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Brian Black writes and speaks widely for public and academic audiences about the intersection of issues of the environment and history.  His primary focus is energy, past and present, and particularly petroleum.  Emphasizing cultural drivers behind energy consumption, Black uses history to provide context for our current energy conundrum. 

         A specialist in the environmental history of North America, Black lectures and writes about topics from the 19th century to the present--from harpooning a whale to fracking shale.  Most often, landscape is at the center of the story, just like his recently released Gettysburg Contested, which lays out the history of the Gettysburg Battlefield.  

 Black is Distinguished Professor of History and Environmental Studies at Penn State Altoona where he also serves as Division Head of Arts and Humanities.

Read more on the Biography Page

To Have and Have Not: Energy in World History,
R&L, 2022 (CHOICE highly recommended title)




  • Invited Keynote, "PETROLIAS, then and now: Exploring Change and Continuity in the Ethics of Extraction," Canadian History & Environment Summer School (CHESS) . London, Ontario, May 2023

  • Invited Opening Keynote, "ENERGIES in World History," at World History Association Annual Meeting , University of Pittsburgh, PA , June. 2023 

  • Invited Lecture, "Pumping Consumption: Petroleum Filing Stations and American Energy Dependence, 1880-present," Hagley Fall Conference: Building Ecosystems/Selling Natures: At the Edge of Environments and Economies, University of Delaware, October 2022

  • Invited Lecture, "The Environmental History of the Gettysburg Battlefield," at Annual Civil War Institute (opening speaker), Gettysburg College, PA , June. 2020 (CANCELLED)

  • Invited Lecture, "Closing the Loop: Informing Our Energy Transition with New Knowledge," at 5th World Summit on Climate and Climate Change, Amsterdam, Netherlands, February. 2020

  • "Blazing the Trail to a High Energy Existence:  WW I and the Introduction of the Fossil Fuel Era." World War I Museum Lecture Series, Kansas City, MO, January  2020

  • "Gettysburg Contested:  Making Meaning of Battlefield Preservation," University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS,  January  2020

  • "Blazing the Trail to a High Energy Existence:  WW I and the Introduction of the Fossil Fuel Era."  Eisenhower Presidential Library Lunch Lecture Series, Abilene, KS, January  2020

  • "Closing the Loop: Informing Our Energy Transition with New Knowledge," at "In the Shadow of the PetroChemical Smokestack," Lyon, France, November. 2019

  • "Battlefield to Gas Pump: Finding Meaning in the Familiar Past," Dept. of History Distinguished Alumni Lecture, Gettysburg College,  October. 2019

  • "Energy Hinge: The Intellectual Roots of American Green Culture in the 1970s," at World Congress of Environmental History, Brazil, July. 2019

  • "A Very Different Energy Transition," Pache Kuche presentation (with art work of Rebecca Strzelec, PSU Altoona), at "Crafting a New Tomorrow" conference,  Biosphere 2, Tucson, AZ, Feb. 2019

  • Invited Lecture, “Greening Our Rides: Diesel-Gate and Environmental Thought in our Vehicles,” PETROCULTURES 2018,  University of Glasgow, Scotland, August 2018

  • Invited Lecture, “Leaping the Gap: Tracing Energy Transitions in World History,” PAS Symposium on Alternative Energy,  Indiana University Of Pennsylvania, March 2018

  • Invited Lecture, “Flexible Consumption: Plastics and the American Ecology of Oil,” GALLERY TALK, Palmer Museum:  Plastic Entanglements, Penn State University, March 2018

  • Invited Participant, “Post-Carbon Futures in a Fact-Challenged Present,” Roundtable/ Teach-In Event, Penn Program in Environmental Humanities,  University Of Pennsylvania, March 2018

  • Invited Lecture, “Harpoon to Derrick:  Lessons from an American Energy Transition of the 1860s,” Conference:  TRANSITIONS IN ENERGY HISTORY .  Milan, Italy, November 2017

  • Invited Lecture, “Leaping the Gap: Tracing Changing Conceptions of Energy in World History,” Opening Speaker, Conference:  EOGAN.  Paris, France, May  2017

  • Invited Lecture, “Pumping Consumption: Filling Stations and American Energy Dependence, 1880-Present,” Conference:  TRANSITIONS IN ENERGY LANDSCAPES AND EVERYDAY LIFE IN THE NINETEENTH AND TWENTIETH CENTURIES: A Workshop organized by the Material Cultures of Energy Project and the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society.  Munich, Germany, April 2017

  • Invited Speaker, “Leaping the Gap: Tracing Changing Conceptions of Energy in World History,” Energy Week, Carnegie Mellon University, March 2017

  • Invited commentator at the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Forum on Economic History.  Discussion and comments on the work of Roger Stern, University of Tulsa, “The Strategy of Illusions:  Oil Scarcity Ideology and America’s Path to the Middle East,” March 2017.

  • Invited Lecture, “Leaping the Gap: Tracing Changing Conceptions of Energy in World History,” Conference:  Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin, Germany, September 2016

  • Invited Lecture, “Streaming a New Environmental Reality? The 2010 Gulf Spill and the Culture of Offshore Drilling,” Conference PETROCULTURES 2016: The Offshore, Memorial University, St. Johns, New Foundland, September 2016

  • Invited Lecture, “Energizing Environmental History,” Conference in honor of Donald Worster, Center for Ecological History, Remnin University, Beijing, China Summer 2016

  • "The Landscape of Technological Failure: The Culture of Crude after the 2010 Gulf Spill," invited speaker, "Aesthetics of the Energy Landscape Conference," Luleå Univ of Technology, Sweden, and lecture at Umeå University, May 2016


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