Roller Receives NEH Fellowship for Research Into Use of Agrichemicals in U.S.

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Heather Roller, professor of history and environmental studies, has received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to support the research and writing of her upcoming book, which explores rural cultures of agrichemical use since 1970. The fellowship is one of approximately 100 awards made by the NEH this month to advance humanities research at higher education institutions throughout the United States.

Agrichemicals encompass pesticides like herbicides, insecticides, and fungicides. Their use in agriculture has accelerated and expanded during the past half-century, even as the public has become increasingly concerned about the effects of toxic chemicals on human health and the environment. Roller aims to explain how we got here — and what it might mean for the future. In the book, she will explore how farmers’ conceptions of agrichemicals have shifted over time, how memories of spraying are carried through family stories, and how controversies around these substances have shaped rural community relations.

Roller has conducted approximately 50 oral history interviews so far, visiting rural areas in New York, Iowa, and California to speak with farmers and people living or working in proximity to agriculture. She has also tracked down stories of agrichemical use (and misuse) in archives around the country. She will wrap up her interviews and archival research early in the fellowship year and then turn to writing the book.

Read more about the project in Colgate Research.