How do you save the chestnut? Our newest faculty member is trying to find out

Christine Biermann
Christine Biermann

Christine Biermann is originally from Upstate New York, but was drawn to the University of Washington after earning an undergraduate, Master’s and PhD in Geography at three different universities – Geneseo, the University of Tennessee and Ohio State University.

Biermann is one of the newest faculty members to join the Geography department this year, and her dissertation research examined the movement to restore the American chestnut. The chestnut tree was driven nearly to extinction by an invasive Asian fungus in the early 1900s, and Biermann focused her efforts on determining the politics of the conservation efforts.

“My central research goal is to better understand the politics of conservation and restoration in the Anthropocene,” Biermann said. “This research involved archival work and ethnographic fieldwork and took me to a wide variety of field sites; from breeding orchards to genetics laboratories, and from strip mines to national memorials.”

In the past, Biermann has taught classes on the global environment (a lab course that explicitly connects physical geographic processes and phenomena with social issues), environmental conservation (a service learning course in which students work with local environmental organizations to learn how conservation plays out locally), and a graduate seminar in nature-society relations. This upcoming academic year, she’s excited to teach another new course on the geographies of energy and sustainability.

She’s published pieces of her research already, in Environment and Planning D: Society and Space and ACME, and is currently working on a manuscript about how the chestnut blight connected with broader social anxieties around national identity, race, and immigration in early 20th century America. Previous projects include working with the National Park Service and The American Chestnut Foundation to reforest the area where Flight 93 went down on September 11, 2001.

“As I’m brand new to the Pacific Northwest, I’ve been enjoying exploring the area this year. When I’m not at my desk in Smith Hall, I love to hike and cross country ski,” she said.


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