Director of the Academic Sustainability Program
320-F Thach Hall
PhD, University of Michigan
JD, University of Colorado
BA, Duke University
Sarah Hamilton joined Auburn's faculty in the fall of 2014. Her research explores the politics of water use and the impacts of global networks on conservation and environmental change in working landscapes. She directs the Academic Sustainability Program and teaches undergraduate and graduate courses on environmental and world history. Her courses integrate active pedagogical methods, especially the extended role-playing games of the Reacting to the Past program. She has been honored for her teaching with the Plainsman’s Favorite Professor (2019), Honors College Professor of the Year (2019), and the SGA Honors College Faculty Member of the Year (2020).
Hamilton’s first book, Cultivating Nature: The Conservation of a Valencian Working Landscape, received the 2019 Turku Book Award (from the European Society for Environmental History and the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society) and the Baker-Burton Award (from the Southern Historical Association). Focusing on the history of the Albufera de Valencia, a natural park located in eastern Spain, it uses the park’s contested lands and waters as a lens to bring regional, national, and global social histories into sharp focus. It argues that efforts to preserve biological and cultural diversity must incorporate the interests of those who live within the heavily modified and long-exploited ecosystems of contemporary working landscapes. Shifting between local struggles and global debates, it reveals how Franco's dictatorship, Spain's integration with Europe, and the ongoing crisis of European agriculture have shaped the Albufera, its users, and its inhabitants. Dr. Hamilton’s work on this project was supported by a Fulbright Research Grant, a Jean Monnet Graduate Fellowship on European Integration, and Humanities Research and Predoctoral fellowships from the Rackham Graduate School of the University of Michigan.
Hamilton’s current project, Water Underground, is a comparative study of large-scale groundwater development in diverse locations including Spain, the United States, Australia, Saudi Arabia, and southern Africa. It follows flows of water, commodities, expertise, and technology through global networks over the past 150 years and explores epistemological and practical questions surrounding the exploitation of invisible resources. Long-established patterns of unsustainable groundwater use have led to resource conflicts, social and economic instability, and environmental degradation, intensified by increasing demand and declining rainfall in the modern era. Contrary to widespread portrayals of groundwater as an uncontrollable and “anarchic” resource, Hamilton’s research reveals the essential role of state actors in the creation and maintenance of the conditions that underlie these crises. In policy parlance, groundwater management has long been a “wicked problem,” virtually insoluble due to its complexity, scientific uncertainty, stakeholders’ incompatible objectives and worldviews, and the serious and irreversible repercussions of any decisions that are taken.
Hamilton is a member of the Executive Council of the American Society for Environmental History and serves on the editorial board of Historia Agraria. She is a founding member and current co-convenor of the Women’s Environmental History Network. She also leads a pre-freshman trip to Costa Rica for the Auburn University Honors College.
environmental history, world history, modern Spain, European Union