Kenneth Sylvester

Kenneth Sylvester

Title

Assistant Research Scientist, Institute for Social Research

Institution

University of Michigan

Current Project

I am working on a couple of group projects about agriculture and environment in the U.S. Great Plains. My collaborators at Michigan are Susan Hautaniemi Leonard, Dan Brown and Myron Gutmann, and at the University of Saskatchewan, Geoff Cunfer. In one we have created a pretty rich collection of household level census data (1860-1940) and air photos (1930s) for a sample of farms in 25 communities across Kansas, and are hoping to add more information about property. The other study looks at land use change across the entire region up to the present and we have a team of student assistants (in Dan Brown's lab at SNRE) creating a time series (1930s to 2000s) of air photo maps for 400 sample areas across the Great Plains. The key questions address the spatial extent and movement of cropland over time, the social and economic factors driving landscape change, and the likely effects on ecosystem services like carbon sequestration.

Hobbies

Fitness (spinning, running, strength), movies, music, and keeping up with my daughters' after-school activities.

Favorite Historical Figure

Big Bear, the plains Cree chief, formed alliances to push for a larger aboriginal homeland within Canada.

Favorite Agricultural/Rural Movie

Fruits of the Earth, a 1933 novel by a German-Canadian author, Frederick Philip Grove (b. Felix Paul Greve), is the story of an individualistic Anglo pioneer farmer, whose success isolates him from his community and his heirs. The detail is absorbing, and some of the story line runs against type, including hints at the way the settlers used vacant public and railway lands as a kind of commons. The most recent edition includes an afterword by novelist Rudy Wiebe, whose own autobiographical account of growing up in a poor Mennonite farm district, on the edge of the boreal forest in northwest Saskatchewan, Of This Earth, provides a less varnished portrait of homestead life.

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