I am a social and cultural historian of early America with particular interest in the human dimensions of environmental change. My work examines the ways Europeans and Native Americans interacted with contested spaces—those that defied ownership and jurisdiction, that were neither "natural" nor "civilized"—which has steered my research into a decidedly watery world. Specifically, I am drawn to the streams, creeks, marshes, and harbors of the littoral. To what extent, my work asks, does the liminal nature of coasts, and estuaries in particular, blur legalities and shape local economies, and how did that in turn lead to environmental change?
My new book, Between Land and Sea: The Atlantic Coast and the Transformation of New England, examines the environmental history of Narragansett Bay (Rhode Island) from first European settlement in 1636 through industrialization during the first half of the nineteenth century. This study uses one of the largest estuaries on the East Coast and one situated at the heart of early English settlement in New England as a means to write estuaries into Atlantic history. For too long oceans and their tidal arms have been presented as immutable spaces—trackless, eternal, and beyond the control of humans. This work recovers that history by examining the ways settlers drew resources from rivers and creeks and the bays into which they flowed. I explore the ways coasts were mapped by explorers, promoters, and professional cartographers and how those processes reflected cultural conceptions of water through time. I also show how water was partitioned among competing interests when it became the primary source of industrial power. Ultimately, this book examines the ways the coastal people of southern New England added order to the edge of the sea both materially and imaginatively over time.