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Posts tagged with Dust Bowl

A dispatch from the KU historian involved with ‘The Dust Bowl,’ by way of Beijing

Don Worster, professor of American history at Kansas University, combined his passions of history and environmental studies to create a new field of study: environmental history. The hybrid study looks at how humans have manipulated the environment in a historical way.

Don Worster, professor of American history at Kansas University, combined his passions of history and environmental studies to create a new field of study: environmental history. The hybrid study looks at how humans have manipulated the environment in a historical way. by Nick Krug

I mentioned yesterday that I was hoping to get in touch with retired KU historian Donald Worster to discuss his role in the new Ken Burns documentary "The Dust Bowl," and I'm happy to report I was successful.

Worster is busy teaching a seminar in China right now, though, so he had time only to send a short email message. He's serving as a distinguished foreign expert in the School of History at Renmin University of China in Beijing. But I'll pass on his dispatch to you.

He reported that he traveled twice to New Hampshire, where Burns' studios are located, at Burns' request to help out. He said he was interviewed for about two hours by Burns himself and spent additional time talking to his co-filmmaker, Dayton Duncan. He also looked over a script for the film by mail.

"I strongly recommend that all people in Kansas watch the film," he wrote in conclusion, "and ask what lessons that tragedy may hold for our future."

Both parts of the documentary are available to watch at pbs.org.

That'll do it for Heard on the Hill this week. We'll be back on Monday. In the meantime, keep those KU news tips coming to merickson@ljworld.com, and also feel free to share your thoughts on our new format here. Happy Thanksgiving.

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KU historian plays big role in new Ken Burns documentary

Donald Worster, distinguished professor emeritus of history at Kansas University, is the author of many books, including biographies of environmental figures John Wesley Powell and John Muir.

Donald Worster, distinguished professor emeritus of history at Kansas University, is the author of many books, including biographies of environmental figures John Wesley Powell and John Muir.

Several alert tipsters and news clippings have alerted me to the fact that Donald Worster, a distinguished professor emeritus of history at KU, figures prominently in the new two-part feature "The Dust Bowl" by documentarian extraordinaire Ken Burns.

Worster wrote a book on the famous ecological disaster, "Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930s," that in 1980 won Columbia University's Bancroft Prize for the best American history book of the year.

Hoping to reach Worster to talk about his role in the film and what it was like to work with Burns, I got ahold of his wife, Beverly Worster, on Monday. She told me her husband is actually in China right now. Worster, who specializes in environmental history, is helping to set up an environmental center there, she said. I'm still hoping to get in touch with him sometime this week; I'll let you know how that turns out.

Beverly filled me in on how her husband got involved in the Burns documentary, though. She said it started when New York Times reporter Timothy Egan read Worster's book and visited several of the people mentioned for a more narrative-based account of how they lived through the Dust Bowl, "The Worst Hard Time," which was released in 2005.

That apparently led Burns to make Worster and Egan his primary advisers on the film, Beverly told me. Donald even watched the first cut of the documentary and offered some suggested edits, she said.

Beverly said her husband was one of the first people to advance the idea that the Dust Bowl was largely a man-made disaster, caused by agricultural practices at the time.

The documentary's two parts originally aired Sunday and Monday on PBS, but the Kansas City station KCPT appears to be re-playing them several times the rest of this week. Both parts, each about two hours long, are also available to view in full online at pbs.org, and they indicate that they'll be available there until Dec. 4.

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