Environmental degradation focus of LaFeber-Silbey lecture March 10

Climate change has aggravated the threat that catastrophic fires pose to forests and communities from Seattle to San Diego – the fire season in the United States burned over 58,000 acres of land in 2021. But today's growing concern with these cataclysmic events is not the first time that fire emerges as a major force in American history.

In this year's LaFeber-Silbey Lecture, historian Daniel Immerwahr will re-establish the central importance of forests and fire to the settlement of the American West in the nineteenth century. His talk, "Axecraft: Settler Colonialism and Wood," is hosted by Cornell's Department of History and set for 5 p.m. on Thursday, March 10, in the Lewis Auditorium, Goldwin Smith Hall on Cornell's Ithaca campus.

The lecture is also being live-streamed; passcode 8725. To pre-register for virtual or in-person attendance (recommended) send an email to department_of_history@cornell.edu with your name, phone number, and address. For the in-person event, adherence to university public health guidelines is required. Visit covid.cornell.edu for the latest information.

"Immerwahr is an innovative and wide-ranging thinker as well as a spellbinding narrator whose ’Thinking Small’ and ‘How to Hide an Empire’ have been debate-shaping interventions,” said Nicholas Mulder, assistant professor of history in the College of Arts and Sciences and organizer of this year's talk. "He is one of the most exciting historians of the United States of his generation. He is singularly adept at taking on vast stretches of historical experience and reinterpreting them in profoundly intelligent ways. It will be thrilling to see Immerwahr drive a coach and horses through the conventional narrative of how the American West was made."

Immerwahr is a professor of history at Northwestern University, where he teaches global history and U.S. foreign relations. In his lecture, he will explore the important relationship between wood, fire, and empire in the nineteenth-century United States. North America’s bounty of timber, Immerwahr will argue, facilitated colonialism in two important ways. The timber attracted and subsidized settler activities, which allowed the quick and cheap build-up of their habitations, and simultaneously, it allowed settlers to evacuate and annihilate Native towns by burning them.

Immerwahr’s first book, "Thinking Small," a history of U.S. grassroots anti-poverty strategies, won the Organization of American Historians' Merle Curti Award for best work of U.S. intellectual history. His second, ”How to Hide an Empire,” a retelling of U.S. history with the overseas parts of the country included, was a national bestseller and won the Robert Ferrell book prize from the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations. Immerwahr's writings have appeared in many publications, including "The New York Times," "Washington Post," and "The Guardian."

The Department of History annually presents the LaFeber-Silbey Lecture in American History. The lecture is in memory of Walter LaFeber and Joel Silbey.

Read the story in the Cornell Chronicle.

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