Karen R. Merrill

Karen Merrill

Professor of History

Hollander Hall Rm 308

On Leave Spring 2024


B.A. Oberlin College (1986)
M.A. University of Denver, Creative Writing/English (1988)
Ph.D. University of Michigan (1994)


Karen Merrill is an historian of modern America, with general interests in the political history and political economy of the twentieth-century United States and with specific interests in the American West and environmental history.  After receiving her B.A. in History from Oberlin College in 1986, she went on to receive her M.A. in English and Creative Writing from the University of Denver, and later her Ph.D. in History from the University of Michigan.  Her book, Public Lands and Political Meaning:  Ranchers, the Federal Government, and the Property between Them, won the Robert G. Athearn Award from the Western History Association in 2004.  In 2007 she published The Oil Crisis of 1973-74: A Brief History with Documents and from 2007 to 2010 was Dean of the College at Williams.  She has written and commented extensively on the history of public land and natural resource use in the United States; she is currently researching the work of environmentalist, Margaret “Mardy” Murie (1902-2003) and Murie’s network of wilderness preservationist colleagues from the 1950s through the 1980s.

Selected Publications

Selected Publications

Consulting editor with Tyler Priest and Brian Black, “Oil and American History,” a special issue of the Journal of American History, June 2012

“The Risks of Dead Reckoning:  A Postscript on Oil, Climate Change, and Political Time,” Journal of American History, June 2012

“Texas Metropole:  Oil, the American West, and U.S. Power in the Postwar Years,” Journal of American History, June 2012

The Oil Crisis of 1973-74: A Brief History with Documents (New York:  Bedford/St. Martin’s Press, 2007)

“Desire in a Dry Land,” a review essay for The Journal of Urban History 31 (January 2005): 258-268

Public Lands and Political Meaning:  Ranchers, the Government, and the Property Between Them (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), awarded the Robert G. Athearn Award from the Western History Association, 2004

“The New Deal’s West,” in William Deverell, ed., Blackwell Companion to the History of the  American West (New York: Blackwell Publishers, 2004): 346-60

The Modern Worlds of Business and Industry: Cultures, Technology, Labor, editor (Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols Publishers, 1998)

Research Interests

20th-century American Politics and Political Economy, American West, Environmental History

Theses Advised

Eleonora Chisholm Grenfell ’23
From the Parlor to the Editor’s Desk: How New Women Made the New Shakespeare

Christopher Zaro ’19 The Roots of Roses: Pasadena’s Identification with the Home and the Maximization of Local Control

Ian Concannon ’18 Williamstown and the Peacock Family Throne: Constructing Meaning from the Exile of the Iranian Royal Family
(with Magnus Bernhardsson)

Aglaia Ho ’17 A Tale of Two Communities: Evaluating the Identity of Forest Hills, NY During the Twentieth Century

Nathan Thompson ’15 Grievance, Governance, and Guns: Shay’s Rebellion and Political Expression in Early America

David Samuelson ’12 Writing for Geneva:  Japanese Foreign Relations Rhetoric Surrounding the Manchurian Incident

Alex Roth ’08Global Strategies, Regional Realities: Moving Towards the Eisenhower Doctrine in the Middle East, 1955-1957

Ananda Venkata Burra ’07 Empires and Communism:  The Creation of an American Public Discourse on Decolonization in the Late 1940s

Allegra Funsten ’07 Nantucket During the War of 1812:  Quakers, Whalers, and Political Parties

Anne E. Smith ’07 – “The Noblest Theatrical Exercise Now Existing Among Us”:  Yiddish Art Theatre in Its American Context

Adam Bloch ’06 Deconstructing the American Mythology:  Revisionist Westerns and U.S. History

Jonathan Langer ’04Half-Conquered Wilderness: The Failure of Settlement and Industrial Mining in Irwin, Colorado

Amanda Stout ’04 Breeding Hope: Science, Philanthropy, and the History of Mount Hope Farm, co-winner of the Turner Prize in History

Judith Harvey ’03Subsistence in Alaska: Balancing Competing Visions of the Land in Fish and Game Management (Environmental Studies) – winner of the Hardie Award in the Environmental Studies Program

Derek Ward ’02A History of the POW/MIA Issue – winner of the Turner Prize in History

Program Connections

Legal Studies