Geography Professor Craig Colten named an LSU Rainmaker

Geography professor Craig Colten has been named the recipient of the Senior Scholar Rainmaker Award winner for 2020.  Awards are given each year to faculty who have demonstrated outstanding research, scholarship, and creative activity for their respective ranks and discipline. The awards recognize both sustained and continuing work, as well as the impact that work has had on the faculty members, their department, and their academic community.

Professor Colten joined the Department of Geography and Anthropology in 2000 and has had a steady string of research grants from such organizations as the Minerals Management Service, the Community and Regional Resilience Institute, the National Academy of Sciences/Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Mellon Foundation, the Corps of Engineers, and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.  These funding sources supported basic research on environmental justice, community resilience, and hazard and disaster recovery.  Several students earned their graduate degrees while working on these projects.

His colleague, Andrew Sluyter, observed that Colten has combined scholarship and exemplary institutional leadership in the course of his twenty plus years at LSU.  As an example, in recent years he has spearheaded the Human Coast Initiative to elevate coastal communities in the pressing discussions about the state’s coastal crisis.  This effort has led to a novel rolling seminar funded by Louisiana Sea Grant  that sought to create bridges between humanities scholars and the scientific community. 

Professor Colten has published a series of monographs since arriving at LSU. His 2005 volume, An Unnatural Metropolis, gained global attention and helped distant readers understand the hazards faced by residents in New Orleans after Hurricane Katraina.  It won the J.B. Jackson Prize from the American Association of Geographers.  His other books include Perilous Place, Powerful Storms:   Hurricane Protection in Coastal Louisiana (2009) and Southern Waters: The Limits to Abundance (2014).  His next book, State of Disaster is due out in 2021.

Insights offered by his research include his reconsideration of environmental equity and what he refers to as resilient practices.   Rather than mapping out the imposition of hazards and nuisances on minority or low-income communities, which often lacked historical context in dynamic urban settings, he mapped the delivery of urban amenities to minority neighborhoods in New Orleans.  By tracing the inclusion or exclusion of people of color from basic urban services such as flood protection, water, drainage, and sewerage, he could more accurately identify patterns of inequities.

His work on community resilience departed from the typical reliance on demographic and economic metrics - data not assembled to identify resilience. Instead he and his research team investigated the practices carried out by individuals, families, and community groups that enabled them to recover following hurricanes or oil spills.  By documenting the actual  practices, this research identified the actual mean used by communities to rebound from extreme hazard events.  By exposing the effective resilient practices, this work goes beyond using proxy measures for comparative analysis.  Instead, it identifies pathways for building resilience capacity to contend with future disasters.

Professor Colten has also served his university and profession in numerous capacities.  Twice he has served as department chair along with numerous committees at the university level.  He was the editor of the Geographical Review (2007-2012) and the Director of Human Dimensions at the Water Institute of the Gulf (2013-15).  He was awarded a prestigious fellowship at the Rachel Carson Center in Munich, Germany in 2012 and a Distinguished Visiting Professorship at Shanghai University in 2019.  The American Association of Geographers bestowed their title of AAG Fellow in 2018, the same year he gave the Distinguished Historical Geography Lecture at the association’s annual meeting.