SLS Affiliated Faculty Kent Linthicum Wins American Council of Learned Societies Fellowship

June 7, 2021

This spring, SLS affiliated faculty and Brittain Fellow Kent Linthicum was awarded the prestigious American Council of Learned Societies fellowship.  Connecting his award to his work, specifically with SLS, Dr. Linthicum stated, “Serve-Learn-Sustain has been critical to my work. Through SLS I’ve been able to talk with students, faculty, and staff who are working hard thinking about environmental justice, climate change, and the end of fossil fuels. For instance, as a teaching fellow in the Kendeda Building I worked with Jeremy Ackerman, Julie Hugonny and Michael Nitsche, to create a new SLS teaching tool, ‘Storytelling Equity,’ which uses narrative as a tool for different disciplines to help them include equity in the work they do. Overall, I feel very fortunate to be part of SLS and its important work.” 

While on fellowship, Linthicum plans to finish his book, Crowning Coal: Slavery, Fossil Fuels, and Literature 1755–1865. The book connects the energy and environmental humanities with literary studies. Linthicum says the book pushes back against the ‘just-so’ stories of industrialization: “The traditional narrative is that the rise of the steam engine ultimately replaced manual labor and specifically the labor of enslaved peoples. There is evidence though that, in fact, the rise of the steam engine and the industrialization of coal had the opposite effect on enslaved peoples, encouraging countries like the United States to expand slavery pushing out further West and colonizing more space to use for cotton monoculture which would then be sold to mills in Britain. My work seeks to understand how media played a role in the expansion of both coal and slavery. In the nineteenth century people were aware of the violence caused by slavery and by coal use. I want to show how the media of the era helped people ignore this violence as a parallel to the ways we ignore our own fossil-fueled crises and their environmental injustices.” 

Linthicum added, “I believe my work will support Serve-Learn-Sustain’s mission and all those who study environmental justice and energy. Based on IPCC recommendations, we have a handful of years to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions by half and roughly thirty years to reduce them to zero. That kind of energy transition will be a massive undertaking, one that requires deft policy and new technologies. We cannot look to technology and policy alone though; decarbonization and a just transition will also require understanding media and fostering new cultures. I look to the past to understand those last two points, media and culture. Specifically, I want to know what helped make fossil fuels, particularly coal, appealing. I believe that if we understand the cultures that licensed the transitions to fossil fuels and the expansion of slavery, maybe we can reverse engineer our culture to transition away from fossil fuels and towards a more environmentally just future.” 

Read more about the award HERE and HERE.