Professor Cunfer Receives Presidential Book Award

By Amethyst Beck

He had worked on the project for eight years. But only later would Professor Geoff Cunfer discover that his hard work had paid off: his project developed into an award-winning book.

Cunfer, an associate professor of rural and regional studies at Southwest Minnesota State University, won the Presidential Book Award for his first book, a revision of his doctoral dissertation, entitled "The Great Plains: An Agricultural and Environmental History."

Professor Cunfer got the inspiration for his book from two mentors: Dan Flores, through whom Cunfer gained an interest in the Great Plains, and Myron Gutmann, who introduced him to the tools he used to study the Great Plains, such as Geographic Information Systems and farm censuses.

"The Great Plains" was written for scholars, historians and geographers who have a particular interest in the Great Plains area. It is an environmental history and geography of the interactions between Euro-American farmers and nature in the Great Plains. The book covers events concerning the entire Great Plains that took place as long as 350 years ago.

Former SMSU professor Joseph Amato agreed with the selection of "The Great Plains" for the Presidential Book Award.

"It is a prestigious, wonderful award," Amato said. And having read Cunfer's manuscript, he feels "it deserves all the positive recognition it receives," Amato said.

Professor Cunfer has been at SMSU for five years. He has written several articles for academic journals, including "Manure Matters on the Great Plains Frontier," "Causes of the Dust Bowl" and "The New Deal's Land Utilization Program in the Great Plains."

His colleagues clearly respect him as a coworker as well as a writer.

"We all feel very privileged to work with him," said Jan Louwagie, coordinator of the Southwest Minnesota History Center. "He is hard working and his goals are far-reaching. He is good for the department."

"The Great Plains," which is currently in copy editing, will be published by Texas A& M University and should hit bookstores in the summer of 2004.