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From our founding until the spring of 2009, we were called the Department of Rural Sociology. As a discipline, rural sociology has its roots in early 20th century efforts of the state and federal governments to understand and improve the quality of rural life. The University of Wisconsin-Madison hired its first rural sociologist in 1911. Charles J. Galpin's appointment was in the Department of Agricultural Economics. Our department was established in 1930 (as was the Department of Sociology, with which we have always had a joint graduate program). In the nearly eighty years as a Department of Rural Sociology, faculty and staff engaged in scholarly research, teaching, and extension initiatives. Much of this work involved close interaction with rural citizens, especially people involved in agriculture, and aimed at increasing equality and equity in rural areas in the US and beyond.
Although many members of the department continue to focus on the issues that motivated our predecessors, our range of activities has expanded over the years, and we realized that the term "rural" no longer captured the array of work in which we are engaged. Moreover, we concluded that "rural" was confusing to many students, citizens, and colleagues. We hope that our new name-the Department of Community and Environmental Sociology-will allow us to reach students and people from across the Wisconsin, the US, and the world who might have overlooked what we have to offer had we retained our previous name.
Interview with Glenn Fuguitt about the history of the department: