A 2018 Mississippi State doctoral graduate in history is the recipient of the History of Science Society’s inaugural Rainger Prize for early-career scholars with primary focus in the history of the earth and environmental sciences.
Composed during his tenure as an MSU student, Owen Hyman’s essay, “Anxieties of the Plastic Age: Cotton Culture, White Supremacy, and Tenant Forestry in the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta, 1935-1953,” garnered the award.
“Hyman’s work shows just how malleable the application of science is to various industries and social orders,” said Alan Marcus, head of MSU’s Department of History. He explained that from 1935-1953, Mississippi foresters saw a decline in cotton agriculture and moved quickly to develop a timber industry “without changing the character of black-tenant farmer sharecropping.”
“In effect, scientists transformed the economy of a good part of rural Mississippi while maintaining the region’s long segregated past,” Marcus said. “Science and the industries derived from it are often thought of as transformative. Hyman’s work demonstrates that when it comes to societal arrangements, science often simply perpetuates the status quo.”
The Rainger Prize was created in memory of Ronald Rainger (1949-2016), a historian who distinguished himself for his “scholarly work and generosity to colleagues” in the field. The Rainger Prize “reflects HSS’s commitment to supporting emerging scholars and their work.”
Hyman said the Rainger Prize is meaningful because it honors the memory of a scholar who was renowned for his support of graduate students and junior scholars.
“I came to Mississippi State specifically to study the histories of science and the environment and received expert instruction in these fields from Jim Giesen, Mark Hersey and Alexandra Hui,” said Hyman, a native of Talisheek, Louisiana. “Like Ronald Rainger, my adviser Jim Giesen is a tireless mentor of undergraduate and graduate students. So the themes this award recognizes—excellence in the study of the environmental sciences and dedication to mentorship—reflect my experiences as a graduate student at Mississippi State.”
While at MSU, Hyman’s doctoral research explored the material foundations of the American South’s culture of white supremacy, as well as the environmental resources African Americans mobilized to accumulate capital and build communities after the Civil War and emancipation.
Currently at Utah State University-Eastern, Hyman teaches history, specializing in the histories of race, science and the environment in the American South and West. He is completing a manuscript based on his dissertation titled “Cut Over Color Lines: An Environmental History of Jim Crow in the Deep South’s Forests,” which examines how the South’s culture of white supremacy both shaped—and was shaped by—the natural world.
He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history from Southeastern Louisiana University in 2007 and 2012. He completed his MSU Ph.D. in August.
Founded in 1924, the History of Science Society is the oldest and most prominent organization dedicated to understanding science, technology and medicine and their interactions with society in a historical context. Alexandra “Alix” Hui and Matthew Lavine, both associate professors in MSU’s history department, are the first co-editors of HSS.
Part of MSU’s College of Arts and Sciences, the Department of History is a nationally ranked, research-extensive, Ph.D.-granting department. Complete details about the College of Arts and Sciences or the Department of History may be found at www.cas.msstate.edu and www.history.msstate.edu.
MSU is Mississippi’s leading university, available online at www.msstate.edu.
History of Science Society President Bernard Lightman, left, presents MSU graduate Owen Hyman with the inaugural Rainger Prize for early-career scholars with primary focus in the history of the earth and environmental sciences. (Photo submitted)
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