Melanie Armstrong

Canyonlands, Utah

Melanie Armstrong seeks out the “scary things” in nature, from forest fires to killer germs. Currently a postdoctoral researcher in the Geography Department at UC-Berkeley and formerly a Mellon Fellow with the UC Davis Environmental Humanities program, Melanie uses detailed historical research and fine-grained ethnography to study how nature coalesces with fear to transform social relations. She is completing the manuscript for her first book project, Germ Wars: The Politics of Nature and America’s Landscape of Fear, which shows how massive expenditures on disease control throughout human history emerge from the belief that nature—in this case microbes—can be managed through cultural practices. By exploring the processes through which people incorporate ideas of nature into daily practice, she aims to show how the work to secure the nation against disease binds citizenship, governance, and difference to new biological knowledge of nature and life itself.

Melanie also wears the distinctive campaign hat of the National Park Service, currently working for Canyonlands National Park. Here, she participates firsthand in the political actions which shape the natural and cultural landscapes of the West, while contemplating how cultural ideals of “wilderness” and “conservation” emerge from these social actions. This career has provided a laboratory for exploring how deep-seated ideas of nature are inscribed in the landscapes of the west and southwest, informing her teaching and scholarship, and building her desire to understand how powerful histories of nature shape the modern social experience.


2012, 2014, 2016 Participant