the author working at the shaving horse

I’m a writer, woodworker, historian, educator, gardener, baker, and versatile amateur. Most of what I have written is available in some manner on or through this website, and much of it is actually housed here. There are various overlapping collections, covering history, food and agriculture, culture and religion, education, and craft work, in forms from recipes to essays to sermons to poems to textbooks. Hence Walbert’s Compendium.

What of Practical Anachronism? It denotes the attitude of a historian who digs into the past and returns with knowledge useful to the present and to the future — a way of thinking about work or community, a lost culinary technique or a forgotten woodworking skill. It also reflects my sense that the travails of the present have very deep and far-reaching roots, and that they are often best understood by studying something else entirely.

I am a semi-professional woodworker, working primarily with hand tools. I took up that craft in graduate school as a way of furnishing my house and keeping myself sane, and in 2021 I began selling my work part time. Mainly I make chairs and stools, as well as spoons and other small items I can sell at craft markets. You can view my portfolio here.

By professional training I am a historian. I hold a Ph.D. from UNC-Chapel Hill and wrote a book, Garden Spot: Lancaster County, the Old Order Amish, and the Selling of Rural America (Oxford, 2002). My primary research interests have been rural history and culture, the history of U.S. food and agriculture, and historical memory. I’ve experimented heavily in what you might call historical gastronomy or culinary archaeology, researching and re-creating old recipes. Historical thinking also informs my woodworking.

I have a particular interest in historical education. While working with LEARN NC at UNC-Chapel Hill, I conceived, developed, and edited North Carolina Digital History (2008–2010), an online textbook of North Carolina history designed to teach secondary students the skills of historical inquiry. This project also led to significant work in public history and in digital humanities, as I worked with museum educators and librarians to digitize resources and to develop tools for analyzing various sorts of historical media, such as maps. I also wrote a number of articles for K–12 teachers and students on topics such as visual literacy and technology integration and have done work in instructional design, mainly for teacher professional development.

Along the way I developed a number of skills in web design and development. My undergraduate degree was in physics, which gave me a solid (if now distressingly outdated) grounding. I designed and built the open-source content management system (called LearnPress) in which the textbook was built, including administrative tools, front-end design, cataloguing and search functionality, and various interactive tools for using historical resources. I have a particular fondness for maps and other visualizations, and I have designed a number of them for various projects.

Through all of this I am a writer. In addition to the work above I have written extensively on sustainability, small-scale agriculture, and related topics, both essays and how-to, for magazines and group blogs and for my own website, The New Agrarian. I have also written about food and cooking, both for magazines and for various blogs. I used to blog microfiction and tweet poetry; I may take up “cheap poetry” again here. At present I am working on a novel.

Lastly, I’m a perpetually curious cook and kitchen gardener, and I homeschooled my daughter in math, science, art, poetry, and music through 12th grade.

I do have a more traditional cv if you’re feeling more traditional. (Note well that it is badly out of date, and most of the links are broken.)