Research

gregoryrosenthal-2016-7
The professor in their study (2016)

I am, by training, an environmental historian and public historian.

I received a Master of Arts degree in Public History from the State University of New York at Albany in 2007. While there, I studied with environmental historian Kendra Smith-Howard and wrote an MA Thesis on the historical encounters between Schenectady-based scientists (particularly those affiliated with the General Electric Corporation) and New York’s Adirondack Mountains. I was recently interviewed about my SUNY-Albany graduate school experience. You can read a write-up on the History Department’s Alumni Page.

In 2009 I moved to New York City to begin studying environmental history at the State University of New York at Stony Brook with Christopher Sellers, Jared Farmer, and other members of the faculty. My initial idea was to study the relationships between Indigenous peoples and nature in New York State, but very soon my topic shifted to the very ungrounded—even aqueous—arena of Pacific Ocean studies.

By the end of my first year at Stony Brook I decided to focus on nineteenth-century Hawaiʻi and the Hawaiian Islands’ place within larger transoceanic economic and ecological transformations. Initially, I intended to write a commodities history—to show what it looked like when Hawaiian biological resources were transformed from “nature” into globally-circulating “things.” But instead, my project kept morphing into something different: an Indigenous labor history of Hawaiian migrant workers in the Pacific World. I began studying ka ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi—the Hawaiian language—with an incredible teacher, Manuwai Peters, and with that key I was able to unlock what would become the primary data for my dissertation: the writings of the Hawaiian workers themselves, published in nineteenth-century Hawaiian-language newspapers.

I received an ACLS/Mellon Dissertation Completion Fellowship in 2014-15 and subsequently defended my dissertation in 2015. Since then, “Hawaiians Who Left Hawaiʻi: Work, Body, and Environment in the Pacific World, 1786-1876,” has won the 2016 Rachel Carson Prize for Best Dissertation from the American Society for Environmental History and the 2016 Constance Coiner Award for Best Dissertation from the Working Class Studies Association.

In addition to my dissertation, I have also published a number of scholarly articles. I have written about Hawaiian sandalwood as a globally-circulating commodity. I have written about the shared experiences of migrant workers and migratory birds on equatorial guano islands. More recently, I have written about working-class environmental experiences of the nineteenth-century Pacific; and an environmental microhistory of a nineteenth-century Pacific Ocean cyclone. I am currently working on a longue durée history of Polynesian migrations, diasporas, and transoceanic trade. These publications all reflect my interests at the intersections of labor and working-class history, trans-Pacific environmental history, and the parallels between nineteenth-century and twenty-first-century narratives of capitalist accumulation, Indigenous dispossession and resistance, proletarian environmentalisms, cosmopolitan experiences of migration and diaspora, and economic and ecological globalization.

I am proud to announce publication of my first book, Beyond Hawaiʻi: Native Labor in the Pacific World, available May 2018 from the University of California Press.

My most recent work focuses on returning to my roots in public history. In 2015 I moved to Roanoke, Virginia to begin work as Assistant Professor of Public History at Roanoke College. In September 2015, I co-founded the Southwest Virginia LGBTQ+ History Project, a community-based queer public history initiative. I have recently published my first scholarly article about the project, examining the intersections among urban history, queer history, and public history in Roanoke. In 2018, the Southwest Virginia LGBTQ+ History Project received Honorable Mention for the 2018 Allan Bérubé Prize (for outstanding work in public or community-based LGBTQ history) from the Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender History, American Historical Association, and my article “Make Roanoke Queer Again” received Honorable Mention for the 2018 G. Wesley Johnson Award (for the most outstanding article published in The Public Historian) from the National Council on Public History.

I am now working on a new book-length work on the theory and practice of queer public history, specifically focused on community struggles to preserve historically queer space in the midst of gentrification and the erasure of queer history, tentatively titled Queer This City: Radical Public History and the New Urban Renaissance.

In addition to these projects, I have also written several op-eds, encyclopedia articles, book and film reviews, and contributed to public history projects. For more information, please see my curriculum vitae.

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