My first book Pumpkin: The Curious HIstory of an American Icon (2012) was born out of both my work at a Maryland farm stand and my studies as a master’s student at Yale University. At Yale, environmental historian Bill Cronon taught me the value of getting outside to explore history. My doctorate in the American Civilization program at the University of Pennsylvania gave me the skills and training to use everyday objects and images to answer historical questions.
Pumpkin, it turns out, stirred up a lot of interest, and led to interviews with NPR, Time Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, and BBC World Report, among many others.
Working as both a landscape historian for the National Park Service and the communications director of the Rachel’s Network, a nonprofit that promotes women environmental leaders, instilled in me a desire to use my academic training to try to reach a wider public audience and to promote the value of the humanities when studying the environment and food habits.
With my PhD in hand, I became the history curator at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Montana, and I began to explore the lives of Plains Indians in the twentieth century, and American Indian and white relations. During research for the exhibition “Crossing Cultural Fences: The Intersecting Material World of American Indians and Euro-Americans,” I developed relationships with people on the Crow reservation in Montana that continue to this day.
For the past decade, I have spent most summers living and working on a cattle ranch on the Crow reservation and I have continued by curatorial work by producing an exhibition about Crow Indian gardeners there.These experiences led to my current book project Biscuits and Buffalo: The Reinvention of American Indian Culture in the 20th and 21st Centuries, and the public humanities project the Crow Indian Virtual Archive and Museum.
Based on my experience co-editing the Gallery section of the journal Environmental History for five years, I am also co-authoring the guidebook Top Ten Tools for Interpreting Images in the Environmental Humanities. My research has been supported by fellowships from the U.S. Fulbright Commission, the National Endowment for the Humanities, Harvard University, Stanford University, and Montana Humanities, among others.
All along, I have sought to instill the value of public humanities to my students at the American Studies department at Saint Louis University, where I taught for nine years, and now at the University of Delaware. (For more on my teaching, please see my University of Delaware webpage.)
To contribute to the profession, I have served as the President of the Society of Fellows for the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society, on the executive committee of the American Society for Environmental History, and on numerous grant review boards for the National Endowment for the Humanities. When not editing my writing or trying to improve my teaching, I am often working on a pen and colored-pencil drawing.
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