Professor awarded NEH Fellowship for biography

College of Idaho faculty member Rochelle Johnson is one of 72 scholars in the United States to receive a prestigious National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship during its most recent award cycle. The fellowship will support Johnson’s work on a biography of Susan Fenimore Cooper, one of America’s first environmental writers.

Johnson, the only Idaho educator awarded an NEH Fellowship, will devote the 2015-2016 academic year to her project. Cooper (1813-1894) was a noted naturalist and philanthropist, as well as a widely celebrated author whose works include the literary daybook Rural Hours (1850).

“She labored tirelessly to provide a legacy that challenged that of her ancestors by centering on social justice, Native American rights and landscape preservation,” said Johnson, who was named the 2010 Idaho Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation.

John Ottenhoff, vice president for academic affairs, said researchers selected for the highly competitive NEH Fellowships have strong records of publication and extraordinary promise for creating new work that benefits the scholarly community and wider public.

“That Rochelle Johnson should get such an award is testimony to her outstanding work as a scholar; that she also is recognized as one of the College's great teachers speaks to Rochelle's dedication and to the overall quality of the faculty here,” Ottenhoff said.

Johnson’s project started 15 years ago, when she and her co-editor began editing Cooper’s literary works for modern audiences. Cooper, the daughter of novelist James Fenimore Cooper and granddaughter of prominent New York judge and settler William Cooper, has since received the attention of both scholars and general readers.

While working toward a biography of Cooper, Johnson has gathered papers from across the U.S. and in England. Her biography will be the first dedicated to a writer who is gaining more attention in recent years among those interested in literature and the environment.

Johnson hopes to present a more accurate picture of Cooper’s life and views about landscape preservation and social justice in her biography, which she intends to write for a general audience.

“Our present journey toward sustainability was influenced by women in the 19th century such as Cooper, and I think it’s important that her efforts are recognized,” Johnson said. “She wanted to stop and think about the future of our country in ways that are very helpful to us now—asking questions such as: what impact should a community have on the land, how should we respond to oppressed peoples, and how do we have an educated public while still taking care of those who are less fortunate?”

Several C of I students have worked with Johnson as research assistants over the course of her project, and she expects more to be involved before the biography is published.

“Their help is vital and not only are they gaining experience working with archival materials, but they also are engaging directly in literary scholarship that is rare even at the graduate level,” Johnson said.

Founded in 1891, The College of Idaho is the state’s oldest private liberal arts college. It has a century-old tradition of educating some of the most accomplished graduates in Idaho, including seven Rhodes Scholars, three Marshall Scholars, and another 11 Truman and Goldwater Scholars. The College is located on a beautiful campus in Caldwell, Idaho. Its distinctive PEAK curriculum challenges students to attain competencies in the four knowledge peaks of the humanities, natural sciences, social sciences and a professional field, enabling them to graduate with an academic major and three minors in four years. For more information on The College of Idaho, visit