Fields of interest:
U.S. and the World (Latin America); environmental history; legal history; 20th c. U.S. history
Eric Rutkow is a historian of the United States who focuses on environmental change, and international relations (especially in the Western Hemisphere), and national identity. His dissertation, The Longest Line on the Map: The United States and the Quest to Link the Americas, won Yale’s Edwin A. Small Prize for outstanding work in U.S. History; and a book of the same title is forthcoming with Scribner. In the Longest Line on the Map, he reconstructs the history of a century-long U.S. effort to link the Americas through an overland corridor, first as a Pan-American Railway and later as a Pan-American Highway. He argues—contrary to much foreign relations scholarship that has long internalized Alfred Mahan’s ideas of sea power and, consequently, has treated the United States as though it were a geographical island and not a part of a greater American landmass also containing most of Latin America—that a dream of overland hemispheric development created an alternate U.S. foreign policy of environmental connectivity toward the Americas that endured from the Gilded Age until the late Cold War. Through this history, drawing from dozens of archives and oral histories in multiple countries, Rutkow shows how a “Pan-American paradox,” one grounded in an ideological conflict between imperialism and inclusion, delayed and gradually undermined the U.S.’s quest, which collapsed in the 1980s with only sixty miles remaining in the 18,000-mile-long Pan-American Highway. In some respects, the Longest Line on the Map ultimately explores the question: Why couldn’t the Americas have become a single region that “is” and not two irreconcilable halves that “are”?
Rutkow is also the author of a prize-winning synthetic narrative history of the United States entitled American Canopy: Trees, Forests, and the Making of a Nation (Scribner, 2012). The book argues for a globalized reinterpretation of U.S. history on environmental grounds, positing that the nation’s tree resources played a profound, determinative effect on national development and national character. American Canopy was recognized on both scholarly and popular fronts, having been selected as a book of the week by Oprah.com and also as the winner of the 2012 PROSE Award (Professional and Scholarly Excellence) in U.S. History from the Association of American Publishers. A new edition of American Canopy is planned for release in mid-to-late 2018.
“Before becoming a historian, Rutkow practiced as an environmental lawyer in Cambodia and New York. He earned his B.A. (2003) in history from Yale, his J.D. (2006) from Harvard Law School, and his M.A. (2013) and Ph.D. (2017) from Yale. His work has received support from the American Historical Association, the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, and the Ucross Foundation. At Yale, Rutkow teaches undergraduate courses on environmental history, U.S. foreign relations, and U.S. legal history.