane Center for the North American West, Stanford University, Short-Term Fellow, 2007-8;
W. M. Keck Young Scholars Award, Huntington Library, 2005-6;
National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute on “The Redemptive West,” Huntington Library, 2005;
Research Grants (2), Rockefeller Archive Center, 2000-2001 and 2002-3;
U. S. Environmental Protection Agency, Science to Achieve Results (STAR) Graduate Fellowship, 1999-2002.
Additional Info:
Formerly Assistant Professor, Department of History, California State University, Northridge, Fall, 2003-Spring, 2007.

Personal Anecdote

In less than a week, I was set to give my first-ever conference paper, before the annual meeting of the American Society for Environmental History. A very generous friend who was already out of graduate school and teaching had made room for me on a panel devoted to exploring the implications of Richard White’s important 1994 essay, “‘Are You an Environmentalist, or Do You Work for a Living?'” The conference organizers had slated the session for a room that sat at least a hundred, not because anyone wanted to hear a Ph.D. candidate from Wisconsin blather on about coal-mine explosions, but instead because my fellow panelists were fast making names for themselves. More important still, Richard White had kindly agreed to comment on the papers.

White’s “Are You an Environmentalist” had grabbed me the first time I read it (it has yet to let me go). I found myself deeply persuaded by White’s central claim: that environmental historians can learn a lot by taking seriously work and those who perform it. The piece taught me the best kind of truth–a simple truth of seemingly boundless explanatory power: Labor, White reminds us, has always encompassed many of the core practices through which human beings have arrived at a knowledge of nature.

I don’t know what they put in the Koolaid that I imbibed in seminar at Wisconsin, but like most graduate students there and elsewhere, my way of paying homage to the profound influence White’s essay had had upon me (and, for that matter, the impact that his whole corpus of scholarship had made upon me since I first encountered The Middle Ground as an undergraduate) was to lash out with that peculiar brand of Oedipal rage that combines the worst aspects of adolescent impudence and twenty-something earnestness. In the months leading up to the ASEH, I must have read “Are You an Environmentalist” at least six times, each time slicing and dicing the essay with my critical knives sharpened to a razor’s edge. My near-compulsive re-reading had filled me with unwarranted confidence. I told myself that I had found every weakness, every contradiction, every leap of logic, every hole in White’s argument.

I could not wait to tell the assembled lights of my discipline about all the things White had gotten wrong. I envisioned myself delivering a devastating critique; I imagined the verbal combat that would ensue as White, one of the greatest historians of his generation in my estimation (a conviction that I hold even more strongly today) devoted his comment to parrying my attack.

Those who have seen Richard White engage in debate will understand why this thought was not entirely comforting. At the first historical conference I had ever attended, in fact, I had watched White pretty much eviscerate two junior scholars when they tried a stunt very similar to the one I was plotting. I attempted with little success to maintain my confidence. I told myself that I was smarter than the pair I had seen White tear up. Besides, my critique was as persuasive and elegant as theirs had been tendentious and awkward.

Doubt, thank goodness, remained. I sent my advisor, Bill Cronon, a draft of the diatribe I had assembled. Bill gave me very clear and direct advice: Don’t be an idiot. File the paper away and write a new one that focused instead on presenting my own research findings.

Part of me evidently had a death wish and welcomed the heady risk of committing career suicide at such an early stage. That part of me felt censored by Bill and frustrated at the ways in which professionalism seemed to constrain intellectual exchange within the academy.

But overwhelming the compulsions seeking to push me to the edge were cooler, more cautious impulses. And so I pulled back to deliver an altogether safer paper. Bill had averted my juvenile plan. In the process, he spared Richard White the trouble of deciding whether to give me the dressing-down that I deserved, or to look graciously away from my impertinence.

If one of my own students were to concoct a similar stunt, I would undoubtedly provide the same advice. For all this, though, I can’t help feeling a little uncomfortable with the hard lessons this incident imparted-that our profession is inextricably hierarchical in nature, that some historians are simply smarter and more highly-skilled than others, that what I can do and how I can do it depends at least to some extent on how well I know and keep to my place.

With apologies to Borges, I had always imagined academe as a sort of paradise. This was an unusually outrageous delusion on my part; as an academic brat, tales of departmental infighting, administrative folly, and student futility were nightly topics of conversation at the family dinner table. Choosing to hold my fire against Richard White turned out to be a critical first step in my discovery that the historical discipline can offer no real place of grace, no true escape, from the world as it is–not a happy discovery, I know, but perhaps a necessary one.

Quotes

By Thomas G. Andrews

  • Almost a century later, evocations of Ludlow still hew to the same story lines established as the fighting unfolded. The view of the Colorado coalfield war that has become the consensus is that workers were striking simply Killing for Coal America's Deadliest Labor War JPGto achieve basic freedoms. Even though the miners suffered a crushing defeat, the blood sacrifices of Ludlow’s martyrs prompted Rockefeller and his fellow capitalists to mend their ways and set American business on the path toward today’s more enlightened labor relations. A Works Project Administration guidebook summarized this interpretation. Ludlow, New Deal authors argued, “aroused public opinion and brought about improvement of working conditions and civil liberties in the coal camps.” Like most tales of the bad old days, such stories chart a narrative of progress. From this starting point, it becomes simply a matter of emphasis and tone to elicit either complacence or alarm or lest we go back to the dark ages when big business reigned supreme and government forces served as the mailed fist of concentrated capital. — Thomas Andrews in “Killing for Coal America’s Deadliest Labor War”
  • “This truly is the highest honor that professional historians bestow upon a work in U.S. history. I imagined that I’d spend my entire career pursuing this goal without ever achieving it and I’m simply tickled to be in such incredible company.
    I’m a Colorado native, but I never knew anything about Ludlow until I was in graduate school. When I first learned about the massacre, I was appalled that such killing had occurred and I was drawn to the opportunity it provided to bring together a much bigger set of stories: about the deep-seated dependence of westerners on fossil fuels, about the coal mines that generated so much conflict in southern Colorado, and about the men, women, and children who came from around the world to work in and around the mines.
    Receiving the Bancroft is the greatest validation I could have ever imagined.” — Thomas Andrews on winning the Bancroft Prize for “Killing for Coal America’s Deadliest Labor War”

About Thomas G. Andrews

  • “The Ludlow Massacre of 1914 has long been known as one of the most notorious events in all of American labor history, but until the publication of Killing for Coal, it was still possible to see this slaughter simply as an episode in the history of American industrial violence. In Thomas Andrews’s skilled hands, it becomes something much subtler, more complicated, and revealing: a window onto the profound transformation of work and environment that occurred on the Western mining frontier in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Anyone interested in the history of labor, the environment, and the American West will want to read this book.” — William Cronon, author of “Nature’s Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West”
  • Killing for Coal is a stunning achievement. Beautifully written and masterfully researched, it stands as the definitive history of the dramatic events at Ludlow and breaks new ground in our understanding of industrialization and the environment. If I were to pick one word to describe this book, I would say, “powerful.”” — Kathryn Morse, author of “The Nature of Gold: An Environmental History of the Klondike Gold Rush”
  • “Killing for Coal arises from the rare and providential convergence of an extraordinary author and an extraordinary topic. With a perfect instinct for the telling detail, Thomas Andrews wields a matching talent for conveying, in crystal-clear prose, the deepest meanings of history. This is, in every sense, an illuminating book, shining light into a dark terrain of the American past and of the human soul.” — Patricia Nelson Limerick, author of “The Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West”
  • “A groundbreaking work about coal and coal development, labor relations and class conflict.” — Sandra Dallas, Denver Post
  • “Thomas G. Andrews’ Killing for Coal offers an intriguing analysis of the so-called Ludlow Massacre of April 20, 1914, a watershed event in American labor history that he illuminates with a new understanding of the complexity of this conflict…Killing for Coal distinguishes itself from conventional labor histories, by going beyond sociological factors to look at the total physical environment–what Andrews calls the “workscape”–and the role it played in the lives of both labor and management…In its deft marriage of natural and social history, Killing for Coal sets a new standard for how the history of industry can and should be written.” — Emily F. Popek, Pop Matters
  • “A stunning debut, full of insight into the role of labor and class not just in southern Colorado, but across the country.” — Denver Westword
  • “Andrews brings a 21st-century approach to this once-troubled landscape where the region’s voracious need for fuel trumped the rights and independence of the men who dragged it out of the ground.” — Bob Hoover, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
  • “Killing for Coal is far more than a blow-by-blow account of America’s deadliest labor war. It is an environmental history that seeks to explain strike violence as the natural excretion of an industry that brutalized the earth and the men who worked beneath it. Andrews is one of the excellent young scholars who have given new life to the field of labor and working-class studies by introducing new questions about race and gender, ethnicity and nationality, and new insights drawn from anthropology and physical geography…Andrews deserves credit for writing one of the best books ever published on the mining industry and its environmental impact and for drawing more public attention to the Ludlow story and its significance.” — James Green, Dissent
  • “Andrews does an excellent job of placing the massacre in the larger context of both previous labor strife in the area and the violent reprisals that armed bands of miners launched on mine owners, strikebreakers, and militia men in response to the deaths at Ludlow. One of the great strengths of Andrews’s account is his integration of environmental history into his narrative at all levels, and not just as an afterthought. The book is as much a history of coal, coal mining, and the reshaping of Colorado’s environment as it is a history of the Great Coalfield War of 1914.” — A. M. Berkowitz, Choice

Posted on Sunday, July 11, 2010 at 12:56 PM

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