STS Faculty Profile: Kyle Knight

STS Faculty Profile

Kyle Knight is Department Head and Professor of Sociology.

What’s your area of expertise? What do you primarily research and/or teach? And what drew you to this field?

I’m an environmental sociologist. I primarily research the human dimensions of environmental change, which includes the social causes, consequences, and responses to environmental problems. Besides introductory, statistics, and methods courses in sociology, I’ve also taught courses on environmental sociology, environmental justice, and society and climate change. My research has lately focused on social patterns in climate change public opinion. For example, my most recent publication examined how outdoor recreation, such as hiking and birdwatching, might foster greater concern for climate change. My initial interest in sociology was motivated by questioning the centrality of materialism and consumerism in our society, and that blossomed into a drive to understand how we might achieve a more sustainable and equitable future.

Photo by Josh Willink on Pexels.com

What’s one of your favorite courses, topics, or specific texts to teach? Why?

One book I’ve used in my classes for a while now is Andrew Szasz’s Shopping Our Way to Safety, which I think provides an excellent illustration of how treating systemic social problems as individual-level issues to be solved by consumers not only doesn’t solve these problems but actually makes them worse. One of the biggest challenges in teaching environmental sociology is to get across the point that environmental problems are, at their root, social problems, and this book usually does the trick.

What’s something you’ve done that you’re really proud of?

While working on my Ph.D. at Washington State University, I co-authored and published an article with a fellow sociology graduate student and we received a departmental award for it. It was at this moment that I began to feel like a real scholar, and I continue to be proud of the work we did on our own to make it happen.

Tell us about a book you’ve read recently, a movie you’ve seen recently, or another work of art or media you’ve engaged with recently that you really enjoyed and would like to recommend.

I am a big music nerd and love all kinds of genres and traditions. I listen to music all day long, especially while working in my office, and enjoy reading album reviews. My musical tastes run the gamut – some of my favorite musical artists lately are Jake Xerxes Fussell, Yasmin Williams, Madlib, Cassandra Jenkins, Ben Chasny, Julian Lage, and Protomartyr. Right now, I’m fascinated by Marina Herlop’s new album titled Pripyat, which is named after the Ukrainian city abandoned in the aftermath of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Herlop is a classical pianist and experimental producer from Barcelona, and this album creates a wordless, other-worldly soundscape that is just completely captivating. My favorite track is “Shaolin Mantis” but the choir version of “Miu” is a close runner-up.

Tell us something about yourself outside of work. What do you enjoy doing? What’s a detail about you that Mines students might not already know?

I’m pretty boring and just enjoy spending time with my family outside of work. We especially like to hike, camp, and ride bicycles. We’re very excited to get to know the Black Hills and to eventually ride the Mickelson Trail when it’s not so hot!

STS Faculty Profile: Jonathan Gibson

STS Faculty Profile

Jonathan Gibson is Associate Professor of Psychology.

What’s your area of expertise? What do you primarily research and/or teach? And what drew you to this field?

Meditation and interoception are my primary areas of research interest and expertise. Interoception is an awareness of what is going on inside your body. Current research is discovering that this sense is really important to health and well-being. All those physiological processes meant to maintain homeostasis turn out to shape and inform our emotional and psychological state. My specific research is aimed at using meditation to increase interoception.

What drew me to this field is a good question. A short answer is I felt “pulled” towards it. Neither interoception nor meditation were ever topics I intentionally set out to study; I just sort of discovered those as I was investigating psychophysiological research in my graduate programs.

STS Faculty Profile: Laura Kremmel

STS Faculty Profile

Laura Kremmel is Assistant Professor of English & Humanities.

What’s your area of expertise? What do you primarily research and/or teach? And what drew you to this field?

My training is in Gothic Studies and British Romanticism (British literature of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries), so my expertise is in the early Gothic novels, poetry, and drama that started the Gothic tradition we still read today. I’ve always been particularly interested in two authors: Matthew Lewis, who wrote a scandalous novel called The Monk (1796), and Charlotte Dacre, who wrote an even more scandalous novel called Zofloya (1806). Both are about transgressing boundaries through shockingly graphic and gory scenes, leading me to become curious about the ways that they challenge conventional understandings of what bodies are, do, or could be.

In my teaching and recent research, I’ve expanded into the Health Humanities, history of medicine, other eras of Gothic literature, and horror film. The Gothic is so obsessed with empowering bodies of all kinds that there’s a lot of work in combining the Gothic with the Health Humanities, Disability Studies, and Death Studies. I started to see these fields coming together while visiting medical museums (like the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia), where I saw Gothic narratives being applied to the history of medicine and its impacts.   

A group of women seated around a table with a candle and books.
Tales of Wonder by James Gillray (1802)

STS Faculty Profile: Christy Tidwell

STS Faculty Profile

Christy Tidwell is Associate Professor of English & Humanities. You can learn more about her research and teaching at her website.

What’s your area of expertise? What do you primarily research and/or teach? And what drew you to this field?

I typically research and write about speculative fiction, environment, and gender. My dissertation was about feminist science fiction and feminist science, for instance, and since then I’ve co-edited and written for two books on speculative fiction and the environment: Gender and Environment in Science Fiction and Fear and Nature: Ecohorror Studies in the Anthropocene. I have an ongoing interest in dinosaurs in popular culture, especially as dinosaur stories relate to ideas about extinction, and I also sometimes write about Black film/media and disability.

In my work on science fiction – whether related to environmental issues, gender, race, or disability – I look at how we respond to the problems in the present and how we might imagine different possibilities in the future. In my work on horror – again, no matter which of these issues I’m addressing – I look at how our fears (for instance, fears of the natural world or fears for the natural world) shape our lives.

STS Faculty Profile: Kayla Pritchard

STS Faculty Profile

Kayla Pritchard is Associate Professor of Sociology. You can read more from her in last semester’s post: “‘The Oldest Profession’: Sex Work Through the Lenses of History, Feminism, and Sociology.”

What’s your area of expertise? What do you primarily research and/or teach? And what drew you to this field?

I am a sociologist, which means I focus on the context around individuals to understand why they do what they do. This means examining the historical, cultural, and social context that influences our identities, behaviors, opportunities, interactions, and experiences. Within sociology, my expertise centers around 1) family and 2) sex, gender, and sexuality. Both of these exist at the structural level (macro guiding beliefs, ideologies, and assumptions) and at the individual level through identities, experiences, and behaviors. I find the intersection of the structural and the individual fascinating, and it allows me to study and bring in historical processes to better understand society today.

STS Faculty Profile: Frank Van Nuys

STS Faculty Profile

Frank Van Nuys is Professor of History and will be the interim Department Head for Humanities & Social Sciences in Spring 2022.

What’s your area of expertise? What do you primarily research and/or teach? And what drew you to this field?

I would say that I am a generalist in the history of the American West and not particularly comfortable claiming expertise in any area within that field. I am more confident saying that I am conversant in a variety of areas, including the West, of course, but also environmental history. The nature of my job here at Mines accommodates being both a generalist and having some latitude to develop and teach courses that interest me. Of late, in addition to the surveys in American history and Western Civilization, I have been teaching Westward Expansion of the U.S. and Environmental History of the U.S.

My focus earlier in my academic career was on race and immigration, so, for instance, I did my Master’s thesis on so-called alien land laws in California, which were designed to prevent Japanese immigrants from owning or leasing agricultural land in the early 20th century. My first book, Americanizing the West: Race, Immigrants, and Citizenship, 1890-1930, looked at the Western part of the nation as an important driver in immigration restriction and the Americanization programs of the 1910s and 1920s.

After that, my fascination with wildlife issues and the attraction of a deeper engagement with environmental history shifted my focus. Controversies over mountain lions re-populating the Black Hills about fifteen years ago provided the impetus for my second book, Varmints and Victims: Predator Control in the American West, which was published in 2015.

STS Faculty Profile: Matthew Whitehead

STS Faculty Profile

Matthew Whitehead is the Director of the Apex Gallery and a Lecturer who teaches Art and Art History classes in the Humanities department.

What’s your area of expertise? What do you primarily research and/or teach? And what drew you to this field?

I am an artist. I appropriate images and visual experiences from my surroundings and use them as inspiration for abstractions, mostly drawings, paintings, and collages. I work intuitively, paying close attention to composition and craft. My interest in the arts and the effect it has had on my life pushed me to pursue a career in education. I have taught painting, drawing, photography, illustration, design, graphic design, ceramics, stained glass, sculpture, art history, and foundational arts to students of all ages.

The arts have always been an important part of my life. I come from a family of artists and creatives. On my mother’s side, my grandfather was a renowned potter, painter, and art professor, and my grandmother was a social worker who now spends her time making traditional braided rugs and hand stitching quilts. My mother is a costume designer and art educator by trade but is also an actress and choir singer. My uncle is a potter, and my aunts are also artists of one kind or another. My grandmother on my Dad’s side was a trained aerial performer and painter. My dad was an actor, then a lawyer, and now he’s back to acting again. Given our family background, my siblings and I had no choice but to go into creative fields. My oldest brother is an actor, director, producer, filmmaker, and a professor of acting while my sister is an artist and landscape architect. Becoming an artist always felt like a natural fit.

STS Faculty Profile: John Dreyer

STS Faculty Profile

John Dreyer is Associate Professor of Political Science in the Social Sciences department. 

What’s your area of expertise? What do you primarily research and/or teach? And what drew you to this field?

I received my PhD in International Relations, and today I focus on strategy and International Security. Most of my research is currently focused on military advisors and how they have operated and what they have done for the last 150 years. It’s fun! My research also fills a niche in the field that is not well covered. My teaching is Foreign Policy/International Relations/Military History with some Political Ideology thrown in for good measure.

I chose Political Science because I liked the idea of theory and the boundaries it pushed. The subfield of International Security also appealed to me. I have taken an interest in military affairs for years and believed I might as well have a go at making it into a degree. I can write and teach about topics that I enjoy and bring that enjoyment to my courses.

What’s one of your favorite courses, topics, or specific texts to teach? Why?

Military history! This is a personal class for me. I’ve been devouring books on all manner of military history since I could read. Every year I choose books that I enjoy and that I believe my students will love as well. My favourite book that I used in 2021 was Ron Chernow’s Grant, which traces the evolution of one of America’s top leaders of all time. Another book I really enjoy using is Odd Arne Westad’s The Global Cold War and the Third World, which talks about small proxy conflicts and small states.