Roxanne Willis

Current Position: 

Freelance writer
Beagle Environmental Fellow: 2006-2008

Faculty Host: 

Roxanne Willis is a scholar of American environmental history and literature. She will use her fellowship to write a scholarly book intended to reach a broad non-scholarly audience: Alaska and the American Environmental Imagination.

Roxanne received her PhD in American Studies from Yale University. She received her MA in American studies from Yale in 2002 and her BA in anthropology from Harvard (summa cum laude) in 1997. At Yale, she was an instructor in classes on “The Alaskan Environment in American History and Culture” and “Wilderness in the North American Imagination.” She has been a teaching fellow in courses on “Alcohol and Other Drugs in American Culture,” and “The Formation of Modern American Culture, 1920-present.” This fall, Western Historical Quarterly will publish Roxanne's “A New Game in the North: Alaska Native Reindeer Herding, 1840-1940. Her dissertation was titled, “Making Alaska American: Environment and Development in a Foreign Land.” She calls it “the first comprehensive examination of Alaskan development schemes and their environmental consequences.” Before entering graduate school, Roxanne was a coordinator at The Green Group in Washington, DC, and a senior account executive at Hyde Park Communications, also in Washington.

As a fellow, Roxanne worked with Professor Lawrence Buell in the Department of English and American Literature and Language. She continued the work she started in her dissertation to “recover the lost history of development in Alaska,” which reveals how “Alaskan policy has often been based more firmly in the American imagination than in any environmental reality.” She writes: “My ambition is to create a book that is at once scholarly, rigorous, accessible to the well-educated reader and useful for the decision-makers shaping American environmental policy. The project currently examines five twentieth century environment and development conflicts in Alaska: the introduction of domesticated reindeer at the turn of the century, the creation of an agricultural colony during the New Deal period, the construction of the Alaska Highway during World War II, the debate over the proposed Rampart Dam in the 1960s, and the controversy over the construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. My book manuscript will include two additional case studies. The first will examine the 1950s debate of “Project Chariot,” a proposition to create an artificial harbor through the detonation of an atomic weapon at Cape Thompson, Alaska. The second will discuss the controversy over oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, focusing specifically on the late 1980s.”


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Center for the Environment

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