William 'Bill' Cronon (born September 11, 1954) is the Frederick Jackson Turner and Vilas Research Professor of History, Geography, and Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. As of January 2012 he is the President of the American Historical Association.

Education and recognitionEdit

Born in New Haven, Connecticut, he obtained a D.Phil from Jesus College, Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. (1976–1978).[1] Cronon holds a B.A. (1976) from the University of Wisconsin–Madison and an M.A. (1979), M.Phil. (1980), and PhD (1990) from Yale University.

In July, 1985, Cronon was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship.[2] Cronon was Wayne Pacelle's advisor at Yale in the 1980's.

Cronon serves on the board of directors for The Trust for Public Land, a national land conservation group. He also sits on the governing council of the Wilderness Society.


A noted environmental historian,[2] Cronon is best known as the author of Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England (1983), based on a seminar paper he wrote for Edmund Morgan at Yale. In that book Cronon proposed that the way cultures conceptualize property and ownership is a major factor that affects economies and ecosystems, and that the Native Americans were active interveners in and shapers of the ecosystems in which they lived.[2]

Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West (1991), which won the Bancroft Prize in 1992,[1] "is credited with having radically widened many environmental historians' gaze beyond such things as forests and public lands to include cities and what Cronon calls the 'elaborate and intimate linkages' between city and country."[2] Cronon says that Chicago and capitalism fundamentally transformed the midwestern countryside. In one chapter, he details how grain became a standardized commodity: how it went from being something sold in sacks with the farm's family name stamped on it to a standardized good, stored in silos according to grade.

In his essay, "The Trouble with Wilderness", published in the New York Times, and in Uncommon Ground: Toward Reinventing Nature (1995), Cronon traced the idea of wilderness throughout American history. Cronon believes that this history allows us to see how fantasies of untouched, pristine wilderness, are only fantasies.

Cronon was also featured in Ken Burns' 2009 documentary, The National Parks: America's Best Idea.

Scholar as citizen: Tension between transparency and academic freedomEdit

During the 2011 Wisconsin protests over the Wisconsin state budget, Cronon started a blog called "Scholar as Citizen." His first blog post on March 15, 2011 was about the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an organization that provides model legislation to Republican and Democratic state legislators. According to Anthony Grafton of The New Yorker, "Cronon argued from indirect evidence that ALEC had played a major role behind the scenes in Governor Walker's attack on public employee unions in Wisconsin. He also argued that this sort of political work, though legitimate, should be done in the open."[3]

On March 17, 2011, Stephan Thompson of the Wisconsin Republican Party filed a freedom of information request for any emails sent from and received by Cronon's University of Wisconsin-Madison email account that contained any keywords related to the ongoing political events including the terms Republican, Scott Walker, recall, collective bargaining, AFSCME, WEAC, rally, union and the names of 12 Republican senators who supported Walker's bill.[4]

Cronon also wrote an op-ed for The New York Times, published on March 21, 2011, that criticized Republican Governor Scott Walker.[5]

On March 24, Cronon wrote a second blog entry. The post announced the Wisconsin Republican Party's freedom of information request for his emails. In the piece, Cronon said that the party's action had "the nakedly political purpose of trying to embarrass, harass, or silence a university professor".[5][6] Citing Wisconsin's long history of protecting the right to academic freedom, Cronon asked the Republican Party of Wisconsin to withdraw its request for the contents of his email.[4] On April 1 the university turned over a selection of Cronon's emails, the party did not withdraw the request.

On April 1, 2011, attorney John Dowling, acting as senior legal counsel for the University of Wisconsin-Madison, formally responded to Thompson's request for Cronon's emails. Dowling included a statement with the documents that explained the university's decision to continue to withhold some of Cronon's emails.[7]

University of Wisconsin-Madison Chancellor Carolyn 'Biddy' Martin expounded upon this decision in an email to the UW-Madison campus community on the same day: "We are excluding student because they are protected under FERPA. We are excluding exchanges that fall outside the realm of the faculty member's job responsibilities and that could be considered personal pursuant to Wisconsin Supreme Court case law. We are also excluding what we consider to be the private email exchanges among scholars that fall within the orbit of academic freedom and all that is entailed by it." Martin went on to describe the idea of academic freedom and the university's firm commitment to protecting the right of all academics to engage in the "open intellectual exchange" of ideas.[8]

On April 4, 2011, the Faculty Senate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison passed a resolution to protect academic freedom. The body decided, according to University Committee Chair Judith Burstyn, that the university needed to take a public position to defend academic freedom in the wake of the FOIA records request directed at Cronon. Political scientist Howard Schweber, who was involved in writing the resolution alongside colleague Donald Downs, commented: "The university can't change the law, but the university can take a leading position on behalf of public employees everywhere and make a statement that we think this is wrong. What was begun as a classic notion of sunshine being the best disinfectant has turned into a law that's used as a weapon to target not government officials and offices but individual public employees."[9]

The Wisconsin Republican Party had made no report on the contents as of August 5, 2011.[10] The Wisconsin Republican Party has also filed other open records requests.[11][12] The American Association of University Professors says that "this action by the Wisconsin Republican Party is an "obvious assault on academic freedom"."[13]

Published worksEdit

  • "The Riddle of the Apostle Islands: How Do You Manage a Wilderness Full of Human Stories?" Orion (May–June 2003), 36–42.
  • Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England, 20th anniversary edition, Hill & Wang, 2003.
  • "Why the Past Matters," Wisconsin Magazine of History, 84:1 (Autumn 2000), p. 2–13. Awarded the William Best Hesseltine Award for the best article published in the Wisconsin Magazine of History in 2000–2001.
  • "Only Connect...: The Goals of a Liberal Education," The American Scholar, (Autumn, 1998), p. 73–80.
  • "The Uses of Environmental History" (Presidential Address, American Society for Environmental History), Environmental History Review, 17:3 (Fall 1993), p. 1–22.
  • Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature, W. W. Norton, 1995.
  • "Telling Tales on Canvas: Landscapes of Frontier Change," In: Discovered Lands, Invented Pasts: Transforming Visions of the American West (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992).
  • "A Place for Stories: Nature, History, and Narrative," Journal of American History 78:4 (March, 1992), p. 1347–1376.
  • Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West, W. W. Norton, 1991.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Template:Cite journal
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Template:Cite news
  3. Grafton, Anthony (March 28, 2011). Wisconsin: The Cronon Affair. The New Yorker, News Desk. Retrieved on April 4, 2011.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Gardner, John (April 1, 2011). William Cronon and academic freedom. The Guardian. Retrieved on April 4, 2011.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Leonard, Andrew (March 25, 2011) Wisconsin's most dangerous professor,
  6. Shafer, Jack (March 25, 2011). There's No Such Thing as a Bad FOIA Request. Slate. Retrieved on March 26, 2011.
  7. Grafton, Anthony (April 3, 2011). The Cronon Affair: Wisconsin Answers. The New Yorker, News Desk. Retrieved on April 4, 2011.
  8. Martin, Carolyn 'Biddy' (1 Apri 2011). Chancellor's message on academic freedom and open records. University of Wisconsin-Madison, News. Retrieved on April 4, 2011.
  9. Forster, Stacy (April 5, 2011). Faculty Senate approves resolution protecting academic freedom. University of Wisconsin-Madison, News. Retrieved on April 5, 2011.
  10. WISGOP.ORG News. Retrieved on August 5, 2011.
  11. McCallum, Katie (June 22, 2011). Shelly Moore Caught Campaigning on Taxpayer Dime, RPW Requests Investigation. WISGOP.ORG News. Retrieved on August 5, 2011.
  12. Wisconsin GOP Files Open Records Request on Campaigning UW Oshkosh Prof. WISGOP.ORG NEWS (May 5, 2011). Retrieved on August 5, 2011.
  13. Obvious Assault on Academic Freedom (March 28, 2011). Retrieved on August 5, 2011.

External linksEdit

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