Rod Mather is perhaps best known for his studies of shipwrecks around the world, including Revolutionary War ships in Narragansett Bay, the USS Monitor off the coast of Virginia, the shipwrecks of Bermuda and a fleet of German World War I ships in the Atlantic Canyons off Virginia. But his growing reputation is also in the emerging discipline of applied history, in which contemporary issues are addressed via a thorough understanding of historic and cultural landscapes.
He and long-time colleague John Jensen have gained unique new insights and helped solve local and national problems by broadening the understanding of the historic uses of particular sites. Mather’s studies of the 300-year history of energy use in Rhode Island, for instance, is providing a new perspective on efforts to establish an offshore wind farm in the state. And his numerous collaborations with the National Park Service are shedding new light on National Historic Parks up and down the East Coast.
“When we go to a place, our job is to understand the local setting and the way human beings have lived there. We are interested in the key aspects of human interaction with the environment and its natural resources,” Mather said. “If we can figure out how they got there and what has been tried in the past, we can help figure out appropriate options for the future.”
Mather has established an Applied History Lab on campus to provide students with unique opportunities to work at the intersection of the arts, humanities and sciences.
“Every place is different, but everywhere we go we’ve been able to identify important historic elements that have disappeared from public perception,” he said.