Chronicle of Chesapeake Oyster Industry Wins National History Prize

‘The Oyster Question’ honored by Forum for the History of Science in America

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Christine Keiner

The Oyster Question, an environmental history of Chesapeake Bay’s iconic oyster industry, has won the 2010 book prize from the Forum for the History of Science in America.

The book, written by Christine Keiner, associate professor of science, technology and society at Rochester Institute of Technology, sheds new light on how a combination of state-focused political, economic and social factors maintained the Maryland oyster industry as a regulated commons for most of the 20th century despite intense pressure to privatize the rich oyster reefs of the Chesapeake Bay, the nation’s largest estuary.

“Keiner’s chronicle of the Chesapeake oyster situates Maryland in the southern agricultural and social context with nuanced discussions of Progressive Era agricultural policies and racial politics,” notes Susan Rensing, chair of the forum’s prize committee and assistant professor of women’s studies and history at University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. “The Oyster Question stands as an important contribution to the history of science, environmental history and southern social history.”

The book also received a Maryland Preservation Award from the Maryland Historical Trust and was named a finalist for the Organization of American Historians’ 2010 Frederick Jackson Turner Prize. It recently was released in paperback and is published by the University of Georgia Press.

The Oyster Question is a first-rate analysis of the interaction between science, environment and politics alongside one of the nation’s oldest and most important conservation problems,” adds fisheries scholar Arthur McEvoy. “This book will be necessary reading for anyone who wonders why good science doesn’t necessarily lead to good policy, in resources management or any other area.”

The Forum for the History of Science in America was founded in 1980 and focuses on research, scholarship and education surrounding the history of scientific inquiry and practice in the United States.

NOTE: Review copies are available to members of the media. Contact Regan Huff at or 706-369-6160.