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Faculty and Staff

Josiah Rector
Associate Professor

Josiah Rector

Office: 550 Agnes Arnold Hall

Josiah Rector is an urban historian specializing in 20th century U.S. urban environmental history, the history of the environmental justice movement, and labor history. He earned his Ph.D. in History from Wayne State University, and his dissertation received the Urban History Association’s Michael Katz Award for Best Dissertation in Urban History, 2016. He was subsequently a visiting professor of U.S. and Environmental History at Northland College in 2017-2019. His first book, Toxic Debt: An Environmental Justice History of Detroit, is a history of environmental inequality and environmental activism in Detroit from the late 19th century to the present. He has published articles in The Journal of American History, Modern American History, and Labor: Studies in Working Class History of the Americas, among other journals. He is currently planning a second book on race, labor, and environmental justice on the Texas Gulf Coast. He also has extensive experience in public history. He coordinated public history internships through the Next Gen Humanities Ph.D. Program at Wayne State University in 2017-2018, and he co-organized the Michigan Humanities Council’s Third Coast Conversations: Dialogues about Water Program for the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in 2018-2019.


  • Ph.D. History, Wayne State University, 2017.
  • M.A. History, Wayne State University, 2012.
  • B.A. English, Temple University, 2006.

Research Interests

  • Urban environmental history
  • Environmental justice
  • Labor history
  • Public history


Professor Rector teaches the second half of the U.S. History survey, and a range of upper-division undergraduate courses, including Urban Environmental History, How Disasters Shaped the American City, Race and Segregation in American Cities, and the Global Environmental History since 1800. He also offers graduate seminars in U.S. Urban and Labor History, Public History, and Environmental History.

Selected Publications

Toxic Debt: An Environmental Justice History of Detroit (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2022)

“Lessons for a Green New Deal: Race, the New Deal Legacy, and Environmental Justice in Detroit,” in Kyla Tienhaara and Joanna Robinson, eds. The Routledge Handbook on the Green New Deal (New York: Routledge, 2022), 157-172.

Elizabeth Faue and Josiah Rector, “The Precarious Work of Care: OSHA, AIDS, and Women Health-Care Workers, 1983-2000,” Labor Vol. 17 No. 4 (December 2020), 9-33.

“The Spirit of Black Lake: Full Employment, Civil Rights, and the Forgotten Early History of Environmental Justice,” Modern American History Vol. 1 No. 1 (March 2018), 45-66.

“Environmental Justice at Work: The UAW, the War on Cancer, and the Right to Equal Protection from Toxic Hazards in Postwar America,” Journal of American History Vol. 101 No. 2 (September 2014), 480-502.


Urban History Association, Michael Katz Award for Best Dissertation in Urban History, 2016