Faculty Research

Faculty at Bryn Mawr are interested in pursuing issues related to sustainability and the environment in their own research. Below are a few examples, though there are many more research projects being undertaken. Be sure to check out the Environmental Studies Faculty and Staff page for more faculty members with environmental interests.


Richard Davis, Professor and Chair

Davis is a prehistoric archaeologist who has conducted field work in several Asian locations with particular focus on northern Afghanistan, southern Tajikistan, eastern Turkey, and central Siberia. Since 1995, he has had an excavation program in the eastern Aleutian Islands, Alaska, which is oriented toward the investigation of the origin and development of maritime cultures in this area. His basic research interests center on the study of human adaptations to the changing environments of the Pleistocene and Holocene, and also on the development of technology in its social context. His teaching interests have grown out of his research activities, and he regularly offers courses in North American Archaeology, Human Ecology, Traditional Technology, and Method and Theory in Archaeology.

Denise Su, Assistant Professor

Denise Su is a biological anthropologist specializing on the context of human evolution, more specifically how the environment and environmental changes might have affected macroevolutionary processes in the human lineage, i.e. origination, extinction, and adaptation. Conducted faunal-based paleoecologial research at key fossil sites pertinent to these questions in Africa and Asia.

See the list of Anthropology faculty for more information.


Wilfred A. Franklin, Instructor and Laboratory Coordinator, Major Advisor

The stewardship of environment is a domain on the near side of metaphysics where all reflective persons can surely find common ground. For what, in the final analysis, is morality but the command of conscience seasoned by a rational examination of consequences? And what, is a fundamental precept but one that serves all generations? An enduring environmental ethic will aim to preserve not only the health and freedom of our species, but access to the world in which the human spirit was born.

— E. O. Wilson, The Diversity of Life.

Lately my attention is focused on science literacy. My current approach is twofold. First, in passionately and enthusiastically exploring natural systems with students, I hope to unveil both its beauty and relevance. In the details, patterns emerge that are enormously wondrous, be it the iridescence of a butterfly wing or the signal transduction-cascade of cellular communication. If humans can learn to see this beauty and how it relates to their lives, my hypothesis is that stewardship of the environment will finally become an important priority. Secondly and more generally, I am seeking to make science more accessible and user-friendly. Science is not principally a canon of knowledge and facts, but rather a process by which practitioners communally come to an understanding about the material world in which we all live. This understanding takes the form of a story which summarizes and accounts for a set of observations. With each new observation the stories either work or need to be revised. Consequently, science does not claim absolutes, rather only the most useful and inclusive summaries of observations at any given time in history. It is not some arcane and unattainable authority, rather a continual telling and re-telling of stories that rely on communal agreement to substantiate knowledge. In this light, all are welcome contributors to the on-going human story.

See Wilfred Franklin’s faculty page for more information.

Mike Sears, Assistant Professor

Ecological Modeling and Experimental Ecology

The goal of my lab is to understand how ecological systems work from a mechanistic standpoint. We use a balanced approach that confronts models with real world data. Topics of interest largely are focused on the physiological ecology, behavioral ecology, and population biology of reptiles and small mammals. We seek to explain landscape-level patterns of the distributions of animals by understanding the basic physiologies and behaviors of individuals. We use an integrative and quantitative approach to address ecological problems by combining elements not only from physiological and behavioral ecology, but also from new techniques available in Geographic Information Systems (GIS),remote sensing, statistics, and computer science. Current work is especially focused on issues of climate change and urbanization in ecological systems

See Mike Sears’ lab page for more information.


Don Barber, Associate Professor, Harold Alderfer Chair in Environmental Studies

As a marine sedimentologist, I generally focus on sand and mud as opposed to rocks, and I deal with the relatively recent part of Earth history, i.e., the last 150,000 years. My work may address processes with timescales as short as a tidal cycle, a 2-day storm, or the month-long spring freshet of a river, as well as the 10,000-year long termination of the last ice age.  I study the sources, transport and depositional patterns of Quaternary sediments in coastal and deep marine environments. In coastal and shelf settings, one facet of this work constrains regional relative sea-level change. I also try to estimate the stability of the present sediment deposits and landforms. For example, are coastal dunes growing, shrinking or staying the same, and why?

One tool for tracing materials back to a geological source involves analyzing the geochemical and isotopic signatures of the materials. I have analyzed geochemical sediment tracers (radiogenic isotopes and trace element abundances) to track the provenance of sediments eroded and transported by the Laurentide Ice Sheet. These sediments were deposited in the Labrador Sea during the last ice age (Farmer et al., 2003; Benson et al. 2003).  In addition to using this technique for sedimentological and paleoenvironmental questions, I have collaborated with archaeologists to discern the geochemical provenance of cultural artifacts such as potsherds and carved softstone (Magee et al., 2005) using rare-earth element abundance patterns.

See Don Barber’s faculty page for more information.

Growth and Structure of Cities:

Ellen Stroud, Associate Professor, Johanna Alderfer Harris and William H. Harris M.D. Chair in Environmental Studies

My research, like my teaching, emphasizes the intimate connections between social processes and built and natural environments, and the importance and influence of “nature” in unexpected places. Both of my book projects explore these themes, and are projects of urban environmental history.

Seeing the Trees: Urbanization and Reforestation in the Northeastern United States explores the transition from farm to woodlands in the northeastern United States and the relationship of that transition to the early-twentieth-century growth of northeastern cities. It emphasizes the interactions between cities and their hinterlands, arguing that it is no coincidence that the most heavily urbanized part of the country has experienced the most dramatic return of trees. Rather, the desires of city people and their physical needs encouraged and required the return of the forest. City dwellers bought abandoned land for country retreats, and they fought to have other parcels set aside for nature study, for recreation, and, perhaps most crucially, for watersheds.This emphasis on the urban origins of and dependence on the new eastern forests underscores the interactions between natural and cultural landscapes and the implausibility of separating the two.

Dead As Dirt: An Environmental History of the Dead Body examines the environmental history of dead bodies in the twentieth-century United States. Changes in funerary practices and technologies of body disposal have shaped American environments, landscapes and lives — especially in our largest cities — as have changes in material bodies themselves. The modern American corpse is toxic: mercury in teeth, metal in joints, silicone in breasts and batteries in chests have all made body disposal newly complex. This project follows the material journeys of corpses to uncover connections between human bodies and histories of technology, property, politics, and thought. My focus remains on the “nature” of human remains, reconfiguring the place of people and of urban places within environmental history, not merely as actors and as settings, but as constituent parts of dynamic ecological systems.

See Ellen Stroud’s faculty page for more information.

Political Science:

Carol Hager, Associate Professor

Carol Hager is interested in grassroots citizen participation, particularly in issue areas with high technical content. In her 1995 book, Technological Democracy: Bureaucracy and Citizenry in the German Energy Debate, she analyzed the evolution of citizen participation in Germany from mass protest to the formation of green parties and voting lists. Her subsequent publications have dealt with different forms of community involvement in land use planning and energy policy making in the U.S., Great Britain, and Germany, with a focus on processes of conflict and collaboration. Prof. Hager teaches courses in comparative politics, environmental politics, comparative public policy, technology and politics, comparative social movements, and German/European politics. A long-time contributor to the Environmental Studies program, she also co-founded BMC’s New Media Project and serves as Director of the Center for the Social Sciences.

See Carol Hager’s faculty page for more information.


Comments are closed.