Written to be cherry-picked by local media and by those needing to introduce me to public audiences.
Robert Thorson was born in 1951 as the second of seven children in a Scandinavian-American immigrant family. In sequence, “Thor” lived in Wisconsin, Illinois, North Dakota, and Minnesota before graduating from college in 1973 and leaving for Alaska to become an exploration geologist. He earned an M.S. degree in 1975 from the University of Alaska, a Ph.D from the University of Washington in 1979, and worked as a full-time geologist for the U.S. Geological Survey between 1975 and 1980. During this interval, he contracted with various international, federal, state, and private agencies ranging from the National Geographic Society to the Japanese Ministry of Culture.
In 1984, he moved to New England with a young family to become a professor of geology. Prior to joining the faculty at the University of Connecticut in 1984, he professed in both Alaska and Wisconsin. During the 1990s, he held visiting faculty appointments in the History Department at Yale University (1990), the Geography Department at Dartmouth College (1992), 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. 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 nonfiction bestseller won the Connecticut Book Award (a Library of Congress Program) and inaugurated a decade of advocacy for the preservation of New England’s historic landscape: More than 500 hundred talks were given at venues ranging from small historical societies to the NASA Engineering Colloquium in Washington D.C.
During this phase, he was recruited to be 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 well over 500 columns, essays and freelanced magazine pieces ranging from the New York Times to the Block Island Times. 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 in 1998 by the Smithsonian Institution 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 blog titled “Walden to Wobegon” that began and ended with National Public Radio coverage in Boston and Minneapolis. The intellectual gravity of Walden Pond led him to publish two scholarly books on Henry David Thoreau for Harvard University Press. 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 showing the mature Thoreau working on the most analytically rigorous scientific project of his life. His last book, The Guide to Walden Pond, by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (Thoreau’s publisher), was published on March 13, 2018.
Professor Thorson lives a quiet life in southern New England, where his hobbies are Nature, reading, writing, cooking, walking beaches, and watching public television. After meeting the school bus at the end of the driveway for 21 years, he and his wife of 40+ years downsized to village life in Storrs Center, CT. On his way to work he walks through the woods, around a pond, and over two streams.
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.