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History Is Lunch: David Sansing on the Life of Eugene Hilgard


Mississippi Department of Archives & History
William F Winter Archives and History Building, 200 North St 39201 Jackson United States
David Sansing will present “A Giant Footprint in the Soil, The Life and Legacy of Eugene Hilgard.”

Eugene Woldemar Hilgard was born January 5, 1833, in Germany. He moved with his family to the United States two years later, where after a long career he came to be considered the father of modern soil science.

“Before I researched the life and work of Professor Hilgard, I thought land was something we walked on, built houses on, and cultivated,” said Sansing. “After studying this fascinating man I have a much better appreciation for both Mother Earth and for soil scientists.”

Hilgard earned his PhD in Europe in 1855, then returned to the United States. He served as assistant state geologist of Mississippi from 1855 to 1857, state geologist from 1858 to 1866, and professor of chemistry at the University of Mississippi and state geologist from 1866 to 1873. During the Civil War, Hilgard was appointed as the custodian of the University of Mississippi's buildings. Under his custodianship, many of the university's buildings were used as hospitals for Union and Confederate soldiers.

In the 1880s, the U.S. Commissioner of Agriculture appointed Hilgard chairman of the Arid Lands Commission. In that position Hilgard published scholarly papers considered among his most significant contributions to soil science.

Hilgard’s biographer wrote that “Hilgard [was] the scientific conquistador … of the arid region [and] dispelled the fear of alkali soils. He taught farmers how to manage the soil. California newspapers and land companies “glorified his achievements.”

The San Francisco Examiner wrote that Hilgard had “made the deserts bloom and transformed the alkali plains into fields of waving grain.”

David G. Sansing is emeritus professor of history at the University of Mississippi. He was born in 1933 in Greenville, Mississippi, and earned his BA and MA degrees from Mississippi College and his PhD from the University of Southern Mississippi. In addition to authoring several school textbooks on the history of Mississippi, Sansing has written A History of the Mississippi Governor’s Mansion (with Carroll Waller), The University of Mississippi, A Sesquicentennial History, and the forthcoming Mississippi Governors: A Biographical Directory.

The program will take place in the William F. Winter Archives and History Building, 200 North Street, Jackson, MS 39201. There is no charge to attend. For more information call 601-576-6998 or email info@mdah.ms.us.