Faculty Research Grants in Action: Chris Sneddon

Supported by Rockefeller Center Faculty Research Funding, Professor Christopher Sneddon has conducted detailed research within Geography and Environmental Studies.

Working alongside Coleen Fox, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Geography, and Francis McGilligan, Professor of Geography and Adjunct Professor of Earth Sciences, Professor Sneddon explored dam removal in New England. Together, these three scholars aimed to identify key gaps in scholarship surrounding dam removal.

“The Rockefeller Center’s Faculty Research Grant served as seed money that led to our successful proposal,” said Sneddon. “It was important for allowing us to achieve our research goals. We saw dam removal as an interesting lens into environmental politics in the 21st century United States context.”

Professor Sneddon and his colleagues, with the Rockefeller Center’s support, investigated rationale behind the removal of old and decrepit dams in New England, which, after slowly falling apart, are no longer serving their original functions – ranging from hydroelectricity to management of water resources. Many of these dams were up to one hundred years old, yet much controversy still arose in response to their removal.

In turn, the central question behind Sneddon’s research was: why are we removing these dams, and why is their removal generating conflict among several different parties? Community members, for instance, felt as though they had a personal stake in the removal of these dams. Sneddon’s work therefore involved speaking with many of these community members, as well as those on the other side who supported dam removal, in order to gain a comprehensive view of these perspectives. Sneddon examined how many dams have been removed thus far in New England, how many of those removals have been contested, and what arguments have been made for removing or preserving a dam.

“We have published four papers so far about dam removal that the grant certainly stimulated, and now we have several more in the pipeline,” said Sneddon.

Next steps in Sneddon’s research include studying the increasing number of dams that are proposed to be removed within the New England area and forming a comparison to other parts of the United States. More broadly, Sneddon and his colleagues hope to compare how dam removal relates to other methods of ecological preservation around the world.

-Written by Nikita Bakhru ’17, Rockefeller Center Student Program Assistant for Communications