Prof. Benjamin Cohen will gather with other scholars from across the country next spring at Princeton University’s Shelby Cullom Davis Center for Historical Studies to examine humanity’s effects on the environment and climate.

Named a Davis Center fellow for the spring semester, Cohen, chair of engineering studies and associate professor, will contribute his expertise and interests as a historian of food and technology studies to the multidisciplinary discussions around the role of humans in changing climatic and environmental conditions. His critically acclaimed book Pure Adulteration: Cheating on Nature in the Age of Manufactured Food (Chicago, 2019) explores the environmental and cultural history of the pure food crusades and how people struggled with the onset of industrial food production.

His residential fellowship at Princeton will support research on his newest book, How Not to Feed the World. The book first works to show how and why advocates in the first half of the 20th century redefined farming as being directed to feed an entire global population, rather than a family, community, or region. The second part of the project narrates how people have long thought of farming as an effort to nourish people, communities, and the land in just and equitable ways.

For two academic years, 2022-23 and 2023-24, the Davis Center will focus on the topic of environment and climate. The Davis Center’s chief function is to foster research on chosen themes through seminars, conferences, and workshops. Emphasis is placed on interdisciplinary approaches and subjects that span different geographical areas and periods.

“I was extremely fortunate to get this appointment,” says Cohen, who during weekly seminars over the spring semester will share his focus on technology, agriculture, and environmental justice and the future of food systems with environmental historians selected to receive Davis Center fellowships.

“My attention is on food policies that grow from more durable historical contexts. I am thinking about the future of food systems and how to help them promote more environmental justice and ecological sustainability by trying to understand how we got the dominant food system we have now,” he says.

Prof. Benjamin Cohen at LaFarm

Prof. Benjamin Cohen at LaFarm

Looking forward to the fellowship, Cohen says the opportunity will further energize his scholarly activities and bring even more vigorous discussions to his Lafayette classes and student groups, such as the Lafayette Food and Farm Cooperative (LaFFCo) that’s affiliated with LaFarm, Lafayette’s community garden and working farm.

“Faculty have the chance to excel in the classroom down the line with opportunities like this,” he says. “I see this fellowship as a time to draw from others’ expertise, which helps give more substance to my work and the work my students do.”


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