Ellen Spears headshot

Ellen Spears

Associate Professor


  • PhD, Emory University
  • MA, Emory University
  • BA, College of William and Mary


Spears is chair of the editorial board of the University of Alabama Press. She serves on the editorial board of the interdisciplinary digital journal, Southern Spaces. Formerly associate director of the Southern Regional Council, the Atlanta-based civil rights research institute, Spears served as managing editor of the SRC’s quarterly journal, Southern Changes, for more than a decade.

Spears’ book, Baptized in PCBs: Race, Pollution, and Justice in an All-American Town (University of North Carolina Press, 2014), won several awards: the Arthur J. Viseltear [vizzle-teer] Prize for Outstanding Contribution to the History of Public Health, awarded by the Medical Care Section of the American Public Health Association; the 2015 Francis B. Simkins Award from the Southern Historical Association; and the 2015 Reed Environmental Writing Award from the Southern Environmental Law Center.

She worked with other UA faculty and students on the successful campaign led by the Scottsboro Boys Museum and Cultural Center that in 2013 resulted in the Alabama State Legislature exonerating the Scottsboro defendants. That work was recognized with the Realizing the Dream Call to Conscience Award from the University of Alabama Office of Community Affairs and the Lahoma Buford Adams Peace Award, given by the UA School of Social Work.

Teaching Interests

  • NEW 407/AMS 407/507: Landscapes of the South
  • NEW 416/AMS 416/516: American Environmental Thought in a Global Context
  • NEW 439/AMS 439/539: Urban Spaces
  • NEW 442: Environmental Ethics
  • NEW 446/AMS 446/546: Gender and Environment
  • AMS 592: Race, Health, and Environment in Modern America
  • NEW 365: Introduction to Environmental Policy

Selected Publications


  • Rethinking the American Environmental Movement Post-1945. American Social and Political Movements of the 20th Century Series. Series Editor, Heather Ann Thompson. Routledge Press, 2019.
  • Baptized in PCBs: Race, Pollution, and Justice in an All-American Town, University of North Carolina Press, 2014. Winner of the 2015 Francis B. Simkins Prize from the Southern Historical Association, the 2014 Arthur J. Viseltear Award for Outstanding Contribution to the History of Public Health from the Medical Care Section of the American Public Health Association, and the 2015 Reed Environmental Writing Award from the Southern Environmental Law Center.
  • The Newtown Story: One Community’s Fight for Environmental Justice, photographs by Michael Schwarz, Atlanta: Center for Democratic Renewal, 1998, a collaborative documentary project.

Journal Articles and Book Chapters

  • “Teaching the Racial Landscape at the University of Alabama,” co-author with James C. Hall. In Slavery and the University: Histories and Legacies, edited by Leslie M. Harris, Albert L. Brophy, James T. Campbell. Athens: University of Georgia Press, February 2019.
  • “(Re)Writing Histories of Environmentalism in Alabama.” The Alabama Review 70, no. 2, (April 2017): 171-188.
  • “Interpreting the Scottsboro Boys Trials Historic Route,” in collaboration with Shelia Washington. In Interpreting African American Culture and History at Museums and Historic Sites, edited by Max van Balgooy, Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014.
  • “Landscapes and Ecologies of the U.S. South: Essays in Eco-Cultural History.” Introduction to an edited series. Southern Spaces: An online peer-reviewed interdisciplinary journal about the regions, places, and cultures of the American South, February 2013,
  • “Memorializing the Freedom Riders,” Southern Spaces: an interdisciplinary online peer-reviewed journal,, July 2009.
  • “Reducing Environmental Burdens: A Southern Agenda,” in American Crisis: Southern Solutions, ed., Anthony Dunbar, Montgomery: New South Press, 2008.
  • Contributing writer, “The Case for Extending and Amending the Voting Rights Act, Voting Rights Litigation 1982-2006,” Laughlin McDonald, Daniel Levitas, et al., prepared for the U.S. Congress, House Committee on the Judiciary. Atlanta: American Civil Liberties Union, 2006.
  • “Civil Rights, Immigration, and the Prospects for Social Justice Collaboration,” in The American South in a Global World, eds. James L. Peacock, Harry L. Watson, Carrie R. Matthews, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005, 235-243.
  • “Making Illnesses Visible: The Newtown Florist Club and the Quest for Environmental Justice in Gainesville, Georgia,” in Emerging Illnesses and Society: Negotiating the Public Health Agenda, eds. Randall M. Packard, Peter J. Brown, Ruth L. Berkelman,  Howard Frumkin, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004, 171-190.
  • “Voting Disparities in Georgia Counties: A Report on Election 2000,” co-author, Southern Regional Council, February, 2001.
  • “South Africa vote mixes hope, tension,” The Atlanta-Journal Constitution, June 3, 1999.
  • “Will the Circle Be Unbroken? Using Oral History to Tell the Story of the Civil Rights Movement,” with Marcia Klenbort, Social Education: The Official Journal of the National Council for Social  Studies, Vol. 63, No. 4, May/June 1999.