Timothy James LeCain is a historian of the environment and technology who focuses on the ways in which new materialist theories can help us to better understand the past. His latest book, The Matter of History: How Things Create the Past (Cambridge University Press, 2017), develops a bold new theoretical and methodological approach that emphasizes the many ways in which a dynamic material environment creates humans, both as biological and cultural creatures. Squarely challenging the conventional lines drawn between human culture and nature, LeCain argues we are best understood as fundamentally material creatures, a species whose intelligence and creativity arise from the dynamic things around us, not in distinction to them.
LeCain's first book, Mass Destruction, won the 2010 best book of the year award from the American Society for Environmental History and was chosen as an Outstanding Book of the Year by Choice, the review publication of the American Library Association. Mass Destruction is an environmental and technological history of the giant open-pit copper mines developed in the American West in the first half of the Twentieth Century and their global consequences.
LeCain has published nearly fifty articles, op-ed pieces, reviews, and other pieces. His controversial article, “Against the Anthropocene: A Neo-Materialist Perspective,” argues that the inherent anthropocentrism of this proposed geological epoch tends to reinforce the very same human hubris that caused many contemporary environmental problems in the first place. Published in 2015 by the Dutch journal History, Culture, and Modernity it is available here.
LeCain has been invited to present papers and talks around the world, including in the past three years, China, Morocco, South Africa, Chile, England, Sweden, Germany, Norway, and the Czech Republic. In 2009, LeCain and his colleague, Brett Walker, were awarded a $300,000 National Science Foundation grant to pursue a collaborative research project comparing Japanese and American responses to pollution from massive copper mining operations begun in the late-19th Century. From 2011 to 2012, LeCain was a Senior Fellow at the Rachel Carson Center in Münich, Germany, a global center for the study of the environmental humanities. In 2017, he was a fellow at the Oslo Center for Advanced Study, the preeminent Norwegian institution for interdisciplinary academic research, where he collaborated with the prominent Norwegian archaeologist and theorist Björnar Olsen on the project "After Discourse," investigating ways of moving beyond the post-modern cultural turn.
LeCain received his PhD from the University of Delaware in 1998, under the guidance of the historian of American technology, David Hounshell, now of Carnegie Mellon University. In addition to the awards and grants noted above, LeCain has been a research fellow at the Smithsonian Institution, the Huntington Library, and the Center for the American West. He is currently Professor of history at Montana State University in Bozeman, Montana, where he lives with his wife and two children.
You can follow LeCain's work at Academia.edu.