Remembering Douglas Helms

Mark Hersey's picture
John Douglas Helms, PhD, expert on the history of United States agriculture and resource conservation, died on September 5, 2018.  After earning a Doctorate in American history from Florida State University in 1977, he became the Historian of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (then called the Soil Conservation Service), part of the Department of Agriculture.  His work for the government built upon his dissertation, which examined efforts to eradicate the boll weevil in the South.  More than a historian of government policy, he wrote about how the personalities of scientists and bureaucrats shaped their missions—whether to help poor farmers in the South or to protect the environment.   He introduced readers to two leaders in America's tradition of environmental protection: Hugh Hammond Bennett and Walter Lowdermilk. Like Helms, both came from North Carolina.  Bennett led Federal efforts to help farmers fight soil erosion; Lowdermilk inspire conservation efforts by writing about the plight of farmers around the world. Helms tacked a wide variety of  other topics, including how women and African-Americans struggled to obtain services from the Federal Government.  He also brought together scholars for edited volumes including The History of Agriculture and the Environment and The History of Soil and Water Conservation (both published by the Agricultural History Society). His thoroughly-researched and clearly written books and articles will help scholars and the public for years to come.  
Steven Phillips
Professor, History Department
Towson University
Towson, MD 21252