WHEATS began in 2004 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with the goal of bringing together graduate students (or very recent PhDs, space permitting) from across the US and Canada who are studying the topics contained under its heading. Since then it has been successfully hosted at the University of Western Ontario, the University of Virginia, the University of Georgia, Kansas State University, Mississippi State University, and the University of Wisconsin. While the workshop was originally designed for graduate students in historical disciplines, in recent years it has welcomed students from allied disciplines such as geography and anthropology who are doing work of a historical nature.

Participants receive feedback on pre-circulated papers from fellow students and senior scholars. The format is particularly suitable for the presentation of work in progress. Past participants have found the event to be extraordinarily helpful in refining their work, networking with colleagues, and building a cohort of scholars working on related themes.Now in its ninth year, the Workshop welcomes back its own alumni as discussants and speakers. WHEATS prides itself on its bootstrap ethos, and has remained, since its inception, an event put together by graduate students, for graduate students.

In spring of 2013, WHEATS comes to the University of Pennsylvania–only one site within a large, vibrant Philadelphia-area network of scholars working at the intersection of environmental history and science and technology studies, broadly writ.