Chloe Ahmann

Assistant Professor

Overview

I am a historical and environmental anthropologist studying how people politicize “impure” environments in the long afterlife of American industry. Much of my work is based in Baltimore, where I follow industrialism’s enduring traces in toxified landscapes, patchy regulation, quotidian expressions of white supremacy, and particular orientations toward time. I am especially interested in what kinds of environmental futures take form amid these legacies. 

In my first book, Futures after Progress: Hope and Doubt in Late Industrial Baltimore (University of Chicago Press, 2024), I explore the central role of speculation in American life, from the vantage point of late industrial South Baltimore. The book is based on over a decade of fieldwork among residents, activists, industrialists, and bureaucrats there, and archival study covering more than 200 years. It tells the story of a place forged to enable futures elsewhere: from its early life as a quarantine zone under precautionary public-health regimes; through years spent provisioning the military for both real and speculative warfare; and culminating in plans to build the nation's largest trash incinerator there, billed as a “climate solution” and euphemistically called the Fairfield Renewable Energy Project. Early on, I show how efforts by city, state, nation, and corporation to master the future through ever more conjectural modes of governance have produced an ambiguously toxic atmosphere that has shaved years off locals’ lives. Later, I consider how people living with these burdens relate to the future from a present marked by doubt, after long-held expectations fall apart. Much of the ethnography tracks debates over the proposed incinerator, which were themselves debates about what residents could reasonably desire from within the haze kicked up by an aging industrial order. By following people’s efforts to plant their feet at the end of that world—so uncertain that conjecture has become a mode of life—the book seeks insights into the paths we might yet take, in the face of ecological apocalypse. 

My newer research, on environmentally conscious separatist movements in the Pacific Northwest United States, moves to fresh terrain but stays with these core themes. Specifically, I train my eyes on efforts to repair body, soil, and soul from the “corruptions” of the modern age by establishing a sovereign homeland in “Cascadia”: some libratory, others decidedly less so, but all grappling with with the legacies of the US settler project. Like Futures after Progress, this work—tentatively titled Home/Land—combines ethnographic research with robust archival study, contributing to a research program that lies at the intersection of anthropology and US history.​

My research has been supported by grants from the National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, and several bodies at Cornell. I also serve on the editorial board for Anthropological Quarterly. At Cornell, I teach courses on time, environment, and research design that draw together fiction, film, critical theory, and ethnographic texts, approaching anthropology as a capacious mode of inquiry.

Publications

Books

Futures after Progress: Hope and Doubt in Late Industrial Baltimore. 2024. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

  • An open-access copy of the book is available to read and download here.

Edited Collections

“Fieldwork Confessionals.” 2023. American Anthropologist 125(3): 623–72. (Co-edited with Ali Feser, Alix Johnson, Erin McFee, and Amy Leia McLachlan.)

“Vacancy.” 2022. Anthropological Quarterly 95(2): 241–474. 

“Breathing Late Industrialism.” 2020. Engaging Science, Technology, and Society 6: 416–590. (Co-edited with Alison Kenner.) 

Peer-Reviewed Articles

The Little Things.” 2023. Part of a peer-reviewed collection called “Hundreds for Katie.” Eduardo Hazera, ed. Anthropology and Humanism 48(2): 401.

“Fieldwork Confessionals.” 2023. American Anthropologist 125(3): 623–8. (Co-authored with Ali Feser, Alix Johnson, Erin McFee, and Amy Leia McLachlan.)

“I know I shouldn't say this, but...” 2023. American Anthropologist 125(3): 633–7. 

“Uncertainty in Motion: Rumors of a Proxy War in Late Industrial Baltimore.” 2023. Cultural Anthropology 38(3): 303–33.

Vacancy: An Introduction.” 2022. Anthropological Quarterly 95(2): 241–76. 

“Postindustrial Futures and the Edge of the Frontier.” 2022. Anthropological Quarterly 95(2): 277–310. 

“Dissociation.” 2022. Part of a peer-reviewed forum called “The Vertiginous: Temporalities and Affects of Living in Vertigo.” Daniel M. Knight, Fran Markowitz, and Martin Demant Frederiksen, eds. Anthropological Theory Commons, June 3. 

Atmospheric Coalitions: Shifting the Middle in Late Industrial Baltimore.” 2020. Engaging Science, Technology, and Society 6: 462–85.

Breathing Late Industrialism.” 2020. Engaging Science, Technology, and Society 6: 416–38. (Co-authored with Alison Kenner.)

Unbelonging: The Politics of Address.” 2020. Part of a peer-reviewed forum called "Futile Political Gestures." Galina Stjepanovic, ed. Anthropological Theory Commons, October 16. 

“Waste-to-Energy: Garbage Prospects and Subjunctive Politics in Late-industrial Baltimore.” 2019. American Ethnologist 46(3): 328–42.

“‘It’s exhausting to create an event out of nothing.’ Slow Violence and the Manipulation of Time.” 2018. Cultural Anthropology 33(1): 142–71. 

“Accountable Talk: ‘Real’ Conversations in Baltimore City Schools.” 2017. Anthropology and Education Quarterly 48(1): 77–97. 

“‘…And That’s Why I Teach For America’: American Education Reform and the Role of Redemptive Stories.” 2016. Text & Talk 36(2): 111–31. 

“Teach For All: Storytelling ‘Shared Solutions’ and Scaling Global Reform.” 2015. Education Policy Analysis Archives 23(45): 1–27.

Book Reviews

The Sustainability Myth: Environmental Gentrification and the Politics of Justice by Melissa Checker.” 2021. Political and Legal Anthropology Review 44(2): 106–8. 

Define and Rule: Native as Political Identity by Mahmood Mamdani.” 2013. Anthropological Quarterly 86(3): 927–33. 

Essays, Podcasts, Interviews, and Public Scholarship

Interviewed (by Adam Willis, Daniel Zawodny, and Ramsey Archibald) for “The World Wants American Coal. Curtis Bay Residents Say They Pay the Price.” Baltimore Banner, June 6, 2024. 

Interviewed (by JC Whittington) for “Coal Dust Concerns Mount after Baltimore Bridge Collapse.” POLITICO, May 16, 2024.

Interviewed (by James Dean) for “Beyond the ‘Booms’: Book Probes Everyday Disasters in South Baltimore, Offers Hope.” Cornell Chronicle, May 9, 2024.

Author of “Baltimore’s Toxic Legacies Have Reached a Breaking Point.” SAPIENS, April 23, 2024.

Interviewed (by Hannah Northey) for “Baltimore Port Shutdown Stokes Neighborhood Pollution Fears.” POLITICO, April 11, 2024.

Interviewed (by Matthew Zeitlin) for “The Coal was Destined for India. Now It’s Polluting the Air in Baltimore.” Heatmap, April 1, 2024.

Interviewed (by Jeff Tyson) for “Why Bridge Collapse Recovery is ‘Time to Listen’ to Baltimore Residents Impacted by Coal Shipping.” Cornell Chronicle, March 28, 2024.

Author of “Curtis Bay Residents Deserve a Coal-free Future.” 2024. Op-ed for the Baltimore Sun, February 18.

Interviewed (by Fern Shen) for After a Century of Industrial Accidents and Toxic Exposures, Curtis Bay Residents Say They’ve Had Enough.” 2022. Baltimore Brew, December 5. 

Author of public and written testimony on the CSX coal terminal explosion. 2022. Baltimore City Council Investigatory Hearing, June 15. (Beginning at 56:30 minutes into linked recording.)

Guest (with Rasheeda Green) on “Geographies of Privilege.” 2021. Episode of Crossroads podcast, May 19.

Interviewed (by Kate Blackwood) for “Ahmann Co-edits Journal Issue on 'Late Industrialism.’” 2020. Cornell Chronicle, November 30.

Work featured on “Let it Burn.” 2020. Episode of Crossroads podcast, June 16.

Author of “Toxic Disavowal.” 2020. Somatosphere, January 20.

Interviewed (by Alize Arıcan) for “Features.” 2019. American Ethnologist, September 20.  

Author of “America’s Post-industrial Futures.” 2018. Photo essay for Sapiens. November 28. 

Interviewed (by Alexandra Vieux Frankel) for “This Was An Event.” 2018. Dialogues, Cultural Anthropology, June 19. 

Guest (with David Giles and Elana Resnick) on “Episode 8.” 2018. Conversations in Anthropology podcast, February 11.

Author (with Vincent Ialenti) of “Trump’s Slogan: More About the ‘Make’ Than the ‘Great.’” 2017. Op Ed for Sapiens. April 25.  

Author of “The Incinerator Does Not Exist: Sensory Engagement with Toxic Potentials.” 2017. Part of a series called “Sensory Engagements with a Toxic World.” Chisato Fukuda, ed. Second Spear, Medical Anthropology Quarterly, March 29. 

Author of “On Not Being Seen.” 2016. Part of a series called “Ethnographer as Advocate.” Haley Bryant and Emily Cain, eds. Anthropology News. February 17. 

Interviewed (by Diane Stopyra) for “The Great Garbage Fire Debate: Should We be Burning Our Trash into Energy?” 2017. Salon, January 2.

Author of “Curtis on the Bay: Failed Development and the Mythology of Trump.” 2016. Part of a series called “Crisis of Liberalism.” Dominic Boyer, ed. Hot Spots, Cultural Anthropology. November 30.

Recent recorded talks

Time Bomb: Two Hundred Years of Toxic Disavowal in Late Industrial South Baltimore.” 2022. Johns Hopkins University, Department of Anthropology, December 6.

Hope at the End of the World: Two Views from Late Industrial Baltimore.” 2022. University of Delaware, Department of Anthropology, October 27.

How Waste Became Renewable in Baltimore: A Cautionary Tale.” 2022. Cornell University, Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, May 9.

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