University of Connecticut University of UC Title Fallback Connecticut

Rusty artifacts

Biographic Sketch


Written in the style of a press release for adaptation by local media and for introductions to public lectures. Please cherry-pick what you like.


Robert Thorson was born in 1951 as the second of seven children in a Scandinavian-American family.  In sequence, he lived in Wisconsin, Illinois, North Dakota, and Minnesota before graduating from college in 1973 and leaving for Alaska.  After eleven years of Far North adventure, which included the birth of two children in Fairbanks, he moved to New England in 1984. Along the way, he earned an M.S. degree in geology from the University of Alaska in 1975, a Ph.D from the University of Washington (Seattle) in 1979, and spent five years in California and Washington working with the U.S. Geological Survey (1975-1980). During this time he contracted with various international, federal, state, and private agencies including the  National Geographic, the National park Service, and the Japanese Ministry of Culture.

Prior to joining the faculty of the University of Connecticut in 1984, he served on the faculty at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks where he helped create an interdisciplinary center for Ice-Age (Quaternary) science, and built laboratory for volcanic-ash dating. Before that he taught for one year at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, a designated “center for excellence for undergraduate geology education,” and experimented with rural living in a farmhouse on a kettle moraine.  During the 1990s, he held visiting faculty appointments at the History Department at Yale University (1990), the Geography Department at Dartmouth College (1992), and the Departamento de Obras Civiles (Civil Engineering) at the Universidad Tecnica de Federico Santa Maria, in Valparaiso, Chile (1999), where he was a senior Fulbright Scholar.  In the present millennium, he’s taken two sabbatical leaves at the New England seashore to write books while  walking beaches: in 2006 to Conanicut Island (Jamestown) in Naragansett Bay, Rhode Island, and in 2012 to the Connecticut Shore (Madison).  His most recent visiting appointment was with the American Studies program at Harvard University in 2012-2013. During his first twenty years at UConn, his appointment was with the Department of Geology & Geophysics. In 2005, he joined the Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology and the Department of Anthropology (Archaeology), with additional commitments to the Honors Program and the Center for Integrative Geosciences.

His academic career took an expected turn with publication of Stone by Stone: The Magnificent History in New England’s Stone Walls in 2002.  This bestseller won the Connecticut Book Award for nonfiction (a Library of Congress Program), inaugurating a decade of evangelical advocacy for the preservation of New England’s historic landscapes that included over 500 hundred talks at venues ranging from small historical societies to the NASA Engineering Colloquium in Washington D.C.

During this phase, he was recruited as an essayist and opinion journalist for the Hartford Courant. By early 2004 he was writing a weekly opinion column, mainly on science, environment, and education. To date, he’s published nearly 500 columns, essays and freelanced magazine pieces.  By 2006, he had published his third book on stone walls, Exploring Stone Walls, which led to a grant from the National Science Foundation to develop curriculum based on Stone Wall Secrets, (coauthored with Kristine Thorson), which was cited by the Smithsonian Institution in 1998 as one of its Notable Books for Children.

Thorson’s second book on signature landforms — Beyond Walden: The Hidden History of America’s Kettle Lakes and Ponds — precipitated keynote speeches to national lake management associations and a freshwater road trip titled “Walden to Wobegon,” the creation of a website in support of small lake conservation, and a commitment to scholarly work at Walden Pond. This effort led to two scholarly books for Harvard University Press featuring Henry David Thoreau as a pioneering physical scientist.  Walden’s Shore: Henry David Thoreau and Nineteenth Century Science (2014) is sold and catalogued as literary criticism.  The Boatman: Henry David Thoreau’s River Years is a partial biography that brings the mature Thoreau to the most analytically rigorous project of his life.

Professor Thorson lives a quiet life in southern New England, where his hobbies are Nature, reading, writing, cooking, and walking beaches, and public television.  After raising a family and meeting the bus at the end of the driveway for 21 years, he and his wife of 38 years (Kristine) downsized to village life in Storrs Center, CT.


Photo:  Rusted implements dug up during the restoration of Henry D. Thoreau’s birthplace on Virginia Road. We are all conglomerates of specific items in our past, whether physical artifacts or psychological memories.