Ellen Spears
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Assistant Professor
(205) 348-8410


  • College of William and Mary, (B.A.)
  • Emory University, (M.A., Ph.D.)

Research Focus:

  • Nineteenth and twentieth century U.S. environmental and civil rights history
  • Competing scientific, medical and legal claims in environmental public health
  • Ethnographic and oral documentary studies of race, class, gender, and place in the U.S. South.


About :

Ellen Griffith Spears is assistant professor in New College and the Department of American Studies at the University of Alabama. She teaches courses in environmental and civil rights history, and environmental ethics and policy, focusing on the southern U.S. in a global context. She is affiliated faculty in UA’s Department of Gender and Race Studies. Dr. Spears has also taught at Agnes Scott College and Emory University in Atlanta. She has authored numerous articles and book chapters, including contributions in The American South in a Global World (University of North Carolina Press), Emerging Illness and Society: Negotiating the Public Health Agenda (Johns Hopkins University Press), and Where We Stand: Voices of Southern Dissent (New South Books). She collaborated with photographer Michael Schwarz on the oral history documentary project, The Newtown Story: One Community’s Fight for Environmental Justice, a book that recounts the civil rights and environmental activism of a group of African American women in Gainesville, Georgia, the Newtown Florist Club. Dr. Spears is the former associate director of the Southern Regional Council and former managing editor of the SRC’s quarterly journal, Southern Changes. She has published reviews, articles, and photographs in the Journal of Southern History, the Voting Rights Review, Southern Exposure, and Southern Spaces—the peer-reviewed online interdisciplinary journal about regions, places, and cultures of the American South and their global connections. As a member of the editorial board of Southern Spaces, Spears is editing a special series on Landscapes and Ecologies of the U.S. South.

Specialty Fields :

  • Dr. Spears has taught urban ecology and environmental ethics as a visiting assistant professor in the Institute of the Liberal Arts and in the Department of Environmental Studies at Emory University. In 2004-2005, she held a Mellon Fellowship at Agnes Scott College.

  • Formerly associate director of the Southern Regional Council, the Atlanta-based civil rights research institute, Dr. Spears served as managing editor of the SRC’s quarterly journal, Southern Changes, for more than a decade. Spears was as a contributing writer for “The Case for Extending and Amending the Voting Rights Act,” with Laughlin McDonald and Daniel Levitas, on a report prepared for Congress and presented to the House Committee on the Judiciary in March 2006, during reauthorization of key provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Her research is broadly interdisciplinary, combining civil rights and environmental history, social justice theory, and studies of science, technology, and public health.



Baptized in PCBs: Race, Pollution, and Justice in an All-American Town, forthcoming April 2014 from the University of North Carolina Press, http://uncpress.unc.edu/books/T-8728.html

The Newtown Story: One Community’s Fight for Environmental Justice, photographs by Michael Schwarz, Atlanta: Center for Democratic Renewal, 1998, a collaborative documentary project.


Journal Articles and Book Chapters:

“Memorializing the Freedom Riders,” Southern Spaces: an interdisciplinary online peer-reviewed journal, http://www.southernspaces.org/contents/2009/spears/1a.htm, July 2009.


“Reducing Environmental Burdens: A Southern Agenda,” in American Crisis: Southern Solutions, ed., Anthony Dunbar, Montgomery: New South Press, 2008.


Contributing writer, “The Case for Extending and Amending the Voting Rights Act, Voting Rights Litigation 1982-2006,” Laughlin McDonald, Daniel Levitas, et al., prepared for the U.S. Congress, House Committee on the Judiciary. Atlanta: American Civil Liberties Union, 2006.


“Civil Rights, Immigration, and the Prospects for Social Justice Collaboration,” in The American South in a Global World, eds. James L. Peacock, Harry L. Watson, Carrie R. Matthews, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005, 235-243.


“Making Illnesses Visible: The Newtown Florist Club and the Quest for Environmental Justice in Gainesville, Georgia,” in Emerging Illnesses and Society: Negotiating the Public Health Agenda,. eds. Randall M. Packard, Peter J. Brown, Ruth L. Berkelman,  Howard Frumkin, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004, 171-190.


“Voting Disparities in Georgia Counties: A Report on Election 2000,” co-author, Southern Regional Council, February, 2001.


“South Africa vote mixes hope, tension,” The Atlanta-Journal Constitution, June 3, 1999.


 “Will the Circle Be Unbroken? Using Oral History to Tell the Story of the Civil Rights Movement,” Social Education: The Official Journal of the National Council for Social  Studies, Vol. 63, No. 4, May/June 1999.