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Timothy Johnson

U.S. South, Post-1865 U.S., Agriculture and Environment

Graduate Student
BA, Colorado College, 2005; MA, University of Georgia, 2010

Office: 103 LeConte

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My research examines how America became a nation fed and fueled by chemical fertilizers. Before the Civil War, American farmers relied on fresh soil and animal manure to feed their plants. Yet by the 1950s, Americans were enmeshed in a vast, energy-intensive system built by the fertilizer industry, state actors, and farmers. Farmers in the post-Civil War American South were the unlikely shock troops of this new fertilizer-fueled regime, but their tenuous position in the emerging global economy of nutrients created geopolitical challenges for the American state during the World Wars. Flawed assumptions about the connection between the manufacture of explosives and fertilizer led the federal government to go into the business of fertilizer research and development. This intrinsic scientific connection between the projects of arming and farming ultimately proved to be a boon to the burgeoning fertilizer industry, which kicked into gear after World War II.
Moving beyond purely economic or technological explanations, my research uses the tools of cultural, environmental, and political history to examine a transformation in the way that humans feed and clothe themselves. Chemical fertilizers have remade the landscape, as well as how we perceive it.

Research and Teaching Interests

[African American]
[Environment & Agriculture]
[U.S. 19th & 20th Century]
[U.S. South]


"Growth Industry: Unearthing the Origins of Fertilizer-Fueled Agriculture in America, 1865-1950," supervised by Dr. Shane Hamilton (In Progress)

MA Thesis

"The Growth Industry: Fertilizer and the Politics of Agriculture on the Georgia Cotton Belt, 1840-1900," supervised by Dr. Shane Hamilton (2010)

Honors and Awards

Allington Dissertation Fellowship, Chemical Heritage Foundation, A nine month residential fellowship at the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia (2014-2015)

WHEATS 2014, University of Kansas, The Workshop for the History of Environment, Agriculture, Technology and Science (2014)

Research Fellow, Philadelphia Area Center for the History of Science (2013-2014)

History Project Research Grant, Harvard Center for History and Economics, The Harvard History Project awards research funding to projects dealing with economic history, broadly construed (2013)

Dissertation Proposal Development Fellowship (Ecological History field), Social Science Research Council (2012)

Travel Grant, National Science Foundation, Provides travel funds for scholars presenting at the 2012 American Society of Environmental History Conference (2012)

Carl Vipperman Teaching Assistantship Award, UGA History Department (2012)

Bonner Award, Georgia College and State University, Best Thesis in Georgia History (2012)

Excellence in Student Research Using Historical Records, Secretary of State / Georgia Historical Records Advisory Board (2010)


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