CSU, Chico News

Historian Timothy Sistrunk Receives First Paul Persons Sustainability Award

Date: 11-17-2008

Kathleen McPartland
Public Affairs

Timothy Sistrunk, PhD, Department of History, is the first recipient of the Paul Persons Sustainability Award, presented at the This Way to Sustainability IV awards dinner on Friday, Nov. 7. The award is given to a faculty member who best integrates sustainability into his course curricula.

Paul Persons, who passed away in January of 2007, was an activist attorney and a professor of political science who worked tirelessly to establish the principles of sustainability as a core concern of California State University, Chico. In his role on the Statewide Academic Senate at the time of his death, he was working on integrating sustainability into the curriculum at the CSU systemwide level. His family set up this endowed award to recognize faculty members who carry out this mission.

Sistrunk said, “I was floored, as much by the way my own research was influenced by Paul Persons, as by the significance of the award itself. I first heard him talk about water issues [in California at one of the Sustainability Conferences a few years ago].”

Sistrunk said that Persons [referenced] the Roman legal principle that “the shores of the sea, running water and the air” belong to all people. He pointed out that the American consciousness of an eternal frontier where, “if you got there first, you owned the water,” worked only as long as there were endless resources, and did not work in a changing world with diminishing resources.”

These ideas deeply resonated with Sistrunk, whose field is medieval environmental law. He is writing a book that treats this ancient Roman principle in its medieval context with the working title, “The Natural World of Bartolus of Sassoferrato and the Foundations of Western Environmental Law.”

Sistrunk teaches American Environmental History, an upper division course in the Environmental Issues general education theme. He explores three watershed events in American Environmental History: (1) first contact between Europeans and Native peoples that brought new species, loss of species and disease; (2) the introduction of the Land Ordinance (called the grid), by Thomas Jefferson, which established the practice of depicting the landscape geometrically, and (3) the rise of consumerism in the United States, which includes treating nature and the environment as a commodity. Sistrunk points out that these are not his divisions, but the way this material is approached by scholars and teachers in the field.

“Tim Sistrunk, who was selected for the Paul Persons Sustainability Award, regularly teaches The American Environment to exceptional evaluations from his students,” said Joel Zimbelman, interim dean, College of Humanities and Fine Arts. “The cash award and beautiful plaque he received reflect in a small way the significant work he’s done in weaving history, environmental studies and contemporary issues into our history program.”

Sistrunk will be presenting a paper, “The Fish of the Sea in Late Medieval Law,” based on research for his book at the First World Congress of Environmental History, the first joint meeting of the American, European, Australian and Southeast Asian Societies of Environmental History in Copenhagen in August of 2009.

Sistrunk, who is a lecturer, is also grateful for the work Persons did on behalf of lecturers through the faculty union and the Academic Senate.

Contributions to the Paul Persons Memorial Fund can be made to the University Foundation, CSU, Chico, Chico CA 95929.