Prof K research

My research is about the intersection of communications and environment in history.  I studied history of media and history of technology as a grad student because I was fascinated with the issues I encountered while covering Capitol Hill in Washington DC during the great energy crisis of 1978 – 1981.  I am also convinced that journalists who write about orphaned topics  have an ethical responsibility to continue their research and make a contribution to history.   Bill Kovarik


The Forbidden Fuel: A History of Power Alcohol Mass Media and Environmental Conflict (1997) Web Design for Mass Media (out of print) Revolutions in Communication: Media History from Gutenbert to the Digital AgeBrilliant!  A history of renewable energy

Interviews, public service speaking  (2010-15)

Articles & Collaborations  (2012-2013)

Major research projects

  • The Radium Girls were six brave women who sued a dial-painting factory for knowingly exposing them to deadly radium in the 1920s. This is the story of their struggle. It’s also the story of how Walter Lippmann of the New York World helped them, and how the rest of the “yellow” press tried to push them into a strange kind of celebrity. “What would you do if you had a million dollars and only one year left to live?”  Of course, the radium dial companies never gave anything close to one million per worker.  In Mass Media and Environmental Conflict, 1996.
  • Environmental history timeline began as a structural outline for Mass Media and Environmental Conflict but took on a life of its own when placed on the web in the 1990s.  By 2013, the timeline was landing about 1,000 to 2,000 hits per day.
  • Brilliant! A history of sustainable energy  is an exploration of Lewis Mumford’s  historiographic de-linking of fossil fuels from the industrial revolution. As Augusting Mouchot said in 1878: “The time will arrive when the industry of Europe will cease to find those natural resources, so necessary for it. Petroleum springs and coal mines are not inexhaustible but are rapidly diminishing in many places.  Will man, then, return to the power of water and wind? Or will he emigrate where the most powerful source of heat sends its rays to all?  History will show what will come.”

Media history research

  • The confluence of newspapers and the environment in the early 20th century.  Looking at the news coverage of selected public health and conservation issues in the 1899 – 1932 period, we see a striking bipolar distribution, indicating a revival of Progressive era concerns late in the 1920s and the ubiquity of environmental controversy. This is a paper from the 1998 conference of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications.
  • Exploring the Lost History of Environmental Conflict Before Silent Spring. Presentation to the Communication Studies Seminar Series Virginia Tech September 25, 1998.
  • Environmental History Timeline helps remind us of the traditions of reform and the roots of conservation. This was originally a guide for our use when Mark Neuzil and I wrote Mass Media and Environmental Conflict in 1996. Since then it has taken on a life of its own on the web.
  • The editor who tried to stop the Civil War: Hezekiah Niles and the New South describes the efforts of one Baltimore editor to reconcile opposing views in the 1820 – 1833 period. He clearly foresaw civil war and proposed a course of economic development for the South which was, perhaps not surprisingly, adopted after the war by Southern progressives, including Atlanta editor Henry Grady. The paper was published in American Journalism in 1992 and has been slightly updated since then.
  • Niles Weekly Register Encyclopedia of Journalism History, 2006 — Niles’ concept of news embraced the broadest scope of human experience. His Register kept close track of economics, technology, science, medicine, geography, archaeology, the weather, and many stories of human interest. There was, for example, a dog who rescued another dog from a river. There was the case of a blind woman restored to sight, and another of a slave who killed himself rather than be sold at the slave market. Niles printed many items about ballooning and predicted that someday man would build machines to fly (although he doubted that steam engines could propel them).
  • Photo courtesy Rex Wyler.

    Greenpeace Encyclopedia of Science and Technology Communication, 2009 — Greenpeace raised street theater and protest tactics to a new level using global media. The effect, according to Greenpeace co-founder Robert Hunter, was a “mind bomb” – that is, an action that would create a dramatic new impression to replace an old cliché.  The most obvious example of a  “mind bomb” was to overturn the image of heroic whalers to that of heroic ecologists risking their lives to save the gentle giants of the sea.  This approach caught the world’s attention and dramatically changed the political terrain for commercial fishing and whaling operations after Greenpeace’s first whaling protests in June of 1975.

  • E.W. Scripps and Science — 2011 — The unconventional ideas behind the founding of the Science News Service and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. (From a chapter in Revolutions in Communication).
  • A Survey of Central American News Media Hardware, Intercommunication and Development needs: Paper presented to the Eighth Annual Conference on Intercultural and International Communication, Miami, Fla. Feb. 22, 1991. These are the results of a study by the International Center for Foreign Journalists concerning media technology needs in Central America.
  • Dr. North and the Kansas City Milk War, Public Health Advocacy Collides with Main Street Respectability, Paper to The Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications (AEJMC) 1989. This is about a New York physician and public health expert who used yellow journalism tactics to force pasteurization on the milk industry of Kansas city in the 1920s.
  • Mother of the Forest concerns a gigantic redwood tree near what is now Yosemite Park, and how its destruction in 1853 outraged Horace Greeley, editor of the Tribune, and led to the cre ation of the national park system. This is a chapter from Mass Media and Environmental Conflict with Mark Neuzil.



The award-winning MoFilms “Freedom Fuels” documentary takes an in-depth look at renewable fuel sources, such as bio-diesel, ethanol and vegetable oil. Starring Willie Nelson, Daryl Hannah, John Stewart and Bill Kovarik.

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