Tait Keller

Tait Keller

Associate Professor of History and Chair of the Department of History


I teach a variety of courses that focus on environmental history, war and society, and modern Europe. Several of my courses, especially my environmental history courses, transcend national boundaries and place their subjects in a global context. With its tradition of community outreach and dedication to applied learning, Rhodes College is ideally suited for a hands-on approach to history. My environmental history classes often integrate off-campus educational field trips with lectures and discussions, following one historian’s suggestion that a little “intelligent wandering” will teach us more than “a half semester of arm-chair study.” Among our many excursions, my classes have hiked in the Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park, climbed ancient mounds at the Chucalissa Archeological site, examined old graves at the historic Elmwood Cemetery, toured a local biofuel refinery, visited a wastewater treatment plant, explored the college’s own Level IV certified arboretum, and even paddled voyager canoes (modeled after what French explorers once used) down the Lower Mississippi River. These off-campus adventures help my students to better understand the intricate connections between people and the environment and the ways in which our relationships with nature have changed over time.


My scholarship focuses on the evolving relationships among individuals, states, and the environment, particularly in times of crisis and conflict. My first book, Apostles of the Alps (University of North Carolina Press) focuses on German and Austrian mountaineers in the Eastern Alps from the 1860s until the start of the Second World War. This book explores the paradox that Europe’s seemingly peaceful “playgrounds” were battlegrounds where competing visions of Germany and Austria clashed. Using newly available archival materials from state and private collections throughout Germany, Austria, as well as Switzerland, and Italy, my book shows how recreational pursuits in the Eastern Alps placed distant mountains at the heart of German nationhood questions.

My second book, A Global Environmental History of the Great War, is under contract with Cambridge University Press. This project focuses on how energy geopolitics linked the battle lines and home fronts with industry and agriculture in ways that transformed environments around the world. In 1914, agriculture, industry, and warfare formed a violent triad geared for the production of destruction. While combat caused devastation, the resulting damage to nature was generally short-lived. Paradoxically, major environmental change occurred behind the lines, away from the killing fields. Seeing what George Kennan called the twentieth century’s “seminal catastrophe” from an environmental perspective illuminates the global dimensions of the conflict. Understanding how warfare and energy extraction coevolved over the course of the First World War helps explain the intersections of armed conflict, human victimization, and environmental exploitation today.

Several of my courses contribute to the Environmental Studies and Sciences Program at Rhodes College. See the Program’s website for more information.

Selected Publications

Apostles of the Alps: Mountaineering and Nation Building in Germany and Austria. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2016.

“Aux marges écologique de la belligerence. Vers une histoire environnnementale globale de la Première Guerre mondiale.” Annales. Histoire, Sciences Sociales n°1 (Janvier-Mars 2016): 65-85.

Destruction of the Ecosystem.” 1914-1918-Online. International Encyclopedia of the First World War, 2014.

The Mountains Roar: The Alps during the Great War.” Environmental History 14.2 (April 2009): 253-274.

Selected Fellowships

Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society Fellowship

American Council of Learned Societies Frederick Burkhardt Fellowship

Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars Fellowship

National Endowment for the Humanities 12-month Fellowship

Conference Group for Central European History Research Grant

Austrian Federal Ministry of Science and Research Richard Plaschka Grant

Recent Professional Talks

“Energy Geopolitics during the First World War.” Jadavpur University, India

“Frontiers of Trouble: The Environmental Legacies of the First World War.” Centre for War Studies. University of Birmingham, U.K.

“Violent Environments and Vulnerable Lives: The War Ecology of the Ottoman Empire.” International World War I Symposium. Turkish Historical Society. İzmir.
“War Lands: The Environmental Legacies of the First World War.” Sam Shannon Distinguished Lecture Series. Tennessee State University.
Grim Fields: Militarized Environments of the First World War and the Making of the 20th Century.” Nanovic Institute for European Studies, University of Notre Dame.
“Rich and Wretched Earth: Militarized Environments in the First World War.” Georg-August-Universität. Göttingen.

Teaching Self-Defense

I am a Krav Maga Alliance (KMA) nationally certified instructor and teach with Endurance Krav Maga here in Memphis. I discovered Krav Maga when I moved to Memphis and it has become a driving passion for me. Nothing gives me greater self-confidence and relieves the stresses of life more than training with the outstanding instructors and students at Endurance. If you're interested in learning more about Krav Maga, come see me!


Ph.D., History, Georgetown University
M.A., German and European Studies, Georgetown University
B.A., History, University of Rochester