In this first entry of the blog series introducing the board members of the new Cambridge University Press journal, Modern American History, Thomas G. Andrews offers some thoughts about the United States and its recent past.

Thomas Andrews is a social, environmental, and animal historian. Professor of history at the University of Colorado Boulder, he is the author of the Bancroft-Prize-winning Killing for Coal: America’s Deadliest Labor War (2008) and Coyote Valley: Deep History in the High Rockies (2015). He is currently working on a book tentatively entitled An Animals’ History of the United States.

Professor Thomas Andrew

Why do you study modern American history and not something else? 

For me, trying to make sense of modern American history enables me to study so many other things that I care about, from ecology to climate science, animal behavior to world history.

What are some of the challenges facing the field today?  In what new directions might the field go?

Perhaps the biggest challenges facing the field mimic those in contemporary American society more broadly: a lack of coherence and consensus; the consequences of economic restructuring and uncertainty; profligate present-mindedness; and an overemphasis on STEM fields and pre-professional education instead of a more balanced approach to cultivating citizenship, critical inquiry, public-spiritedness, and human happiness.

If you could have been present in any “room where it happened,” what would you have witnessed?

No rooms would have been involved, and not much would have happened—but I would very much have loved getting to join John Muir for an overnight tramp into the Sierra Nevada. The preservationist would have walked circles around me, but I doubt I would have minded much, as long as he kept regaling me with yarns about the wonders of the western high country.

Modern American History’s first print issue will appear in 2018. Sign up for online content alerts and follow us on Twitter @ModAmHist.  Article submissions and 250-word proposals for special features can be sent to

Main Image Credit:  John Muir, c. 1902, Library of Congress

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