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McNeill To Give NIH Director's Cultural Lecture, Oct. 29

Dr. John R. McNeill, professor of history at Georgetown University's Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, will deliver the NIH Director's Cultural Lecture at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 29 in Masur Auditorium, Bldg. 10.

McNeill's topic is "Environment and Society Since 1900: A Global Perspective." His book, Something New Under the Sun, will be the basis of his lecture. It provides a history of the 20th century pertaining to how the use of natural resources, combined with scientific and technological advances, has contributed to shaping global social and political life throughout the century. McNeill is known as an environmental historian. He said that he is "one who tries to write history as if nature existed — which for many historians it does not. Further, environmental historians recognize, indeed emphasize, that environments change with time, and they affect human communities and in turn are affected by them in an endless co-evolution."

After earning a Ph.D. in history from Duke University in 1981, McNeill could not find academic employment. He was hired by ecologists at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass.

"They were constructing what would now be considered primitive global carbon cycle models, driven by interest in the rising concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. For their models they needed historical information about vegetation and land cover, and they didn't know how to get it. Someone suggested they hire a historian, which was where I came in," he said.

McNeill worked for them for over 2 years, learning more and more about ways to describe the world, which he later relayed back into his historical interests. "I had done some work on Cuban sugar plantations for my dissertation. But I had not seen that a plantation is a major ecological intervention, requiring deforestation to get started, further deforestation to operate, with consequences for avifauna, insect life, soils, etc.," he explained.

McNeill has been at Georgetown University since 1985, teaching world history and environmental history. His current research interests are primarily in the field of environmental history. His first book written exclusively from the environmental perspective is titled Mountains of the Mediterranean.

This event is part of the Wednesday Afternoon Lecture series, and is sponsored by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and OD, NIH.

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