SF Professor David Tegeder Honored with Prestigious Book Award

SF Professor David Tegeder and UF Professor Steven Noll are being rewarded for eight years of creative collaboration on the research and writing of their book, Ditch of Dreams: The Cross Florida Barge Canal and the Struggle for Florida’s Future. The two are receiving the 2010 Rembert Patrick Award for a scholarly book on a Florida history topic today during the Florida Historical Society’s annual meeting at the Casa Monica Hotel in St. Augustine.

“For a community college professor to win an award like this is extraordinary,” said Ed Bonahue, Interim Provost. “But it’s no surprise to me, or to anyone who knows Dave and the quality of his work. This is a prime example of the excellence of our faculty.”

David said it was hard to research and write the book as a community college professor teaching five classes a semester. “We spent our summers nose to the grindstone,” he said. But like anything in life that takes significant effort, the rewards have been great as well.

The two friends and colleagues received a grant to join a research team at the UF Department of Landscape Architecture to gather history and draw up sources for the Department of Environmental Protection in the course of the creation of the Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway. David and Steven worked three years on that project, completing a 100-page narrative, several oral histories, and a bibliography.

“But when we started writing, it became a much more nuanced and detailed story about every facet of it: the early steamboat days, Marjorie Carr, her activism, building this coalition of groups to fight this. More and more it became a story about politics,” David said.

They wrote together — literally in each other’s presence — from 2004-2008 and the book came out in fall 2009. 

It was reviewed on H Net: Humanities and Social Sciences Online:

“Ditch of Dreams is an authoritative history of a convoluted public works project. With a keen eye focused on the power players at every level, this political history travels from Florida’s grassroots to legislative chambers, and into courtrooms and the halls of state and federal bureaucracies. Based on meticulous and comprehensive primary research-new interviews, government documents, collections from environmental organizations, and media reports–the authors’ much-needed Cross Florida Barge Canal history chronicles a critical episode in public works and environmental history.”

– Read the complete review

They pulled records from regional archives in Atlanta and from the National Archives in Washington, D.C., old Army Corps of Engineering records, documents from libraries across the southeastern U.S., and more.

“We were able to comb every library in the country,” David said. “We called up the Roosevelt library in Hyde Park (N.Y.) and said, ‘what do you have?’ and they ended up copying 2 cubic feet of records for us. This is a story that could easily be told by newspaper headlines, but by digging through the archives, we got a much more detailed and sophisticated story.” 

Although it was exhaustively researched and published by a scholarly press, their initial goal was to write a popular book — “we wanted the public to read it” — and it is popular.

David and Steven have given presentations across the state before a wide range of audiences. Recently they spoke at a gathering sponsored by the Marion County Friends of the Library where an elderly woman stood up and thanked them for their book and for the activists who saved her family’s land. She weeped.

Tegeder’s students are benefitting as well.

“It’s allowed me to bring local history into the classroom and to teach my students to do history, to get their hands dirty, not just to read about it,” he said. And when he teaches his Honors 1960’s history course, he adds more about the environmental movement.  

“Our college is trying to embrace Research in Undergraduate Education, or RUE, and doing this, although it was hard, it really kept me excited about teaching history. In many respects the book provided us an avenue for sharing history with a broader public. That’s far more rewarding than the book itself.”  

More about the award at the Florida Historical Society’s website 

“Ditch of Dreams” at the University Press of Florida’s website

David Tegeder’s CV – PDF