Shelley Bookspan, PhD
"I love the detective work we do as historians. We follow clues, we find sources—sometimes obscure ones—we engage our Holmesian deductive reasoning to craft narrative accounts from the evidence we’ve found. And consulting historians get to do all of this to assist clients when they are faced with a dilemma based on actions taken, or not taken, in the past.”
Work at HAI
Dr. Shelley Bookspan joined HAI in 2020. She brings nearly four decades of historical research and consulting experience to the Research & Analysis team. Located in Santa Barbara, California, she contributes to HAI’s forensic environmental and other complex litigation-related investigations. Throughout her career, she has provided expert witness testimony in numerous high-profile environmental matters and enhances HAI’s ongoing expert witness service to the energy, government contracts, insurance recovery, and toxic torts practice areas.
Path to HAI
Dr. Bookspan is one of the pioneers of the field of public history, which applies the scholarship and research methods of academic history to arenas beyond teaching. These established methods include objectivity, location and evaluation of primary sources, and maintaining a clear path of references so that others may evaluate any resulting interpretations.
Dr. Bookspan and two fellow graduate students began offering these services to clients in 1982, with the establishment of their firm, PHR Associates. Initially consulting in the realm of cultural resources, land-use, and historic preservation, PHR expanded into litigation consulting in the mid-1980s when hired to prepare background histories in the areas of 20th-century energy production and asbestos exposure during World War II. Consolidating these experiences, Dr. Bookspan formed PHR Environmental Consultants, Inc., in 1988 to help clients address the liabilities deriving from the new laws regarding responsibility for cleaning up legacy toxic waste sites. PHR Environmental grew throughout the 1990s and early 2000s to become a nationwide, multi-office consulting company with extensive experience in cost allocation analysis as well as research in potentially responsible party, corporate succession, and state-of-knowledge disputes.
By 2002, Dr. Bookspan embarked on an independent career as an expert historian while founding a new enterprise, LifeStory Productions, Inc. The mission of LifeStory was to create affordable video biographies or short oral-history based documentaries combining the techniques of historians with the new digital video cameras and editing programs. Over the course of the ensuing decade, LifeStory produced dozens of private video biographies as well as video introductions to museum exhibits, such as “Korean War Memories” for the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library.
Before receiving her Ph.D. from the University of California, Santa Barbara, Dr. Bookspan received a Master’s of City Planning from the University of Pennsylvania, a Master’s in history from the University of Arizona, and a Bachelor’s in history from the Ohio State University. She served as the editor of the internationally circulated scholarly journal, The Public Historian, served on the Board of Directors of the National Council on Public History, and currently holds the academic position of Specialist in the Department of History, UCSB.