Farragut High School Class of 2004 alumnus Michael Camp’s master’s degree thesis led to him recently authoring a book, “Unnatural Resources.”
The book focuses on energy and environmental issues arising out of the 1970s.
“There’s a chapter on an experimental reactor on the Clinch River near Oak Ridge that was never actually built, but it illustrates a lot of things about the conflict between energy production and environmental priorities,” he said.
Camp also wrote about the Tellico Dam controversy in Loudon County, and he wrote about the administrative restructuring of TVA from a board of directors consisting of three full-time federal employees to 15 part-time members made up of private-sector lawyers, bankers and other businessmen.
Published through the University of Pittsburgh Press, “It’s a book that tries to have a dialogue between these things happening nationally … and with the Tennessee state government, but especially the administrators of these very local projects and what it meant for the Knoxville community to become this very intense focus of federal tension as a site of potential energy production,” the author said.
“The book came out of a master’s degree that I was doing in Chicago about 10 years ago,” Camp added. “I was taking some graduate seminars in urban history.”
Part of the criteria for the class involved spending a quarter researching and writing a research paper that eventually became Camp’s master’s thesis.
Although most people wrote about Chicago, he was not as familiar with the city, so he brought his thesis home.
“I had worked in the archives at the University of Tennessee, and I knew what was there,” Camp recalled. “I knew there was a story to tell about the history of the City of Knoxville.”
His thesis centered on the 1982 World’s Fair. Camp recalled thinking about “how the confluence of the (President Jimmy) Carter administration being interested in energy after the ’73 oil embargo, being interested in increasing energy production to make up for the sudden uncertainty about foreign oil.”
He said there was a particular interest in Tennessee because of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Tennessee Valley Authority and its proximity to coal in Kentucky and West Virginia.
“The economy, culture and lots of other things evolved around energy in East Tennessee, leading to the World’s Fair,” he said. He wrote about how the Carter Administration interacted with Knoxville’s mayor’s office; city planners and downtown business owners and their desire to rejuvenate downtown and all the power relations going on around the fair, and what resulted with tourism and the highway system expansion.
He discovered there “really hadn’t been a lot written about the ’70s, as Carter administration documents were just becoming declassified.
“I saw an opportunity because what little there was written about the oil embargo tended to focus on national and international issues,” he said. Camp pointed out the 1970s were not only a time of energy uncertainty, but also a time of the rising environmental movement.
“Having grown up in Farragut and the Knoxville area, I knew there probably was another side of this story to tell because energy is a domestic issue and an international issue, but it ultimately also is a local issue because of the nuclear plants, hydro-electric plants and coal mines,” Camp said.
“All these energy-producing facilities have an effect on the physical landscapes of the communities and have effects on the economic opportunities in an area and composition of the workforce,” he added.
When Camp entered a PhD program at Emory University in Atlanta, he wrote a longer dissertation on the effects of the 1973 oil embargo on the East Tennessee region, which evolved into “Unnatural Resources.”
Camp said his book is available for purchase at most major bookstore websites, such as Amazon, and through the University of Pittsburgh Press.