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Sunday, April 20, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 60.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
The Daily


UW Prof. Bill Cronon stars in Ken Burns' The National Parks on PBS

Cronon: Yeah, THAT guy.
Cronon: Yeah, THAT guy.
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What happens when a city's media are subjected to wave after wave of staffing and budget cuts? One consequence is that even obvious, important and interesting stories fall through the cracks.

Exhibit one is the almost total failure of local media to notice that William Cronon, a UW-Madison professor of history, geography and environmental studies, has a standout role in all six episodes of Ken Burns' stunning series The National Parks:America's Best Idea. Wisconsin State Journal reporter Deborah Ziff wrote a two-sentence mention in a digest column. Other than that, a search of local news archives, even those of the campus papers, comes up empty.

Cronon, who last week wowed a much smaller audience (8,000 people) with his no-notes introduction to Michael Pollan at the Kohl Center, was to this series what Shelby Foote was to Burns' series on the Civil War authoritative, incisive, at times poetic. Here's an example:

"When you ask, well, what is coherent about a system that contains natural wonders and birthplaces of famous people, I think the answer you come to is that they're all finally about a vision of where the United States comes from. We come from nature, but we also come from our own past. And so the interpretation of nature and history together is not a distraction of the parks space, it is the very core of the enterprise."

Cronon says he's gotten emails from people all over the country, many of them complete strangers, thanking him for his contributions to the series. "I'm proud to have a small role in a series that is focusing so much public attention on a topic the national parks and more broadly our national landscape and its importance to all Americans to which I've devoted my whole life."

The son of David Cronon, the famed history professor and dean, Bill Cronon is the author of two classic books, Changes in the Land (1983) and Nature's Metropolis (1991) and is working on a new tome about the evolving relationship between environmental history and environmentalism. A few years back, apparently in his spare time, he headed the committee that established the UW's Lakeshore Nature Preserve.

If the national parks are America's treasures, he's one of Madison's.

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