James C. Giesen

James C. Giesen

James C. Giesen

Associate Professor

Agricultural, Rural, Environmental History, African American, U.S. South




  • Ph.D., University of Georgia, 2004 
  • M.A., University of North Carolina, Greensboro, 1998 
  • B.A., DePauw University, 1995

Research Interests

My interests are the agricultural, rural, and environmental histories of the U.S., with a particular focus on the South in the twentieth century. I serve as the executive secretary of the Agricultural History Society and editor of the University of Georgia Press series Environmental History and the American South.


Book & Refereed Articles 

  • Boll Weevil Blues: Cotton, Myth, and Power in the American South (University of Chicago Press, 2011). Winner of the 2012 Deep South Book Prize and Winner of the 2013 Francis Butler Simkins Award from the Southern Historical Association for the best first book on Southern History.
  • With Mark Hersey, “The South and the Natural Environment,” The New South, Interpreting American History series, James Humphreys, ed. (Kent State University Press, forthcoming).
  • "'The Herald of Prosperity:' Tracing the Boll Weevil Myth in Alabama," Agricultural History V. 85, no. 1 (Winter 2011). Winner of the 2012 Vernon Carstensen Award from the Agricultural History Society.
  • James C. Giesen and Mark Hersey, "The New Environmental Politics and Its Antecedents: Lessons from the Early Twentieth Century," The Historian 72, no. 2 (Summer 2010): 271-298. 
  • "'The Truth about the Boll Weevil': The Nature of Planter Power in the Mississippi Delta," Environmental History 14, no. 4 (October 2009): 683-704. Winner of the 2011 Jack Temple Kirby Prize from the Southern Historical Association.
  • "Creating 'Nate Shaw': The Making and Re-Making of All God's Dangers," in Richard Godden and Martin Crawford, ed., Reading Southern Poverty Between the Wars, (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2006)

Selected Recent Presentations

  •  “Burying King Cotton: Environment and Culture in the Post-Cotton South,” University of South Carolina “Year of Cotton” program, invited keynote. October 15, 2015
  • “Ain’t That America? History and Culture in the Country,” DePauw University Horizon Lecture, Invited, October 27, 2014
  • “Of Rats and Men: Environments of Poverty and the Mississippi Extension Service,” Smith-Lever Act Centennial Conference, West Virginia University, September 25, 2014
  • “Killing King Cotton: Race, Memory, and Spectacle in Memphis,” Invited Keynote, Southern Forum on Agricultural, Rural, and Environmental History, Rollins College,
  • March 28, 2014“Soil as Time Machine: The Calhoun Critical Zone Observatory,” Invited Talk with Daniel d.B. Richter, History Center/SEOE, University of South Carolina, April 23, 2014.
  • “Alabama’s Got the Boll Weevil Blues,” Invited lecture, Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama, December 19, 2013.
  • “The King is Dead: The Culture of Cotton in Memphis, Tennessee,” European Rural History Conference, Bern, Switzerland, August 19-22, 2013.
  • “The King and His Court: The Cultural Politics of Cotton in the Global Age,” Agricultural History Society Annual Meeting, Banff, Alberta, June 15, 2013.
  • “Boll Weevil Blues,” invited keynote for 17th Cotton and Rural History Conference, American Cotton Museum, Greenville, TX, April 20, 2013.
  • “Boll Weevil Blues,” invited speaker, Mississippi State University Department of Agricultural Economics Seminar, April 5, 2013.
  • “Ain’t That America? The 1985 Farm Aid Concert as New Agrarianism,” American Historical Association Annual Meeting, New Orleans, Louisiana, January 4, 2013.
  • “Boll Weevil Blues,” invited talk for Summersell Center for the Study of the South, University of Alabama, October 2, 2012.
  • "Cotton and Agricultural History," Invited lecture for the National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute, Mercer University, June 27, 2012.
  • "King Cotton, the Enemy: The Strange Career of the South's Most Vaunted Crop," Southern Forum on Agricultural, Rural, and Environmental History, Savannah, Georgia, April 8-9, 2011. 
  • "From Cotton Weevils to Cotton Logos: The Environmental History of the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta," Delta State University's "Year of the Green" Keynote Environmental History Lecture (Invited), March 28, 2011. 
  • "Cotton and Agricultural History," Invited lecture for the National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute, Mercer University, June 29, 2010. 
  • "The Fabric of Our Lives: The Historical Memory of Cotton in the South," Agricultural History Society, Annual Meeting, Winter Park, Florida, June 10-12, 2010. 
  • "From Crop to Fabric: Cotton's Long Historical Memory," Southern Forum on Agricultural, Rural, and Environmental History, University of South Carolina, April 10, 2010. 
  • "Plantation as Labratory: Pesticides and the Industrialization of Cotton Farming in the Rural New South," Southern Industrialization Project Panel at Annual Meeting of the Southern Historical Association, Louisville, Kentucky, November 6, 2009. 

Other Publications & Presentations

  • Moderator, "Country Music, Country People: A Roundtable Discussion on Music and Life in Rural America," Annual Meeting of the Organization of American Historians, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, April 19, 2012
  • "A History of the Morrill Act: A Mississippi Perspective," invited lecture to Inaugural Spring Seminar, Gamma Sigma Delta Honor Society, Mississippi State University, March 28, 2012
  • "The Morrill Act Sesquicentennial: Mississippi and the Land Grant College Act," invited keynote lecture, State Phi Alpha Theta Convention, Jackson State University, March 24, 2012 
  • Moderator, "What Southern Environmental History Suffers to Groe: The State of Southern Environmental History on the Fifteenth Anniversary of the Publication of Mart A. Stewart's What Nature Suffers to Groe,"  Agricultural History Society Annual Meeting, Springfield, Illinois, June 18, 2011. 
  • Moderator, "Farmers, Markets, and Farmers' Markets: What Agricultural History Can Tell Us about the Local Foods Movement," Annual Meeting of the Organization of American Historians, Houston, Texas, March 19, 2011. 
  • Entries in Mississippi Encyclopedia, Encyclopedia of American Environmental History, The New Georgia Encyclopedia. 
  • Book Reviews in Journal of Southern History, Agricultural History, Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, H-North Carolina, Civil War History, American Communist History, North Carolina Historical Review, Film & History

Honors & Awards

  • Mississippi History Now Award (2015) for best public history article of the year published on Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Mississippi History Now page
  • William Parrish Outstanding Graduate Teacher Award (2014-15). Given by the graduate student organization of the Mississippi State History Department.
  • Francis B. Simkins Award (2013). Given by the Southern Historical Association biennially for the best book first book on southern history.
  • Beverly B. & Gordon W. Gulmon Eminent Scholar Award. Given by MSU College of Arts & Sciences to top humanities researcher. (Awarded fall 2012, carries designation through spring 2015.)
  • Deep South Book Prize (2012).  Awarded biennially by the Summersell Center for the Study of the South at the University of Alabama, for Boll Weevil Blues.
  • Vernon Carstensen Memorial Award (2011).  Awarded by the Agricultural History Society for the best article in a volume of Agricultural History, for 2011 article.
  • Jack Temple Kirby Prize (2011).  Awarded by the Southern Historical Association for the best article on southern agricultural or environmental history over a two-year period, for 2009 Environmental History article.
  • Carolyn S. Cobb Estate Faculty Award for excellence in research and teaching, 2011.
  • Will Clark Faculty Award for excellence in research and teaching, 2010.
  • Advisory Committee, Mississippi Digital Newspaper Project, Mississippi Department of Archives and History, 2013-Present.
  • Jack Temple Kirby Prize Committee, Southern Historical Association, begins 2014.
  • National Science Foundation. Critical Zone Observatory (CZO) Grant. Awarded January 2014. Total Award: $5 million over 5 years. Individual funding share $167,051.
  • United States Agricultural Information Network. Agricultural Network Information Center Digitization Grant. Co-PI. 2013. Award $3,125.
  • Core Faculty, Center for the History of Agriculture, Science, and the Environment in the South (CHASES), 2014-Present.
  • Founding Director, The Center for the History of Agriculture, Science, and the Environment in the South (CHASES), 2011-2014
  • Will Clark/State Pride Faculty Award for excellence in research and teaching, 2010 
  • Executive Secretary, Agricultural History Society, July 2010-present 
  • Membership Committee, Southern Historical Association, 2009-10 
  • Nominating Committee, Agricultural History Society, 2009-10 
  • Program Committee, Agricultural History Society, 2008-09 
  • Interviewed as expert on agricultural history by Los Angeles Times (August 24, 2010; July 22, 2010), Memphis Commercial Appeal (Nov. 4, 2007), Wall Street Journal (Oct. 24, 2008), Cleveland (MS) Current (April 14, 2011). 
  • Refereed scholarly manuscripts for Mississippi Quarterly, Journal of Economic History and Southern Quarterly 
  • Conceived and organized inaugural Forum on Agricultural and Rural History at Mississippi State (FARhMS), held April 4-5, 2008 
  • Interviewed for and appear in Game of Change (Pathway Productions, 2008), a documentary about the 1963 Mississippi State University basketball game against Loyola University 
  • Interviewed for The Secret to a Happy Ending (Barr Weissman, 2010), a documentary about the legendary southern rock band The Drive-By Truckers 
  • Historical Consultant, Shields-Ethridge Heritage Farm, Jefferson, Georgia, 2005 
  • J.C. Hyde Oral History Project, Richard B. Russell Political Library, University of Georgia, 2003-2004 
  • Research Fellow, Race and Slavery Petitions Project, University of North Carolina, Greensboro; Loren Schweninger, director, 1996-98 
  • Morgan and Jeanie Sherwood Grant, American Society for Environmental History, 2005 
  • Teaching Fellowship, University of Georgia, 1998-2004 
  • President, History Graduate Student Association, University of Georgia, 2001 
  • Carl Vipperman Outstanding Teaching Award, University of Georgia, 2000 
  • Beveridge Fellowship for Graduate Study in History, awarded by DePauw University, 1998-1999 

Research Experience

Current Projects:

• “Food and Eating in America: A Documentary History.” Edited document collection on food history under contract with Wiley Blackwell to be co-edited with Bryant Simon
• Long-term history of human influence on the South Carolina piedmont, from “wilderness” to cotton plantation land to “restored” federally-managed forest. Project funded in part by National Science Foundation.
• Long-term history of the cultural economy of cotton in the South
• History of the Mississippi State Cooperative Extension Service  

Courses Taught

  • HI 8953: US, 1877-1945
  • HI 8883: US Agricultural History, 1500-2000 (Seminar)
  • HI 8833 Southern History Seminar
  • HI 4193/6193: U.S. Environmental History, 1500-2000 
  • HI 4313/6313: The New South
  • HI 3333: Mississippi History
  • HI 1073: Modern U.S. History
  • Hi 4990: History of Now

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