Last Wednesday, Joseph Taylor dove to the depths of American history in a talk on his work surveying the continent's marine landscape.

Marine environmental history aims "to historicize the nature of oceans and put that in conversation with human history," said Taylor, associate professor of history and geography at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia.

"It's how nature has shaped human experience over time," he added.

Taylor became interested in this interdisciplinary study nearly 40 years ago via a rather unorthodox route. In the early 1970s, he dropped out of college and pursued fishing for 15 years.

"That's what was interesting to me," said Taylor, now one of the nation's leading environmental historians. "I happened to be involved in fisheries when everything went bad."

"That opened up a lot of questions for those of us involved trying to figure out what's going on," he added.

Associate Professor of History and Environmental Studies Matthew Klingle invited Taylor to campus to share his work.

"[Taylor] is one of the leading historians of the North American West and the environment in the US and Canada today," said Klingle. "His first work on the environmental history of the Northwest salmon crisis remains one of the best histories of any fishery ever, and his latest work on climbing in Yosemite Valley as a touchstone for Americans' changing attitudes toward nature through recreation, sport and consumerism will likely be another path-breaking work."

That work, published last October, is entitled "Pilgrims of the Vertical: Yosemite Rock Climbing and Modern Environmental Cultures" covers the evolution of rock climbing in the North American landscape.

On Wednesday, Taylor gave a talk on the early years of technical climbing in North America. According to Taylor, there are two types of climbing cultures: group or individual experience.

"How those cultures diverge gives us insight into about the larger environmental problems we discuss these days, especially wilderness," he said.

Yesterday afternoon, Taylor and Coastal Studies Scholar Ted Ames hosted a workshop on the environmental history of fisheries. Prior to the workshop, Taylor also met with the Bowdoin Outing Club (BOC) to discuss rock climbing and literature.

Taylor's visit was sponsored by the departments of biology, environmental studies, gender and women's studies, and history as well as the BOC, coastal studies, Earth and oceanographic sciences, and the Bowdoin College Concerts and Lectures Committee.