Dr. Joshua Kercsmar

Assistant Professor of Environmental Humanities

Staff photo

Josh Kercsmar is an assistant professor of environmental humanities at Unity College, where he teaches history and writing courses. He received his B.A. from Wheaton College (IL); an M.Div. from Gordon-Conwell Seminary; a Th.M. from Harvard Divinity School; and a Ph.D. in U.S. History from the University of Notre Dame. At Notre Dame he received an Outstanding Graduate Student Teaching Award (2009), as well as a Graduate Teaching Fellowship in the University Writing Program (2013-14). His teaching interests span environmental history, the history of slavery, human-animal interactions, and writing composition.

Josh is currently revising his book project, Animal Domestication and the Origins of American Slavery, for submission to an academic press. This project explores how the domestication of cows, sheep, horses, pigs, and dogs intersected with the enslavement of humans from the Neolithic Revolution onward. It pays particular attention to improved animal husbandry and slave plantation cultures from 1550 to 1834. Drawing on journals, letters, plantation records, and studies of animal biology, it argues that planters in the Chesapeake, South Carolina, and the Caribbean developed overlapping strategies for improving livestock and managing slaves, but that these management schemes were not always and everywhere the same (or even successful). Josh has received generous research support from a Lilly Postdoctoral Fellowship, as well as grants from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, American Philosophical Society, and Animals and Society Institute.

His research also led to an article, published in Environmental History, on how dog evolution informed European perceptions of Indians in North America.

Josh is now in the early stages of two new projects. The first, Brutal Designs: Punishing Humans and Other Animals in Early America, is a trans-species history of captivity and physical discipline in North America from precontact through the antebellum period. The second, a digital project that will integrate student and faculty research, is a “deep map” of Waldo County, Maine. This project will use archival sources, multimedia, interviews, folklore, science, literature, art, and natural history to tell a multi-layered story about a rural county and its transformations over time.