John Wirth

Environmental History of Latin America

John D. Wirth, Gildred Professor of History at Stanford University, passed away on June 20 in Toronto, Canada while delivering a lecture at the Friends of Fort York. He was 66. John was an energetic ASEH member, particularly interested in the expansion of environmental history beyond the borders of U.S. scholarship.  He strongly encouraged the participation of international environmental historians in ASEH meetings. He was an eager supporter of interaction between ASEH and ESEH (the European Society for Environmental History) and he nurtured the formation of a Latin American Environmental History Association. He also served on the ASEH Development Committee.

John's love of the out of doors (he was a master fly fisherman) and commitment to the environment led him to embrace environmental history in the 1990s. His scholarship evolved from Brazilian studies, on which he published four widely recognized books, to North American history, and he became a distinguished scholar of transboundary environmental relationships among Mexico, Canada, and the United States. He was a contributing editor of Environmental Management on North America's Borders (with Richard Kiy, in 1998) and in 2000 he published Smelter Smoke in North America: The Politics of Transborder Pollution, a story of regional environmental cooperation in the cleaning of two copper smelters, one on each side of the Rio Grande.

Wirth was also a consulting editor for the Online Bibliography on Latin American Environmental History and on the editorial board of the Encyclopedia of World Environmental History (Routledge, 2003). His latest book, a history of the Pajarito Plateau in Northern New Mexico, with Linda Aldrich of White Rock, New Mexico, is entitled Los Alamos, The Ranch School Years, 1917-1943 (forthcoming from the University of New Mexico Press).

John exercised his scholarship as he did everything else: with enthusiasm and public commitment. He had an obstinate conviction that it was possible--in fact necessary--to be a careful scholar, a committed activist, and a compassionate mentor. He believed strongly in the value of community service and voluntarism, and he founded the North American Community Service program, a trilateral service program for young adults from Canada, Mexico, and the United States working in environmental protection, community development, and historic preservation. He  was a co-founder of the North American Institute, a trinational public affairs group headquartered in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and a member of the White House-appointed Joint Public Advisory Committee of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation of NAFTA.  More information on his work may be found at

Lise Sedrez