Michael J. Chiarappa, Ph.D.

  • Director of Cultural and Natural Resource Initiatives

Michael Chiarappa

Michael J. Chiarappa, Ph.D.


  • 410-810-5089
  • [email protected]
  • Semans Griswold Environmental Hall: 485 S. Cross Street Chestertown, MD 21620

Research Professor of Chesapeake Regional Studies; Director, Cultural and Natural Resource Initiatives 



B.A., Ursinus College 

M.A., University of Pennsylvania, 1987 

Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania, 1992 


Areas of Interest: 

American environmental history 

marine environmental history 

American cultural landscapes 

American architectural history 

American maritime history 

Chesapeake history and culture 

environmental humanities 

oral history 

public history 

America’s public lands 

historic preservation 

natural and cultural resource management 

museum exhibition 

documentary work 

fisheries anthropology/traditional ecological knowledge 


Boards, Committees and Service: 

Co-Editor, Buildings and Landscapes: The Journal of the Vernacular Architecture Forum  

Scholarly Advisory Board, Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History  

Member, New Jersey State Review Board for Historic Sites 

Historian-in-Residence, Bayshore Center at Bivalve, Port Norris, New Jersey 

Board Member, Stories of the Chesapeake, Maryland Heritage Area 


Selected Publications: 

Nature’s Entrepot: Philadelphia’s Urban Sphere and its Environmental Thresholds (Co-editor Brian Black) (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2012) 

Fish for All: An Oral History of Multiple Claims and Divided Sentiment on Lake Michigan, (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2003) *2003 Award of Merit-Historical Society of Michigan 

“Working the Delaware Estuary: African American Cultural Landscapes and the Contours of Environmental Experience” Buildings and Landscapes 25:1 (Spring 2018): 64-91. *2020 Winner of Catherine W. Bishir Prize from the Vernacular Architecture Forum 

“The Gyre Narrows, Again: Vernacular Buildings, Vernacular Landscapes, and Environmental History” Buildings and Landscapes 27:2 (Fall 2020): 1-4. 

“Stories Buildings Tell, Lives Buildings Shape: The Enduring Tradition of Vernacular 

Architecture Research in North American Folkloristics” (with Gabrielle A. Berlinger)Material Culture Review/Revue de la culture materielle 90-91 (Fall 2019/Spring 2020):1-9. 

 “The Crab House on Oyster Creek: Folkloristic Response to Vernacular Landscape and its Environmental Moorings,” Material Culture Review/Revue de la culture materielle 90-91 (Fall 2019/Spring 2020): 90-118. 


Current Research: 

My current research project, Planting Bivalves: Oystering and the Transformation of the Delaware Bay, examines the region’s oyster industry as it was influenced by America’s rapidly expanding market economy during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and how this context put in motion forces that shaped the cultural and economic temperament of the area and transformed the environment of the bay—both in terms of biological dynamics and human perception. My other project, Portraying Maritime Work and Landscape: Photography and the Shaping of the Delaware Bay’s Environmental Identity, looks at the role of eight photographers and syndicated photographic news services in creating an image that was a mix of community priorities, larger economic and governmental influence, and outside social commentary. 



My research, teaching, public programming, and civic engagement focus on the history of America’s built environments and landscapes, American environmental history, American maritime history, and the wider field of material culture studies. I also specialize in public history and have taught courses in historic preservation, maritime preservation, documentation methods, and cultural resource management and through this work have conducted numerous field schools and outreach projects. My work in these areas has taken place in the Middle Atlantic, New England, Chesapeake and Great Lakes regions, and in Canada and the Pacific Islands. I am a graduate of the Munson Institute of American Maritime Studies and a former member of the Board of Directors of the Vernacular Architecture Forum and I currently co-edit Buildings and Landscapes: The Journal of the Vernacular Architecture Forum. I have worked extensively with a variety of museums, government agencies and environmental organizations, including the Smithsonian Institution and the National Park Service. I serve as Historian-in-Residence at the Bayshore Center in Port Norris, New Jersey and I am a member of the New Jersey State Review Board for Historic Sites.