An avid reader and history buff, Dr. David Nelson, a history professor at ABAC in Bainbridge, has held the desire to “see his name in print,” for as long as he can remember. With many chapters and articles published before now, “How the New Deal Built Florida Tourism: The Civilian Conservation Corps and State Parks” is his first completed book to be published.
Before David Nelson became Dr. Nelson, the history professor many students and faculty have come to love, he had careers in slightly different fields. His first career as a park ranger allowed the native Floridian to gain significant insight into the interworking of Florida tourism and park creation. It was during this time his interest in the full extent of tourism sparked with the discovery of state parks being human-made rather than naturally existing.
Dumbfounded by a supervisor’s suggestion to remove an entire area of trees for “a better view,” Nelson began a personal mission to fully understand the start of these strategical plannings and manipulations of the natural world to provide the most visually pleasing outcome for visitors. After three years as a park ranger, he became an archivist for the Florida State Archives—a career he loved dearly for six years. Nelson decided to pursue a Ph.D. in history at Florida State University while working in Tallahassee.
Nelson had never wanted to be a teacher of any sort, but he found an appreciation for the career while working on his Ph.D., “It was like instructing programs as a park ranger,” said Nelson. From there, he decided to make a career switch and become a history professor. Like many, Nelson wrote his graduate school dissertation, which became the true groundwork for his book. It would be many years before he ever expanded on this though he continuously worked on projects relating to the subject matter of Florida, the New Deal and tourism.
Nelson is currently a professor at ABAC-Bainbridge and has been since 2008 when it was known as Bainbridge State College. He has taught a wide range of history courses and has been active in supporting extracurriculars. Nelson is the ABAC-Bainbridge Honors program director, Model UN advisor and the USG Scotland Study Abroad program director. His book would come to be a significant commitment on top of everything else he did, but Nelson feels it was worth the work put in.
“This book should have been done years ago,” states Nelson with slightly amused irritation at the idea of how long it took him to get here. With the passage of time and encouragement from his friend and colleague, the late Dr. Patrick Smith, Nelson decided it was time to finish his book. Nelson felt ABAC was the best school he could have published his book out of with coverage of agriculture and forestry in the context of the New Deal and tourism.
While researching for his book, Nelson discovered an interesting tidbit of information about many accounts of racial tolerance in a time of fierce discrimination towards African-Americans. It was a time before civil rights, but there became a level of equality within state parks. As he put it, “people wanted the parks more than separation.”
The desire for tourism and better living after the Great Depression trumped racism when it came to excluding African-Americans from these newly formed parks. Nelson covered this as well as many other aspects of early Florida tourism within his book.
What started as a spark of curiosity about the workings of Florida tourism and parks became an entire book covering the New Deal and the creation of Florida’s current state. While it is meant primarily for fellow historians and Floridians, Nelson hopes more people without this background will give it a chance.
As Nelson said, “I want everyone in the room to be interested, not just historians.” This book is an answer to the question “Why is Florida the way it is,” and how it came to be the tourist state we all know. It is intended for anyone to enjoy and understand, providing behind-the-scenes looks at Florida tourism and a whole new perspective for readers.
Anyone with even a slight interest or curiosity in the book should be able to pick it up and start reading. Nelson said with a laugh and a big smile, “I think the book holds more humor than one might expect and lacks the dense, hard-to-read language many academic books have—you truly don’t have to be a historian to read it.”
Dr. Nelson tells us there is another book in the works. It is to be a sequel in the sense of location. Still, it takes place in Florida but covers events 40 years after those in “How the New Deal Built Florida Tourism: The Civilian Conservation Corps and State Parks.” His next book will focus on moral panic and social anxieties in Florida during 1970-1980.
On Feb. 12, at 5:00 p.m., Nelson will publicly launch “How the New Deal Built Florida Tourism: The Civilian Conservation Corps and State Parks.” At Nelson’s book launch, all are welcomed and encouraged to attend. Nelson said, “The launch party will be an event of fellowship, refreshments and promotion for my book and the school. While I do want to promote my book, I also hope what I was able to do will encourage students also to write if they hold the desire.”
In addition to Dr. Nelson, Dr. Matthew Anderson, Dean of the ABAC School of Arts and Sciences, and Joseph Njoroge, History and Political Science Department Chair, will also be speakers at the event.