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