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Research Profile and CV

I am a trained historian with a deep commitment to interdisciplinary scholarship in the humanities and sciences. Although I have a PhD in history, my research interests range from science, technology, and society (STS) and environmental studies to cultural history, the philosophy of science, green business, and agroecology. Broadly, I am interested in the ways in which humans interact with the natural environment and how science and concepts of nature affect those interactions. On the level of values, I'm fascinated by efforts (in government, the self, academia, NGOs, and the private sector) to make positive transformational change.

To date, I have written and published on the following subjects: participation in the European Enlightenment, the political culture of Old Regime and Revolutionary France, the history of suicide, the history of deforestation, the Counter-Enlightenment, the concept of public opinion, and the origins and formation of sustainability and sustainable development, ecological economics, and degrowth, sustainable food systems, and the transition to organic production. 

More precisely, my research projects and interests have revolved around three areas: 

1. The first area is Early Modern European history, with an emphasis on the cultural, scientific, and environmental history of Enlightenment France. My first book--The Enlightenment in Practice--appeared in 2012 with Cornell University Press. It broadens our understanding of the nature and impact of the European Enlightenment via an analysis of public involvement in intellectual life and the use of 'crowd-sourcing' by the French state. It is based on archival research that I conducted in about 30 French towns. 

2. The second area is the history and practice of sustainability. I have taught many courses on sustainability and environmental consciousness and published a number of works related to the subject, most notably Sustainability: A History (OUP, 2014/2016), which also appeared as an expanded second edition in 2022. I am interested in where the concept of sustainability comes from, how the sustainability movement took shape, and the impact that it has had on our society since the late 1970s. Sustainability is a meaningful way for me to come to terms with some of the more problematic developments that the planet has witnessed since the 18th century: growth-based economics, population, industrialism, deforestation, anthropogenic climate change, ecological destruction, and so on. Sustainability, as far as I'm concerned, represents a constructive response to the unsustainable world that we've created. It also provides methods, bodies of knowledge, and inspiration for positive societal change. 

One of the great pleasures of publishing this book is that it has allowed to me to engage with the public in more direct ways. My writings, and interviews about my work, have run in The Atlantic, The History News Network, The Boston Globe,, The Conversation Canada, The Guardian, and elsewhere. Tens of thousands of people read and/or shared my article in The Atlantic. I have been interviewed on the CBC, CFAX, NPR affiliates, Irish National Radio, etc. I have given lectures on this material in several cities in North America and Europe, and am often asked to run seminars and workshops on sustainability, organics, and/or green business. It is amazing to me how much interest there is in building a sustainable society, and I hope, in some small way, to make a contribution to that effort. 

3. My third area of interest is food systems and the organic food industry. I learned a tremendous amount about organics as part of my research on sustainability, and learned even more as the owner of an organic food distribution business. I have taught courses at Uvic on the organics industry and worked with organic farmers across the country to study their transition techniques. This research culminated in One Level at a Time: Transitioning to Organic Vegetable Production (COG, 2018), which is a practical handbook for those interested in all aspects of organic transition (marketing, agroecology, certification, etc.). I am also interested in permaculture techniques and Indigenous ecologies, and especially soil-building practices. I organized a study abroad program in 2016 that took students to High Amazon Peru in order to study sustainable, Indigenous agricultural practices.  

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