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Learn more about Benjamin Cohen, chair of engineering studies and professor
Research areas: I study the intersection of the histories of science, technology, and the environment with particular attention to industrial and sustainable agriculture. My main interest is to think through the origins of modern industrial food and agriculture. That’s mostly been about the 1800s and early 1900s. I’m coming off a research leave right now, where I had the chance to make some headway on a book that moves the story forward across the 1900s. This one is about the birth of Big Ag in the 20th century and the people who got pushed aside along the way. In teaching and local activities, I work with students, faculty, our campus sustainability and LaFarm community, and Lehigh Valley community members to move beyond the limitations of industrial ag for a healthier and more just future.
My Lafayette journey: I was drawn to the school in part because of the small college environment and the possibility of working with interdisciplinary groups. It all seemed to fit with what I thought of as a liberal arts college. At Lafayette, we integrate arts and humanities, engineering, history, and science in ways that can be difficult to do at larger schools.
There are two things that are complementary here, but different. One is collaborative ease. Because it’s a small college, we know each other, we see each other, and it’s not hard to collaborate with each other across campus. I value that. And the other is interdisciplinary education, which is something larger and fuller than collaboration. We have the chance to teach students from all divisions, to do research that brings together methodologies from many disciplines, to work with students and do research on the ground in ways that require multiple lenses.
What receiving a full professorship means to me: It was fulfilling to work with my review committee and read letters of support from students and colleagues, and even the anonymous reviewers of my work. That was rewarding, to hear what people are getting out of my writing and what students value in my teaching. You don’t get many opportunities to see such a concentrated version of uplifting comments about your work all at one time.
What I will be teaching in the fall: During the 2023-24 academic year, I’m teaching my First-Year Seminar, “Ten Ways to Know Nature,” and an upper-level elective, Technology and Nature, in the fall. Next spring, I hope to offer a reading seminar in engineering and environmental ethics and my class on the history of technology.