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John H. Spiers

post-doctoral fellow

Office: Stokes Hall, Room S348


Curriculum Vitae


Ph.D., History, Boston College (May 2013)
M.A., History, Clemson University (2007)
B.A., History and Secondary Social Sciences, Longwood University (2005)

Research Interests

Modern U.S. history; environmental and urban history; civic and social activism; politics and public policy; community planning

Teaching Fields

U.S. history since 1865; environmental, urban, political history; Atlantic history; colonialism since 1800; cultural landscapes and the built environment

Academic Profile

John Spiers is a historian of modern America who focuses on environmental and urban history and has also taught courses on American government, the Atlantic world, and colonialism since 1800. His research explores social action related to community planning and environmental protection. His current book project, Contesting Growth: Politics, Social Action, and the Environment in Metropolitan Washington, is under contract with the University of Pennsylvania Press. Combining historical interpretation with insights from the social sciences, Contesting Growth is the first major study of how public attention to environmental issues developed on the ground in metropolitan America after the National Environmental Policy Act became law and the Environmental Protection Agency was created in 1970.  In contrast to the prevailing scholarly focus on the national environmental state or conceptual understandings of social action, his book reveals how the ability to advance environmental protection depended largely on community-based debates about circumstances on the ground, the influence of a dedicated group of environmentalists and commitment of public officials, and the determination of what planning tools should be used to manage growth without unduly infringing on private property rights. His book concludes that while these efforts did not produce a wholesale rethinking of suburban development, they did result in stronger development regulations, greater open space preservation, and more extensive curbs on pollution as partial solutions for achieving growth that was sensitive to the environment. Contesting Growth helps us understand how the environment in the late twentieth century achieved a level of political and popular concern that was unprecedented in American history.


Contesting Growth: Politics, Social Action, and the Environment in Metropolitan Washington (under contract with University of Pennsylvania Press)

Journal Articles

“Landscaping the Garden City: Transportation, Utilities, and Parks in Newton, Massachusetts, 1874-1915,” Historical Geography 39 (2011): 248-274.

 “‘Planning with People’: Urban Renewal in Boston’s Washington Park, 1950-1970,” Journal of Planning History 8, no. 3 (Aug. 2009): 221-247.

Selected Presentations

  • Suburban Explosion and Damage Control: Growth and Environmental Protection in Late Twentieth Century Northern Virginia, invited lecture, Virginia Historical Society (June 2014).
  • “The Carlyle Estate and Choices in Historic Preservation,” paper presented at the New England Historical Association Fall Meeting, New Haven, CT (Oct. 2013).
  • “Balancing Aesthetics and Ecology: Suburban Development and the Preservation of the Burling Tract,” paper presented at the Organization of American Historians Annual Meeting (April 2013).
  • “Where Have All the Forests Gone? A Case of Land Preservation in Suburban Washington,” paper presented at the Massachusetts Historical Society (Jan. 2013).
  • “Slavery, Freedom, and the Cultural Landscape: Balancing Restoration Goals for Monocacy National Battlefield,” paper presented at the Workshop on History and Values in Ecological Restoration, Colorado College (June 2012).
  • Paying to Shop: Race, Retail, and the Environmental Costs of Commercial Development,” Race & Retail: Consumer Culture, Economic Citizenship, and Power, Center for Race and Ethnicity, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey (May 2012).
  • “Rural Land in Suburbia: Public Decision-making and the Creation of the Agricultural Reserve of Montgomery County, Maryland,” paper presented at the Social Science Historical Association 2011 Conference, Boston, MA (Nov. 2011).
  • “Sprawl Blocker or Rural Amenity?  The Agricultural Reserve of Montgomery County, Maryland,” paper presented at the Workshop for the History of the Environment, Agriculture, Technology, and Sciences (WHEATS), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Oct. 2011).
  • “The Long and Winding Road: A History of the Intercounty Connector, 1950-2006,” invited lecture, Montgomery County History Conference, Montgomery College - Germantown [Maryland] (Jan. 2011).