Gregg Mitman named interim director Nelson Institute

Gregg Mitman, a science historian at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has been named interim director of the university’s Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies.

In announcing the appointment, Provost Patrick Farrell says that Mitman “will help lead the articulation of the Nelson Institute’s vision and mission to meet the goals of a new university-wide strategic plan and to address the environmental challenges of the 21st century.”

Mitman, the William Coleman Professor of History of Science, also is a professor of medical history, science and technology studies, and environmental studies. Farrell cited his interdisciplinary experience, knowledge of the university and “deep commitment to the mission of the institute” as assets in his new position.

“The Nelson Institute has been an incubator, laboratory, and model of interdisciplinary research, teaching, and service across the natural sciences, social sciences and humanities at the University of Wisconsin,” says Mitman. “It is a tradition we can be proud of, and one we can build upon as we chart a course of openness and cooperation in facilitating environmental initiatives across campus.”

Mitman earned his master’s and doctoral degrees in history of science at UW-Madison. He joined the faculty in 2001, bringing an eclectic mix of interests in the history of ecology, nature films and environmental health.

He spearheaded the recent establishment of the institute’s Center for Culture, History, and Environment and a corresponding graduate-level certificate program. He also organized Tales from Planet Earth, a highly successful environmental film festival last November in downtown Madison. A sequel is planned for 2009.

Farrell explains that although Mitman’s two-year appointment is temporary, “it’s not a caretaker role.” He said Mitman will lead “a new phase in the evolution of the Nelson Institute.”

Founded in 1970 as the Institute for Environmental Studies, the institute was renamed in 2002 for the late Wisconsin governor and U.S. senator Gaylord Nelson. Nelson was a lifelong champion of environmental stewardship best known as the founder of Earth Day.

Lewis Gilbert has guided the institute since the resignation last year of its previous director, Frances Westley. A subsequent national search failed to produce a permanent replacement. Gilbert has resumed his previous role as associate director, managing the institute’s operations and programs.