by Andrew Doerfler

In the culmination of years of design, development and planning, a UF Astronomy team’s state-of-the-art camera will soon begin snapping super-resolution images of Earth with unparalleled precision from the International Space Station.

The camera, called iSIM-170 (integrated Standard Imager for Microsatellites), departed on its maiden voyage as part of the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) HTV-9 mission on Friday, May 22, after a successful launch from Tanegashima Space Center. The shuttle docked at the International Space Station three days later, and the camera is set to be positioned on June 10.

Led by UF Professor of Astronomy RAFAEL GUZMÁN, the iSIM project is a collaboration among researchers and engineers at UF and Satlantis, the company with offices in the United States and Spain for which Guzmán serves as co-founder and chief technology officer. UF Vice President of Research David Norton has also helped to shepherd the project into a reality.

While watching the rocket lift off with iSIM aboard, Guzmán said he was filled with “overwhelming emotion” as he reflected on nine years of work.

“I went back to the original moments, when I first presented the idea to Vice President Norton. He believed in us,” Guzmán said. “I thought back to the first designs on whiteboards, and the first tests that failed miserably at the Kennedy Space Center.”

For its power and resolution, the iSIM camera is exceptionally small — just about 33 pounds. Despite that, it can detect objects as small as 32 inches in size over an area of more than 4,500 square miles. It does so while traveling over 17,000 mile per hour nearly 250 miles above the Earth’s surface.

Every half hour, Guzmán said, the iSIM camera on-board the future constellations of microsatellites will have captured a new snapshot of specific targets around the entire planet.

“This ‘real-time’ approach is the holy grail of information from space,” Guzmán said.

The camera was originally designed to look out into space, capturing images of dark halos in galaxies around the Milky Way — that is, until a visit to Florida from Cristina Garmendia, then Spain’s Minister of Science and Innovation and now chairwoman of Satlantis.

Garmendia asked Guzmán whether he’d ever considered turning the camera back towards Earth. Accustomed to studying far-off phenomena across the universe, Guzmán said he was at first “flabbergasted” by the question — but quickly understood the potential scientific and commercial applications.

Those applications will include monitoring land and coasts for environmental changes, security for inspecting borders, and infrastructure for oil and gas, said BO ZHAO, a senior optical engineer in the Department of Astronomy who designed the iSIM camera and is the inventor of the patent.

“This project has demonstrated collaboration between nations, agencies and universities, with a diverse group of cultures, languages and people,” Zhao said. “I am glad to be part of this global project that brings people together for science.”

Guzmán praised UF and College of Liberal Arts and Sciences for its support of technology transfer, innovation and collaboration. He also highlighted the Department of Astronomy’s top-tier instrumentation program and stable workforce of senior engineers.

“The University has been fully supportive of our research and development,” added SIDNEY SCHOFIELD, the instrument program coordinator in the Department of Astronomy who served as the system engineer for the camera mission. “It provides high quality researchers and students to contribute to the project’s success.”

Looking ahead, the team is preparing a second smaller camera (iSIM-90) to be launched to the International Space Station in November 2021 on board a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral.

Learn more about iSIM here.

by Scott Rogers

JIMMY MCCLELLAN ’12 was looking for a way to get locally involved in his city of Hyattsville, Maryland, located just outside of Washington, D.C. Then the pandemic hit.

As a former political science major, McClellan was always interested in giving back to his community. After hearing that a newly launched local organization needed someone to manage their social media presence, he reached out.

The organization, Route 1 Mask Match, has been providing sewn masks since March to help stop the spread of COVID-19 among vulnerable and underserved populations in communities surrounding the Route 1 corridor of Maryland — encompassing roughly four square miles.

A variety of masks sewn by Route 1 Mask Match volunteers (image courtesy of Alesha Burk).

“We are focused on people over 60, essential workers and people who are immunocompromised, along with their caretakers,” McClellan said.

After speaking with one of the organization’s coordinators, Lissa Bell, McClellan realized Route 1 Mask Match also needed a website to take requests for masks and provide information on how volunteers can sew the masks at home.

McClellan got to work, quickly creating a placeholder site in three days despite never building a website before. The impact was immediate.

Within the first few days of the site launching the group received over 200 requests for masks. As demand continued to rise, the team realized they needed more volunteers to sew, so McClellan took to social media, posting videos that detailed how to sew the masks and participate.

Since this initial launch, the organization has provided over 2,100 masks to people throughout their area, usually satisfying requests within three days.

Hoping that the demand for masks will soon be met, Route 1 has begun to provide surplus masks to higher-risk communities like retirement homes, while also looking to expand their range of service.

“We’ve started to talk to council members in local city governments,” McClellan said, explaining that they’d like to see where else they might be able to help.

Route 1 Mask Match currently works with roughly 60 volunteers, about 40 of whom sew the masks and an additional 20 who help with public outreach like McClellan, conduct socially distanced deliveries or take on other tasks as needed.

To learn more about Route 1 Mask Match, please click here.  

 


Share Your Story

This is just one example of the ways Gators are doing their part to assist during the current crisis. Let us know how you or a Gator you know have made a difference by emailing newsandpublications@clas.ufl.edu.

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by Andrew Doerfler

In more ordinary times, MARCELA ROMERO (Economics ’13) would be spending her days delivering fresh food and nutritional education to elementary schools in the Fort Myers area, informing students and their families about healthy eating habits.

But with schools closed, Brighter Bites, the nonprofit for which Romero serves as Southwest Florida program director, has been unable to provide its usual program to promote nutrition and combat obesity.

In response, Romero has shifted her energy to volunteering with the local Harry Chapin Food Bank to distribute much-needed foods to those who need it most. Since March, she and Brighter Bites have taken part in food distributions to feed more than 2500 families, with that number continuing to grow.

“We are making sure that every family that is going through a season of food insecurity gets nourishing foods that include produce, bread, meats, and canned goods,” Romero said.

In the face of difficulties caused by the pandemic, Romero felt it was important to contribute in any way she could.

“A lot of people are going hungry right now,” she said. “We want to make sure everyone is fed.”

To learn more about Brighter Bites or to donate to their efforts, click here.

Share Your Story

Romero’s efforts are just one example of the ways Gators across the nation and world are doing their part to assist during the current crisis. Let us know how you or a Gator you know have made a difference by emailing newsandpublications@clas.ufl.edu.

When we think of animals sacrificing their limbs, the common image is of a lizard leaving its tail in a predator’s clutches while scrambling to safety. But there’s much more to this phenomenon — known as autotomy — throughout the animal kingdom, and it remains an open question how certain animals acquired this fascinating trait in the first place.

New findings led by College of Liberal Arts and Science researchers shed light on how leaf-footed bugs and other similar insects came to develop such extreme behavior. While lizards regrow the tails they’ve shed, these tropical and subtropical bugs have no such luxury when they detach legs — the limb is gone for good. But spending their lives hobbled is a price they’re willing to pay to escape deadly situations.

“Autotomy is something you’ll read about in intro biology as an extreme adaptation and iconic anti-predatory defense. But fundamental questions remain unanswered,” said ZACHARY EMBERTS, who conducted the research as part of his PhD dissertation at UF. Emberts, now a postdoctoral researcher at University of Arizona, worked with adviser and UF biology professor COLETTE ST. MARY, along with collaborators from UF and institutions in Australia, Panama and Singapore.

The paper, published in Evolution, found evidence that these insects’ ancestors first autotomized slowly, indicating that the trait did not originally appear in order to evade predators but rather was “co-opted” for this purpose over the course of natural selection.

While many of the insect species the researchers studied dropped limbs quickly, sometimes nearly instantaneously, others took more than twenty minutes to do so. These species would be doomed if they relied on autotomy to save themselves from becoming a hungry spider’s meal.

These findings suggest an “intermediate step” during evolution when the insects’ common ancestor could only drop limbs in less time-sensitive — but still treacherous — scenarios. We can still see this behavior in these species today: Some slowly-autotomizing bugs will shed a leg to free themselves from discarded skin when molting, while others, after suffering an injury to a leg, opt to drop the cumbersome limb in order to become nimbler.

“This paper highlights that, while people interested in autotomy have long focused on its benefits in avoiding predation, other benefits, perhaps to do with successful molting or responses to injury, have played a more important role in its early evolution in this insect group,” St. Mary said. “Hopefully this study will promote similar studies in other groups so we can better understand this fascinating trait.”

Acanthocephala femorata
Acanthocephala femorata has large hind legs that are an easy target for predators.

The researchers expected that insects with enlarged hind legs would be less willing to shed them, as these meaty haunches are desirable traits in the eyes of potential mates. But to their surprise, the team discovered that bugs with enlarged hind legs actually autotomized more quickly. This may be because these hefty appendages are easy targets for predators, making it more evolutionarily beneficial to drop them and escape than to keep them in hopes of acquiring a mate. After all, a dead insect has little chance of attracting a partner.

The study also found that species autotomized more quickly when they live closer to the equator, where they’re besieged by an abundance and diversity of different predators. Larger leaf-footed bugs, meanwhile, autotomize more slowly. This may be because bigger insects are more commonly feasted upon by bigger predators — detaching a limb, no matter how quickly, is little recourse against a swooping bird, so rapid autotomy was less important for these species.

Looking ahead, Emberts said researchers can build upon this work by studying how autotomy have evolved in other animals such as walking sticks, salamanders, decapod crustaceans and spiders.

Emberts and St. Mary’s collaborators were Christine Miller, UF Entomology and Nematology Associate Professor; Rebecca Kimball, UF Biology Professor; Cody Coyotee Howard, PhD candidate at the Florida Museum of Natural History; Michael Forthman, postdoctoral researcher in the UF department of Entomology and Nematology; and researchers from Curtin University in Australia, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Lab in Panama, the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum in Singapore, and the National University of Singapore.

By Terri Peterson and Rachel Wayne

Ari Luxenberg took a winding path to land his Hollywood dream job. (Photo: Seri DeYoung)

ARI LUXENBERG was seven when Gator football coach Galen Hall awarded him a little orange whistle for doing the most push-ups for his age at a UF summer football camp. While that whistle has since been lost to history, Luxenberg’s Gator Pride has only grown.

“I always knew I wanted to be a Gator,” Luxenberg said. “It’s something that has always felt a part of me.”

Today, Luxenberg credits his education at UF with providing him the foundation he needed to pursue his dream job in Hollywood, where Luxenberg works as a Senior Vice President of Business Affairs at Paramount Television, negotiating deals (such as hiring actors, writers and directors) for the studio’s TV projects, including “Jack Ryan” on Amazon and “The Haunting of Hill House” on Netflix. He was previously employed at Warner Bros. Television, where he worked on shows such as “The Leftovers” on HBO and “The Middle” on ABC.

Luxenberg learned how to be a leader at UF, especially while serving as the president of Florida Cicerones, UF’s official student ambassadors. “Running that organization and feeling I’d been able to make an impact at UF was a constant reminder that through determination and hard work there’s nothing I couldn’t accomplish — including achieving my dreams in Hollywood,” he said.

At UF he strategically chose English as his major following the advice of his academic advisor who believed it would provide a great foundation for law school, a key step in his plan to move into the business side of the entertainment industry.

After his 2006 graduation from the Emory University School of Law, Luxenberg accepted a position with a large law firm in Atlanta focusing on corporate law. Although he was getting valuable experience and making a good salary, Luxenberg still felt the pull of Hollywood.

So, he arranged a short vacation to Los Angeles and lined up some informational interviews at talent agencies. A month later, an agency called and offered him a position — in their mail room. Although this meant a significantly smaller salary, Luxenberg accepted and began planning his move to Los Angeles.

Unfortunately, the 2007 WGA strike spurred a hiring freeze, eliminating his opportunity. Undeterred, Luxenberg still moved out West, landing an assistant position in the business affairs department of the William Morris Agency’s music division.

After a few years in LA working as an assistant and trying to break into the executive ranks, Luxenberg was considering a move back to Atlanta to work for a big firm again.  “I was waiting on my California bar results, and was just at the point where I had to start paying down my law school loans.  I’d really given it my best shot, but was being realistic that it just might not work out in Hollywood.”

“Then suddenly, everything seemed to click into place. Just as I got the news I passed the California bar, I landed a dream job at Warner Bros. Television, which was the big break to join the studio executive ranks and finally make my way into the television side of the business,” he said.

“When leaving my law firm and setting off to LA on this journey, I knew in my heart that I had to pursue my dream regardless of the risk. It was a long difficult road, but truly my experiences at UF were invaluable in helping me see it through and reach the position I’m at today.”

Click here to read more stories from this issue of Ytori.

The annual Evening of Excellence shines a spotlight on those who make the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences an essential part of the University of Florida. This year’s ceremony was held on April 12, 2019, at the Florida Museum of Natural History and celebrated the staff members, faculty, students, alumni and others who best exemplify the values inherent in a liberal arts and sciences education. Keep reading to learn more about all of our winners.

Liberal Arts and Sciences Partner Award: Disney Conservation Fund

The Disney Conservation Fund received the Partner Award for their long-term support of UF’s Archie Carr Center for Sea Turtle Research to help save endangered sea turtles. Disney selected UF as one of only seven global organizations receiving these larger impact-focused “Saving Wildlife” grants. The goal is to increase awareness of threats to these species on a large scale and has provided more than $1 million in funding for the center to develop new research, community strategies and other conservation solutions to help protect  the world’s sea turtles, and to provide additional collaboration with Disney conservation staff.

“We recognize and appreciate Disney’s understanding of the urgency of not only preserving but also bringing back populations of sea turtles,” said Karen Bjorndal, Department of Biology professor and Director of the Archie Carr Center. “Those of us who have spent our lives trying to save these animals are grateful.”

Superior Staff Award: Marisa Gates

Research Administrator Marisa Gates was recognized for her outstanding work supporting the CLAS Research Office. “Whenever she serves a person through the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Research Office, Marisa assures them it will be okay and that she will help them handle whatever might come along,” said Beth Eslick, Director of the CLAS Research Office.

Faculty Achievement Award: Mark Rush and Laura Guyer

Two faculty members were honored this year for their distinguished achievement in research, teaching and service. To learn more about Mark Rush, click here. To read about Laura Guyer, click here.

Volunteer of the Year: Linda Fischer Wells, Political Science ’61

Linda Fischer Wells ’61 was honored for her work as the chair of the Department of Religion’s Advisory Board.

Student Excellence Award: Emma Leone, Daniel Ally and Sujaya Rajguru

The three students recognized at this year’s event embody the spirit of a liberal arts and sciences education.

Emma Leone ’19 dual-majored in linguistics and psychology on a pre-med track. Along with receiving multiple scholarships, she volunteers at Shands Hospital and the Dance Alive National Ballet and Pofahl Studios, where she teaches dancers of all ages.

Daniel Ally ’19 majored in physics and mathematics and serves as the President of the UF chapter of the Society of Physics Students. He is known for going out of his way to help fellow students; in the spring 2019 semester, he was the main organizer behind the Women in Science Day Fair.

Sujaya Rajguru ’19 majored in history, served as a fellow in the Bob Graham Center and participated in a leadership role in the UF Band. As an intern at the Matheson History Museum, she was a researcher for an exhibit on the history of desegregation in Alachua County schools, which resulted in Rajguru publishing an article in The Gainesville Sun.

Horizon Award: Syed Balkhi, Anthropology ’11

Syed Balkhi was honored for his work supporting the Beyond120 program. At the age of 7, Balkhi started his first business in Pakistan. His entrepreneurial spirit has continued to this day, with his business OptinMonster ranking seventh in 2019’s Gator100, a list of the 100 fastest growing Gator-led companies. “We are inspired by Syed’s determination, passion, and entrepreneurial spirit as a student and beyond,” Kathryn Clark ’19 said.

Outstanding Alumna: Rhonda Holt, Computer and Information Science ’86

This award honors an alumna or alumnus who has made significant contributions to their field while exemplifying the breadth and depth of a liberal arts and sciences degree. Rhonda Holt, Vice President for Software Development and Operations at PBS, was honored this year for her long and distinguished career as a business and technology executive at a variety of organizations.

Lifetime Achievement Award: Tom Elligett, Mathematics ’75

Tom Elligett was recognized for providing both financial support and advocacy for the college. A partner at Buell & Elligett in Tampa, he is an appellate and trial lawyer who has participated in more than 500 appeals in the last 40 years. As an alumnus, he has given to the Dean’s Fund for Excellence every year since 1982, consistently supporting the greatest needs of the college.

From left, Dean David Richardson, Majorie Turnbull and David Mica.

Civic Champion: The Honorable Marjorie Turnbull, Political Science ’62

Marjorie Turnbull was honored for her dedication to serving the people of Florida since her graduation from UF. She began her political career in the Florida House of Representatives and has had a distinguished public career as a Leon County Commissioner, the Executive Director of Tallahassee Community College and a board member of many nonprofit organizations.

Lasting Legacy Award: Herb ’55 and Catherine Yardley ’56

Herb and Catherine Yardley were recognized for their decades of providing support to the college. Catherine, who passed away in 2018 and was honored posthumously at the ceremony, captured the Yardley’s commitment to education in her quote engraved in the Plaza of the Americas — “The first step to a good life is a good education. It is here for you.”

The Yardleys have invested in diverse areas across the college including the Speech and Debate Team, the Bob Graham Center, Student Affairs and outdoor spaces on campus. The Yardley Garden outside of Ustler and Farrior halls is just one example of how the Yardleys have improved the campus grounds by providing students and faculty with space for relaxation and contemplation.

“I’ve known the Yardleys for years and I am continually amazed by their generosity and vision, particularly in curating and encouraging creative and beautiful spaces on UF’s campus,” said Carter Boydstun, retired senior philanthropic advisor at UF and inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award honoree.

Click here to read more stories from this issue of Ytori.

By Rachel Wayne

AMY GALLOWAY was determined from a young age to become a lawyer. But when she first enrolled at UF as an undergrad, she made sure her college education was more than just a steppingstone toward law school. The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences made that easy for her.

Galloway fully embraced the college’s varied disciplines, taking courses in philosophy and Chaucerian English to complement her political science major. “It really made me think out of the box, and that’s what I love about our college,” she said.

The liberal arts’ breadth of offerings and approaches, she believes, inspired her commitment to a lifetime of learning — and set her on the path to a rich, rewarding career. While at UF, she saw the real-world relevance of tried-and-true techniques like the Socratic method, and the immersive classroom environments fueled a curiosity about the world that has guided her ever since.

A bachelor’s degree in political science, a law degree and 30 years of practice later, Galloway hopes to help future generations have the same revelatory experience on campus that she did.

She remains involved with the University of Florida and currently serves on the Dean’s Leadership Council for the college. In particular, Galloway is passionate about Beyond120 and its focus on empowering students.

“It’s this idea of really investing in our students from the very first year they’re here,” she said. “It’s about really starting to learn, ‘What am I good at? What do I naturally excel at?’”

Among her many points of involvement are her efforts to develop internships and mentoring opportunities, both of which connect alumni with current students, often across disciplinary or industry boundaries.

Bringing Gators together has long been one of Galloway’s passions. Years ago, she joined a task force in the Department of Political Science to connect alumni in the South Florida area. Galloway helped organize events that featured talks from Florida pollster Jim Kane and professor emeritus of political science Richard Scher. Today, she’s working on ways to bring internships to the students, rather than the other way around.

“It might be more of a challenge to actually relocate, let’s say, to Miami-Dade for a semester, so we’re going to be able to offer students some opportunities near Gainesville,” she said.

The impetus for all this is Dean Dave Richardson, she said. His initiatives are helping enhance the student experience to unprecedented levels.

She has been excited to see the Dean’s Leadership Council grow, making more alumni resources available to Richardson and his team. Galloway can’t wait to help students start their own lifetime of learning.

Click here to read more stories from this issue of Ytori.

Nothing to See Here
Ecco/HarperCollins

The latest novel from MFA in Creative Writing graduate KEVIN WILSON ‘04 has earned rave reviews for its hilarious, surreal take on childrearing.

In Nothing to See Here (Ecco/HarperCollins), released Oct. 29, narrator Lillian is a go-nowhere millennial who once took the fall for her well-off boarding school roommate after drugs were found in their dorm. Years later, the friend, now married to a fast-rising politician, reaches out with an offer for Lillian to work as a nanny to her 10-year-old twin stepchildren — who, it turns out, literally burst into flames when they’re upset.

Told in deadpan prose, Nothing to See Here has delighted reviewers with its peculiar sensibility and moving story. A giddy notice in The New York Times Book Review called the book “wholly original” and “perfect.”

“You’re laughing so hard you don’t even realize that you’ve suddenly caught fire,” Taffy Brodesser-Akner wrote in the review. The Washington Post’s write-up, meanwhile, said, “Paradoxically light and melancholy, it hews to the border of fantasy but stays in the land of realism.”

Nothing to See Here was selected by Jenna Bush Hager as the November pick for the Today Show’s book club. Wilson told Today that he has been long been obsessed with the idea of spontaneous combustion — and it would often come to mind when his own children would have tantrums.

“I started thinking about, ‘Oh, well what would it be like if you had to take care of a kid who actually burst into flames,’” he said. “The novel just kind of spiraled out of that.”

The novel is the third from Wilson, who is an associate professor of English at Sewanee: The University of the South. Wilson has also published two short story collections. His 2011 debut novel, The Family Fang, became a 2015 film starring Nicole Kidman, Jason Bateman and Christopher Walken. A film adaptation of Nothing to See Here is already in the works, according to Deadline.

On Nov. 14, the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles will hold a free advance screening of the documentary “Cojot.” UF professor GAYLE ZACHMANN serves as a Producer and Historical consultant while y alumnus BOAZ DVIR is the Director and Producer.

Zachmann, a professor in the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures and the Center for Jewish Studies, collaborated with Dvir (’88, MA ’08, MFA ’14), to tell the story of the late Michel Cojot-Goldberg, a Holocaust survivor who sets out to kill the Nazi who imprisoned his father and ends up playing a key role in during the 1976 Entebbe hijacking crisis.

“Although the story of an individual, the life of Cojot-Goldberg spans the second half of the 20th century and speaks to a number of different histories,” Zachmann told UF News earlier this year. “From the resistance of individuals and families, hidden children, the rise of fascism and the plight of French Jews during the occupation, to those of post-war memory, justice and modern terror.”

Developed with the help of private support, the film tells the virtually unknown story of Cojot-Goldberg, who planned to kill the infamous Nazi Klaus Barbie. Known as the “Butcher of Lyon,” Barbie personally tortured French prisoners in Lyon and played a direct role in the Holocaust, sending 7,500 Jews to concentration camps.  Barbie also imprisoned Cojot-Goldberg’s father, who was sent to Auschwitz, where he died.

Cojot-Goldberg contacted Barbie in Bolivia posing as a journalist, but once seated with Barbie could not bring himself to pull the trigger. A year later, Cojot-Goldberg then played the improbable role as a translator onboard an Air France flight from Israel to France that was highjacked by terrorists and rerouted to Entebbe, Uganda.

Cojot is an exceptionally fine film concerning the trauma of Jewish identity in France during and after the Holocaust. Spanning major events from Lyon to La Paz to Entebbe, it is well-researched, wonderfully told, and deserves a wide audience.”  NORMAN J. W. GODA, Norman and Irma Braman Professor of Holocaust Studies, and Director, UF Center for Jewish Studies, said.

The screening at the Museum of Tolerance is free and open to the public and will be followed by a discussion with Dvir and Zachmann, along with special guest Olivier Cojot-Goldberg, the son of Michel Cojot-Goldberg.

To learn more about the event and to RSVP, click here.

Telling America’s Stories

“Academics don’t usually publish books that get national attention — you hope, but don’t dare expect it,” says Jack Emerson Davis, UF professor of environmental history and sustainability studies. “I hoped for book reviews in The New York Times.

The Gulf — The Making of an American Sea, Davis’ latest book, exceeded his expectations. Not only did it get reviewed in The New York Times, but it also made the cover of The New York Times Book Review, saying, “In Davis’s hands, the story reads like a watery version of the history of the American West. Both places saw Spanish incursions from the south, mutual incomprehension in the meeting of Europeans and aboriginals, waves of disease that devastated the natives and a relentless quest by the newcomers for the raw materials of empire. There were scoundrels and hucksters, booms and busts, senseless killing in sublime landscapes and a tragic belief in the inexhaustible bounty of nature.”

In addition, The Gulf won the Kirkus Prize, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, was a New York Times Notable Book, and made a number of other “best of” lists in national publications. (See our book review.)
The Gulf is Davis’ eighth book. Two of his books focus on race relations and civil rights. When Davis was working on his PhD at Brandeis University in the early 1990s, he vacillated between specializing in environmental history or race relations. Both fields interested him, but environmental history was in its nascent stage. “I decided strategically to put myself on the market as a race relations historian who could do environmental history,” he says.

As it turned out, Davis’ first job was at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg. “I was the first environmental historian they hired,” says Davis. “And I ended up in Pinellas County, where I grew up.” Davis then taught at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where he directed the Environmental Studies Program before coming to UF in 2003 — where he also was the first environmental historian the university hired.

Davis is a committed academic who chose to publish with a trade press because he believed The Gulf was an important book that should have a readership outside of the academy. “This book is about America and its relationship with its sea,” he says. “I was very conscious about bringing in historical figures from the Northeast, Midwest, even the British Isles, to show how Americans, and not just Gulf siders, are a part of the Gulf of Mexico history, how the Gulf of Mexico was, as nature was, a historical agent that shaped the lives of people who not just dwelled beside its waters but people from other parts of the country.”

When Davis first conceived of The Gulf, the Deepwater Horizon accident that dumped 130 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico had not yet happened. That Davis was writing a history of the Gulf around the same time that the largest oil spill in history was having a profoundly deleterious effect on his subject was coincidental, and it gave him a focus not to be about the spill, which he says, “seemed to rob the Gulf of Mexico of its true identity, and I wanted to restore it, to show people that the Gulf is more than an oil spill, more than a sun beach. It’s got a rich, natural history connected to Americans, and it’s not integrated into the larger American historical narrative. That’s a wrong I wanted to correct.”

Davis’ next book is Bird of Paradox — How the Bald Eagle Saved the Soul of America, a natural and cultural history of the bald eagle. Says Davis, “I want to flesh out the connection between nature and national identity.”