I was born in Eau Claire, Wisconsin in 1977 and lived with my parents in a very small house on Birch Street.  Two months before my third birthday, I moved into a residence hall at the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire.   My father took a job as the hall director at Bridgeman Hall, then a notorious all-male party dorm, lasted one year, and then moved our family into the much more tame Governors’ Hall.  According to one hard-hitting piece in the UW-Eau Claire Spectator, “Some Governors’ [Hall] residents fe[lt] dorm life ha[d] a negative impact on [me].  One resident, Kerry Lowery, said ‘dorm students hardly ever get to see little kids and it’s a novelty.  He gets too much attention.’” Another resident, Sharon Stone (I promise, I’m not making this up), expressed concern that I was “exposed to too much drinking and bad language.” [1]  While I have few recollections of drinking and swearing, I do have fond memories of eating in the dining hall, of skating on the campus hockey rink, and of playing baseball with my dad in the lawn behind the dorm where a really long home run might roll all the way to lower campus.  My mom thinks that my career at a UW-system school was predetermined by this childhood.

My family and I moved to Waunakee, Wisconsin just before I started first grade and I lived there until I graduated from high school in 1996.  Like so many farming communities on the edges of cities, Waunakee has changed dramatically.  When we moved to town, the screen door of my parents’ duplex opened to vacant lots of tall grass, and then beyond to cornfields and woods.  The lots began to quickly fill up with tract houses, but to my eight- or nine-year-old self, this was cause neither for meditation on the crushing inevitability of suburban sprawl, nor on the tragedy of soulless architectural design, nor even on melancholy of  lost bird habitat.  Instead, the unlocked and unguarded house frames and their dumpsters were resources my friends and I exploited for climbing and for lumber for our own building projects.

I didn’t really like high school, but I did enough work in my classes to do well in the classes I liked and to get by in the classes I didn’t.  I found success in history and I admired my U.S. history teacher, Charlie Fuller, so I declared myself a social studies education major when I went to college at Taylor University, a small, religious, liberal arts college in Indiana.  I spent the fall semester of my sophomore year in Jerusalem, and the experience was a turning point in my life intellectually and academically. Travel through the Middle East (throughout Israel and Palestine, to Jordan, and to Egypt) introduced me to an enormous world of cultural, religious, and gustatory experiences.   I also met kind, generous, and hospitable people who did not fit easily into the categories of rock-thrower or bulldozer-driver I had formed by watching tv or by flipping through my world history textbooks.

I graduated in 2000 with a BS in Social Studies Education with primary specialization in U.S. history and secondary specializations in world history and geography.   After graduating, I taught history for four years at a private high school in suburban Chicago and then English for two years just outside of Seattle.  While I was teaching high school history, I realized that I wanted to go to grad school in English, so I began taking undergraduate courses in the evenings and during summer breaks.  In the fall of 2006, I moved back to the Midwest to start a graduate program in English at the University of Minnesota.  I went into graduate school thinking I wanted to be a scholar of Renaissance drama (my application essay argued that Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus was a reductio ad absurdum critique of William Perkins’s harsh Calvinism) and left a scholar of nineteenth century American literature.  My dissertation is called “Modern American Pilgrims;”  it argues that Herman Melville and T.S. Eliot responded to the destruction of their childhood homes by going on pilgrimages to the Holy Land and through England.

I started teaching at UW-Whitewater in the fall of 2012.  I teach both semesters of freshman English as well as courses in environmental literature and American literature.    My current research project wends all the way back to my time in Jerusalem as an undergraduate and considers how nineteenth-century literary depictions of the environment of Holy Land affect twenty-first-century political and environmental challenges.  I am hopeful that the project might contribute to a recovery of erased and forgotten testimonies about the environment of the Holy Land and that it might help provide a way to rethink its former and current inhabitants’ relation to the land.  I also hope that a more nuanced reckoning with the historical landscape might provide a way towards a just and durable peace at the same time it encourages a more sustainable relationship to the land.

Outside of my work at UWW, I enjoy spending time with my wife and our two children.  We live in Stoughton and we love exploring our new hometown,  the Madison farmers’ market, and Wisconsin’s beautiful state parks.

[1] Sandberg, Betsy.  “Brewer Josh is only 5 – Head resident’s son scores with dormitory life,” Spectator [Eau Claire] 9 December, 1982, np. Print.

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