UD Professor leaves lasting legacy in book on 'Man and Nature'


Colleagues, friends, associates and family gathered in Georgetown on Tuesday for the release and book signing of the final work of the late Dr. William H. Williams, professor emeritus at the University of Delaware.

Coastal Point • Monica Fleming: Helen Williams, the widow of Dr. William H. Williams, signs a copy of his final book for Dr. Mary Emily Miller, adjunct professor at the University of Delaware, while Carol Thomas waits in line at the release event for ‘Man and Nature in Delaware, An EnviCoastal Point • Monica Fleming
Helen Williams, the widow of Dr. William H. Williams, signs a copy of his final book for Dr. Mary Emily Miller, adjunct professor at the University of Delaware, while Carol Thomas waits in line at the release event for ‘Man and Nature in Delaware.'

“Man and Nature in Delaware, An Environmental History of the First State, 1631-2000” is being distributed by the Delaware Heritage Press. The book outlines man’s effects on Delaware’s environment from 1631 to 2000, with a prologue running from 15,000 B.C.

The prologue starts with “Before the Arrival of the Europeans,” and chapters include European Ways, 1631-1683; Chopping Down Trees and Decimating Wildlife, 1631-1867; The Impact of the World Beyond; Water Power, Steam Power and the Urban Environment, 1730-1920; Protecting Some Biotic Life, 1825-1945; Saving Field and Forest, 1818-2000; Crisis and the Rise of Environmentalism, 1945-2000; and The Government Steps In, 1971-2000.

Williams spent the last 40 years of his career as a history professor at the University of Delaware’s Parallel Program (replaced with the Associates in Arts Degree Program in 2004) based at Delaware Tech in Georgetown. He finished final touches on the book just before his death in April of 2007.

Book signings were set for Tuesday in Georgetown, Wednesday in Dover and Thursday at the Newark campus of the University, although Tuesday’s release had special meaning.

“Bill was a fixture of the UD Parallel Program,” said Richard Carter of the Delaware Heritage Commission on Tuesday. “This release is special because this is the place where Bill touched the lives of so many students.”

Dagsboro resident William B. Chandler, Chancellor of the Delaware Court of Chancery, who also spoke at Dr. Williams’ memorial, spoke Tuesday of the craftsmanship and meticulous research it took to create such a work.

“He was one of the greatest historians to come of Delaware,” he said. “It’s a marvelous read – carefully written and very understandable.”

“He traces man’s interactions with nature from before Christ and delves into the questions of the role of man’s influence and the influence of technology, both negatively and positively,” Chandler noted. “Bill posed the question. Some forces we have no control over, but many we do have. [And the questions is], do we have the will to do something about it — protecting the environment that has nurtured us for eons.”

Besides this book, and many articles, Williams published six other works: “Anglo-America’s First Hospital: The Pennsylvania Hospital, 1751-1841”; “A History of the Wesley United Methodist Church, Georgetown, 1779-1978”; “Delaware: The First State — An Illustrated History”; “Delmarva’s Chicken Industry: Seventy Five Years of Progress”; “The Garden of American Methodism: The Delmarva Peninsula 1769-18820”; and “Slavery and Freedom in Delaware 1639-1865.”

Williams’ widow, Helen, was on hand at Tuesday’s event, signing copies of the book in her husband’s stead. She said the book was special to her because, oftentimes, she would read passages of his books, or segments here and there to help her husband with editing, but this book she got to enjoy as a total document.

“I got to read this in its entirety,” said Williams. “This was the total package. I truly have a feeling for what is happening in our environment. It’s fascinating how he put the whole story together. It makes you want to march a little bit for the environmentalists.”

Williams retired in 2000 as a professor emeritus with the University of Delaware. He was also the recipient of the Governor’s Heritage Award in 2005.

Because being able to provide the book at an affordable price was important to Williams, he sought the help of the Delaware Heritage Press, which is, in part, subsidized by the State of Delaware. Because of this, the 300-page hardback tome is available for only $15, and the paperback is available for $10 (with a few dollars added for postage for online ordering).

“‘Man and Nature’ is in many ways summing up of Bill’s life and work as a historian,” wrote publisher Richard “Dick” Carter of the Delaware Heritage Commission in the book’s preface. “His book is a testament to the fact that history must treat the totality of the human experience on this earth. It is not just a record of wars and exploration and political intrigues, but in a broader sense, the story of how man interacts with his environment. He has left us with a clear warning of what the future may hold for us and for our children if we do not come to grips with the forces we have so thoughtlessly unleashed.”

For more information on the Delaware Heritage Commission, or to purchase “Man and Nature in Delaware, An Environmental History of the First State, 1631-2000” online, visit http://heritage.delaware.gov.