Carnegie Mellon University
April 15, 2019

CMU Historian Receives Guggenheim Fellowship

By Abby Simmons

Abby Simmons
  • Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences
  • 412-268-6094

Edmund Russell, a renowned historian of the environment and technology who joined Carnegie Mellon University this year, has been named a recipient of a 2019 Guggenheim Fellowship.

"The Guggenheim Fellowship is among the most prestigious awards artists, scholars, writers and scientists can receive," said Richard Scheines, dean of the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences. "We are thrilled that Ed has joined our Department of History and enhanced one of the department's core strengths in the history of science. The Guggenheim Foundation honor is a testament to Ed's scholarly contributions at the intersection of technology, the environment and society."

Russell, a professor of history, is one of 168 scholars, artists and writers selected by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation this year from a pool of nearly 3,000 applicants. Guggenheim Fellows are appointed on the basis of prior achievement and exceptional promise.

"The Department of History is very excited but not surprised that our new colleague Ed Russell has been awarded this extraordinarily esteemed fellowship. Ed is one of the country's most eminent historians of the environment and is president-elect of the American Society of Environmental History," said Donna Harsch, head of the Department of History.

As a Guggenheim Fellow, Russell will conduct research and write a book titled "United by Lightning: The U.S. Transcontinental Telegraph of 1861." This project grows out of Russell's longstanding interest in the interaction among people, technology and environments.

In just five months, builders erected a telegraph line of 1,800 miles across the mountains and deserts of the West. The telegraph helped tighten the military, economic and social bonds of the United States and paved the way for the transcontinental railroad of 1869. Considered by contemporaries to be one the most important engineering feats of the 19th century, Russell said the transcontinental telegraph has been forgotten because it happened to be completed during the Civil War.

Edward Hirsch, president of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, said the artists, writers, scholars and scientists who make up the 2019 class "represent the best of the best."

"Each year since 1925, the Guggenheim Foundation has bet everything on the individual, and we're thrilled to continue to do so with this wonderfully talented and diverse group. It's an honor to be able to support these individuals to do the work they were meant to do," Hirsch said.

Russell will be honored at a formal Guggenheim Fellows ceremony May 8 in New York City.