Biologist David George Haskell to Deliver UM Earth Day Keynote

Pulitzer nominee to talk on 'The Songs of Trees' April 20 on campus

David George Haskell

OXFORD, Miss. – David George Haskell, Pulitzer Prize-nominated author of “The Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature,” will bring his attention to detail and unique blending of science and literature to the University of Mississippi for its Earth Day keynote address.

Haskell, who is also a renowned biologist, will discuss “The Songs of Trees: Stories from Nature’s Great Connectors” at 7 p.m. April 20 in the Overby Center Auditorium. Part of the university’s Green Week programming, the lecture is free and open to the public.

Haskell’s keynote address draws heavily from research conducted for his new book, also titled “The Songs of the Trees” (Viking), which was published April 4.

“I plan to give specific examples about what I learned about ecology, biological networks and ethics from close observation of 1 square meter of forest and of a dozen trees around the world,” said Haskell, a professor of biology and environmental science at the University of the South. “I’ll use these examples to make the case that repeated bodily and mental engagement with particular places in the world is an essential part of understanding both ourselves and the rest of the community of life.”

Haskell said he hopes that his talk will be of interest to those of scientific, environmental and literary backgrounds, as his work attempts to blend disciplines.

Ann Fisher-Wirth, who directs the Ole Miss environmental studies minor, became acquainted with Haskell through his debut book, “The Forest Unseen” (Viking, 2012), which she has taught in both her Environmental Studies 101 and nature writing courses. The book chronicles Haskell’s commitment to observe a 1-meter patch of old-growth Tennessee forest for a year, during which he painstakingly observes each component of this small ecosystem down to the microscopic level.

“He is an expert biologist, beloved professor and wonderful writer, and I am delighted that he will be this year’s Earth Day speaker at the University of Mississippi,” Fisher-Wirth said. “His inquisitiveness and patience inspire us to encounter the world with a raised environmental awareness.”

Haskell said he used that same attention to detail in his newest book.

“In ‘The Songs of Trees,’ I bring the same commitment to repeated, close attention to other species that guided ‘The Forest Unseen,'” he said. “Instead of remaining with one area, though, I visit a dozen trees in different parts of the world.

“Each tree is a focus for my observations, research and conversations. By spending time with trees in radically different places – cities, forests of different kinds, even bonsai museums – I experienced that great diversity of trees’ connections to other species.”

Haskell earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Oxford and a doctorate from Cornell University. He is a 2014-15 fellow of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, a fellow of the American Council of Learned Societies, an elective member of the American Ornithologists’ Union and a research associate at Bowdoin College.

The National Science Foundation, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the World Wildlife Fund, among others, have sponsored his research on animal ecology, evolution and conservation. He also serves on the boards and advisory committees of local and national land conservation groups.

His teaching has been profiled in USA Today and The Tennessean, among others, and the Carnegie and CASE Foundations named him Professor of the Year for Tennessee in 2009.

The annual Earth Day keynote address is sponsored by the environmental studies minor program and the UM Office of Sustainability. To learn more about the event and see the full schedule of Green Week events, visit