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Department of History


Thomas Lekan

Title: Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies, History
Associate Professor, Earth, Ocean & Environment
Department: History; Earth, Ocean & Environment College of Arts and Sciences
College of Arts and Sciences
Phone: 803-777-5928
Office: Gambrell Hall, Room 135

Curriculum Vitae [pdf]
Department of History
School of Earth, Ocean and Environment 
Walker Institute of International and Area Studies

tom lekan


  • B.A. Carleton College
  • M.A. University of Washington
  • Ph.D. University of Wisconsin


Professor Lekan splits his undergraduate and graduate teaching responsibilities between classes in modern European history and courses in environmental studies.  In modern European history, he offers an undergraduate survey of European civilization and intermediate and upper-level courses in German history, the urban experience in modern Europe (focusing on Manchester, Paris, Vienna, and Berlin), and everyday life under Nazism.  In environmental studies, he offers a history of global conservation since 1800, a seminar exploring local environmental history, a capstone seminar for environmental studies and environmental science majors focused on conservation policy and public outreach, and a graduate seminar on the Anthropocene.  He is a recipient of the Golden Key Award for the Creative Integration of Research and Teaching and the Michael J. Mungo Undergraduate Teaching Award.

His research examines European environmental history and the legacies of green imperialism, particularly the frictions between global and local wildlife conservation and the uneven effects of tourism as a lever of sustainable development in East Africa during the decades of decolonization and early independence (ca. 1950-1980).  He has also published books and articles about the environment, regional planning, and national identities in Europe and on the Anthropocene and the environmental humanities. His publications include Imagining the Nation in Nature: Landscape Preservation and German Identity, 1885-1945 (Harvard, 2004), the co-edited volume Germany’s Nature: Cultural Landscapes and Environmental History (Rutgers, 2005), and articles and reviews in the journals German History, The Journal of Modern History, New German Critique, Environmental Humanities, and Environmental History.

His current project, Our Gigantic Zoo: A German Quest to Save the Serengeti (Oxford, 2019) investigates the work of Bernhard Grzimek, Germany’s most important twentieth-century conservationist. The book examines the tensions between global ambition and local place-making during the mid-century expansion of national parks, nature tourism, and wildlife television. Working with scholars and editors at the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society in Munich, he published a co-edited, open-source anthology of essays in 2015: Whose Anthropocene: Revisiting Dipesh Chakrabarty’s “Four Theses.” He is also co-editing a collection of articles for the journal Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space focused on “baselining nature: explorations of futures-past in environmental science and policy.”  From August 2017 to May 2019, he was also the Co-Principal Investigator, with Jessica Elfenbein of the Department of History, for a Historic Resource Study of Congaree National Park in Hopkins, SC.

These projects have received generous fellowship support from several institutions, including the American Council for Learned Societies, the German Historical Institute in Washington, D.C., Princeton University’s Shelby Cullom Davis Center for Historical Studies, the National Humanities Center in Research Triangle Park, NC, the U.S. National Park Service, the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society in Munich, and the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin.


I will be on leave at the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society in Spring 2020 working on a new project, tentatively titled Arusha 1961: The Making of the Global Environment in an East African Town.  The book is a microhistory of global environmental governance and the East African origins of sustainable development.  I explore the IUCN/UNESCO/FAO Conference on Nature and Natural Resources in Modern African States, where “making wildlife pay” through nature tourism and game cropping exposed the fault lines between Euro-American nature preservationists, wise-use conservationists, and nutritionists and African nationalists, pastoralists, and wild animals that trouble global environmental accords today. 

With political scientist Dr. Carol Hager of Bryn Mawr College, I am also working on Green Germany, an undergraduate-focused book that explores Germany’s uneven quest to create a sustainable industrial society by shifting to renewable energy, promoting public transportation and green infrastructure, developing sustained-yield forestry, and expanding urban green spaces and rural nature parks.  We argue that Germany’s sustainability strategies emerged from local networks of tinkerers and grassroots activists rather than state bureaucrats’ top-down initiatives. 


  • Modern Germany
  • Environmental History
  • Urban History
  • Global Studies



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