Recently, the Duke-affiliated Forest History Society (FHS) announced that its president and CEO, Steve Anderson, will retire Sept. 8 after a quarter century of service.
During this time, Anderson has been an adjunct professor at the Nicholas School and contributed significantly to many NSOE student and faculty projects. He is the fourth president of the FHS, a nonprofit library and archive that was first organized at the University of Minnesota in the late 1940s, moving first to Yale and then to the University of California at Santa Cruz before growing roots at Duke in 1984.
By many measures, Anderson has been a successful leader of FHS, both in reinforcing the organization’s historic mission to preserve, archive and interpret the records of forest and conservation history, and in expanding its broad interests in the environment.
Among many other accomplishments, he has worked to solidify FHS’s close relations with the American Society for Environmental History to such a degree that the two organizations now periodically share annual scholarly meetings and co-publish the journal Environmental History, a gem of a journal which, in my humble opinion, should be more widely read in NSOE.
He has served as a leader in the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO) and was one of three co-founders of the International Consortium of Environmental History Organizations (ICEHO), which has now conducted three World Congresses.
During Anderson’s tenure, FHS gained many important archival collections; doubled its endowments; expanded annual giving sixfold; grew its book series and the Forest History Today magazine; led the development of the “If Trees Could Talk” middle school curriculum, helped produce the Emmy award-winning film “America’s First Forest: Carl Schenck and the Asheville Experiment. The society also successfully conducted a multiyear capital campaign that enabled it to construct its spectacular 17,000-square-foot headquarters with library, archives, and meeting space, just off Duke’s West campus.
In addition to his leadership at FHS, Anderson also advised countless MEM and MF students in independent projects, internships, and in group and individual MPs. He has lectured in many NSOE classes, and, in 1999, founded the Lynn W. Day Distinguished Lectureship in Environmental History, an annual lectureship co-sponsored by FHS, NSOE, and Duke’s Department of History that has brought many of the world’s leading environmental historians to our campus. Thanks to this lectureship, our faculty and students have had the opportunity to meet with and learn from some of the most distinguished scholars in the field, including William Cronon, Stephen Pyne, Roderick Nash, Char Miller, Patricia Limerick, Donald Worster, Jenny Price, David Foster, and Andrea Wulf.
He has enriched students’ research at Duke through his administration of the F.K. Weyerhaeuser Graduate Student Fellowship, which helps fund graduate students working to develop historical perspectives of environmental research. Many of these Fellows have gone on in their careers to embrace the importance of environmental history in their respective fields. One example is Krithi Karanth, who is now chief conservation scientist and director at the Centre for Wildlife Studies in Bangalore, India, and an adjunct faculty member at NSOE.
Collegiality, scholarly generosity, and the ability to work as a member of a team have also been hallmarks of Anderson’s career.
In 2019, I needed colleagues to help me with a newly funded Bass Connections celebration and study of Alexander von Humboldt, one of the most influential scientists and explorers of the 1800s. Anderson got deeply involved helping bring Andrea Wulf, the best-selling author of The Invention of Nature, to campus for a spirited Lynn Day Lecture to a packed audience in Love Auditorium. We later hosted a two-day Humboldt Colloquium at the FHS headquarters with five leading Humboldt scholars, organized a Duke-UNC-NCSU Humboldt reading group, and sponsored a Humboldt birthday party—he would have turned 250 that year—for students to boot. Many of the details of these activities arose from brainstorming with Steve.
We are proud to have had Steve Anderson as an adjunct faculty member at NSOE and expect that the fruitful relationship we enjoy with the Forest History Society will continue in the future. After his retirement on Sept. 8, Steve plans to stay in the Triangle area with his wife Diane and focus on a variety of volunteer opportunities. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.