The Harold J. Plous Memorial Award is the highest honor the College of Letters and Science can bestow on an Assistant Professor. We are delighted to announce that Dr. Peter Spencer Alagona, Assistant Professor of History and Environmental Studies, is the 2012 Plous Award recipient. Since joining the faculty in 2008, Professor Alagona has made significant contributions to the intellectual life of the campus community by excelling in research, teaching, and service. Dr. Alagona’s record of high achievement in these areas exemplifies the ideals recognized by the Plous Memorial Award; and his presence on campus has enriched the educational, intellectual, and cultural environment in ways that are truly exceptional.
First and foremost, Professor Alagona is a superb young scholar whose research agenda exemplifies the interdisciplinary culture that UCSB strives to foster. Professor Alagona is an environmental historian whose work addresses how North Americans have come to understand the concept of ‘endangered species,’ and the politics that flow from that set of ideological, cultural, and scientific constructs. Dr. Alagona’s work takes insights from political, cultural, and legal history, as well as environmental studies. For example, in his forthcoming book, titled After the Grizzly: Endangered species and the politics of place in California, Professor Alagona explains the complex relationship between species conservation and the physical places in which species flourish or grow extinct. Rather than a story of ‘people versus nature,’ this book explains how species conflicts are often proxies for much larger debates about land use, natural resource management, government regulation, and the organization of regional economies. In addition to documenting the political and cultural representations of California Wildlife, Professor Alagona is also actively engaged in environmental policy. For example, in a detailed 2011 report to the National Marine Fisheries Service, Alagona and his co-authors used archaeological and archival records to explain how the 1953 construction of the Bradbury Dam led to a collapse of steelhead trout populations in the upper watershed. In other work, Alagona examined the 20th century history of endangered wildlife, including the Channel Islands fox, Mojave Desert tortoise, and the spotted owl, to explain an environmental dilemma: how the conservation of resurgent predator populations has come into conflict with recovery efforts for the federally listed endangered species that now serve as the predators' prey. Based on these and other significant research efforts, Professor Alagona is described by his colleagues as being “at the very vanguard of his generation of historians.”
Although Professor Alagona is still at an early stage in his career, he has already become a recognized and highly sought after expert in his field. He regularly reviews for top academic journals, has become an Associate Editor for a new book series on the history of sustainability from MIT Press, and is a sought after speaker at conferences and universities. Professor Alagona is also a highly successful grant writer whose extramural support is well beyond the norm for even the most accomplished assistant professors. He has received collaborative grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and The Mellon Foundation. Most noteworthy, however, is Professor Alagona’s five-year, NSF CAREER award, received in 2011. The CAREER award is NSF's most prestigious award in support of the early careers of those scholars who are most likely to become the academic leaders of the 21st century. This award clearly demonstrates that Professor Alagona is a rising young star in the field of environmental history.
Dr. Alagona’s superb scholarship is complemented by his skill and dedication as a teacher. As an inspirational lecturer and mentor, Professor Alagona has established a superb teaching record across a variety of courses in both History and Environmental Studies. His colleagues describe him as an innovative organizer of new courses and a stellar instructor whom students both praise and respect. Students praise his courses both in terms of his teaching style and course content; citing his enthusiasm for the subject, his detailed knowledge, and above all his ability to engage his audience. For example, his undergraduate students report that his courses are “absolutely excellent,” “thought-provoking,” and “eye-opening.” They describe his lectures as “utterly inspiring,” and remark that his “passion is truly infectious.” At the graduate level, his courses are described as rigorous, up-to-date, and interdisciplinary. For example, one student in his graduate seminar on Politics of Science praised the course as “one of the finest courses I have taken at UCSB as a graduate student,” while another remarked that the course was “not only informative, well-structured, and organized but also challenging in productive and thought-provoking ways.” In summary, Dr. Alagona’s teaching record demonstrates exceptional ability, the highest standards of intellectual rigor, and a dedication to his students that is truly exceptional.
Finally, in addition to his impressive accomplishments in research and teaching, Dr. Alagona has made significant contributions to the Department of History, the Department of Environmental Studies, and to the broader campus community through a variety of important service activities. His colleagues note that he gives generously of his time and has “impressive skill in fostering important interdisciplinary conversations.” He organized a lecture series for the Center for Science in Society, was a member of the UCSB Faculty Senate Sustainability Committee, and became a faculty affiliate in the Political Science graduate program in the Politics of Environmental Policy. His activities are exceptional for their commitment to serving not only his fellow historians and environmental scholars, but also larger communities interested in natural resource management and environmental politics both on and off campus. Professor Alagona is also described by his colleagues as a “warm and engaging colleague” who “brings uncommon creativity, originality and energy to our department and to UCSB.”