Owen James Hyman

Winner of the 2018 Ronald Rainger Prize for the best early career work on the history of the earth and environmental studies

Owen James Hyman (Utah State University Eastern)

The inaugural Rainger Prize for early-career work in the history of the earth and environmental sciences is awarded to Owen Hyman for his essay “Anxieties of the Plastic Age: Cotton Culture, White Supremacy, and Tenant Forestry in the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta, 1935-1953.” Dr. Hyman recently completed his Ph.D. in the department of history at Mississippi State University. His prize-winning paper illuminates a range of factors that led cotton planters in the Delta region of Mississippi to adopt a new focus on exploiting their lands’ hardwood forests in the first half of the twentieth century. Planters shifted their attention to timber resources (and sponsored forestry research) at a moment when their cotton production seemed threatened by competition from other cotton-growing regions, the rise of synthetic textiles, and the local labor shortage caused by out-migration and the war economy. However, Hyman argues convincingly that their specific approach to developing a Delta timber economy—namely by adoption of small-scale “low tech” forestry carried out by black tenant farmers—was driven by a desire to maintain the longstanding social order in the Delta, the site of a notoriously oppressive agrarian regime of slave-labor and sharecropping. Hyman’s close archival research, and his contextualizing of the region’s Delta Experimental Forest in economic, social, and environmental history, make this essay a worthy winner of the first Rainger Prize.

Mott Greene, Alexandra Hui, Alistair Sponsel (Chair)


See Hyman’s profile at Utah State University Eastern.