Joanna Dyl

Visiting Assistant Professor of Environmental Analysis
With Pomona Since: 2018
  • Expertise


    Joanna L. Dyl is an environmental historian who studies the modern U.S. West. She is the author of Seismic City: An Environmental History of San Francisco’s 1906 Earthquake (University of Washington Press, 2017). Seismic City explores the history of the magnitude 7.8 earthquake that struck San Francisco on April 18, 1906, the devastating fires that followed and the city’s recovery and rebuilding. It argues that the disaster challenged the separation of city and nature and disturbed spatial divisions of class and race, threatening the perceived permanence of the urban order. The processes of recovery and rebuilding reinscribed power relations in the city despite the resistance of non-elites and reinforced urban development practices that exacerbated seismic risks. Seismic City analyzes the complex causes of a so-called “natural” disaster, the problem of urban adaptation to catastrophe and on-the-ground experiences of destruction and rebuilding under a regime of early disaster capitalism. It foregrounds the experiences of working-class people, the Chinese community and the more-than-human forces and residents of San Francisco, from the seismically-active land itself to the city’s rats and chickens.

    Dyl is currently conducting research on the environmental history of California’s beaches. For most people, California’s iconic beaches represent nature, but today’s wide sandy beaches are far less natural than they appear. In fact, they are the product of decades of coastal engineering – construction of breakwaters and sea walls, dredging of marinas and harbors, and building up beaches with imported sand. Beaches are perhaps the most naturally dynamic ecosystems on earth, and left alone, they shrink and expand, disappear and re-form. Their natural dynamism poses problems for their use as tourist attractions, economic drivers, and recreational or residential spaces. Dyl’s research explores the history of California’s beaches from the 1920s to the 1970s, including the intended and unintended consequences of coastal engineering practices; the challenges of coastal erosion, landslides and flooding; and problems of preservation and public access.

    Dyl’s teaching is broadly interdisciplinary. She teaches EA10 Introduction to Environmental Analysis and EA20 Nature, Culture, and Society. She has also taught courses on environmental history and environmental justice. In Fall 2022, she is teaching a new course on California Beaches that integrates history, policy and science to explore the past, present and future of the California coast.

    Research Interests

    • History of coastal regions and how that history can inform adaptation to climate change
    • History of natural disasters, including recovery, rebuilding and unequal impacts
    • Nature in cities and the environmental history of urban areas
    • Integrating environmental history with social history and environmental justice theories to explain how people experience and understand environments differently along lines such as race, class and gender

    Areas of Expertise

    • U.S. environmental history
    • History of natural disasters
    • Coastal history and policy
    • Urban environmental history
    • Environmental justice
    • History of the American West
    • Human dimensions of climate change
  • Work


    Published books and articles:

    Seismic City: An Environmental History of San Francisco’s 1906 Earthquake, Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books Series (Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 2017).

    Response, H-Environment Roundtable Review of Seismic City: An Environmental History of San Francisco’s 1906 Earthquake, ed. Kara Murphy Schlichting, vol. 10, no. 4 (2020): 19-23.

    “Transience, Labor, and Nature: Itinerant Workers in the American West,” International Labor and Working-Class History, special issue Environment and Labor, 85 (Spring 2014): 97-117.

    “San Francisco, California,” in Kathleen A. Brosnan, Ed., Encyclopedia of American Environmental History, Facts on File, 2011: 1165-1167.

    “Lessons from History: Coastal Cities and Natural Disaster,” Management of Environmental Quality 20, no. 4 (2009): 460-473.

    “The War on Rats versus the Right to Keep Chickens: Plague and the Paving of San Francisco, 1907-1908,” in Andrew C. Isenberg, Ed., The Nature of Cities: Culture, Landscape and Urban Space (Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2006): 38-61.

    Talks and interviews:

    Patterns in Bay Area Earthquake History,” invited talk, U.S. Geological Survey Earthquake Science Center, June 2021.

    New Books Network podcast discussion of Seismic City, hosted by David Fouser, August 27, 2018.

  • Education


    Ph.D. in History, Princeton University.

    M.A. in History, Princeton University.

    B.A. in History, Stanford University.

  • Awards & Honors

    Awards & Honors

    Haynes Foundation Faculty Fellowship for “Creating the Southern California Coast: An Environmental History of Coastal Engineering and Transformation,” 2022-2023.

    Martin Ridge Award for the best book on California history emphasizing the twentieth century for Seismic City, Historical Society of Southern California, 2018.

    Honorable mention, Vincent P. DeSantis Prize for the best book on United States history from 1865 to 1920 for Seismic City, Society for Historians of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, 2019.

    Copeland Colloquium Fellowship, Theme: “Catastrophe and the Catastrophic,” Amherst College, 2013-2014.

    Rachel Carson Prize for best dissertation, American Society for Environmental History, 2006.