From North Carolina to the sacred land of the Comanche
I’ve had an unconventional and happily venturesome career path and education. Volunteering to live with formerly incarcerated people was an important part of my life education, and so was hiking the Appalachian Trail after I graduated from Notre Dame. I moonlighted in forestry wetland restoration projects to pay for my law school education, experiencing firsthand the satisfaction of seeing old cutover fields reverted to wetland forests coursing with fish and waterfowl. But over the years I’ve seen those same fields hammered by climate change, which has been a call to action, and a significant motivator in my work with Citizens Climate Lobby and my current efforts as director of Creating Livable Futures, a project that finds its roots in discussions with E.O. Wilson and Barry Lopez.
Now my work is centered on emergent/convergent problems in human communities and digital space as we grapple with divisive communications and epistemological health. My research on disinformation and pink slime journalism prompted me to take upper level computer science classes on AI and intelligent systems so that I could understand algorithms from the inside, out. I work alongside my students to address real-world instances of viral misinformation and to promote civic and media literacy. I am collaborating also with private sector firms as an AI humanist and ethicist, in keeping with my mission to support the translation of academic discoveries and AI knowledge to broader audiences. One of my forthcoming books with colleagues in AI and communication looks at the impact of disinformation on West Texas communities in various spheres including health care.
I am passionate about complex systems, machine learning, and neural networks. Visiting the Santa Fe Institute, even briefly, was a great privilege–a center for the energetic exploration of many shared intellectual pursuits and interests.
All of this builds on my background in promoting information literacy and access for the public good. For years I directed the Southern Historical Collection, the world’s largest archive pertaining to the history and culture of the American South, which drew me into digital forensics and the world of information science. I’ve developed backpacks for citizen-archivists and experienced another first recently for intellectual property held in an heirloom apple variety that went missing for a century. I am currently working with public media to produce a documentary about the lost apples of Texas, and have just finished writing a book on science and mathematics in the work of Cormac McCarthy for Bloomsbury Press. I’ve received grants from the NEH, the Mellon Foundation, the State Department/American Alliance of Museums, and National Geographic.
In addition to publishing poetry and fiction, in the nonfiction realm, I am author or an editor of seven books on American literary and cultural history, eleven book chapters, and more than thirty published articles and reviews.
My work in community archives and training others to preserve and evaluate information is a significant part of my platform and has been recognized by the State of North Carolina. My collaboration with climate scientist and communicator Katharine Hayhoe and the Texas Tech Climate Center offers another platform. I served as Public Scholar for the Sowell Family Collection in Literature, Community and the Natural World, which contains the papers of Barry Lopez, Bill McKibben, Paul Hawken, Gretel Ehrlich, and many other notable authors.
Currently I am the Provost’s Fellow for Outreach and Engagement. A faculty member of Texas Tech University’s Honors College, I live with my wife and two children in Lubbock, Texas. I teach courses in natural, human, and literary history, and seminars in disinformation, narrative, and creative process as a means to more productive civic conversations.