My courses investigate the lived experience of people in the American past through firsthand sources, with an emphasis on social and cultural history. We question the evidence, and consider the malleability of history, asking how and why interpretations of the past change over time. I seek opportunities for interdisciplinary work as well, involving students in the creation of a museum exhibit, theater script, or documentary film based on historical research. Past projects have included the interpretation of Edward S. Curtis photographs for the Memphis Brooks Museum, a documentary film on the origins and meanings of African-American stepping, and a film exploring the Fort Pillow Massacre of 1864. Projects like these expand student understanding of what is historical and how history can be interpreted.
In the modern American West, gender systems have both shaped and been influenced by cross-cultural encounters, conquest, colonization, and the expansion of capitalism. Which, in turn, create changing landscapes of privilege and exclusion. Gender in the West has been further complicated by ideological constructions of race, as well as by mythical constructions of the West itself. My published work and films explore how individuals create family; how individuals and communities negotiate the boundaries of gender and race; and how these issues are configured in public memory.
Ph.D., American Civilization, Brown University, 1995
History 105 – Introductory Seminar: The Mormons in Historical Perspective
History 105 – Introductory Seminar: Mormons in the American West
History 250 – Gender in 19th Century America
History 300 – The Historian′s Craft
History 341 – Native America and American History
History 354 – Interpreting American Lives
History 405 – Special Topics: Performative Cultures in Historical Context
History 441 – Interpretive Issues in Native American History
History 445 – Gender in the American West
History 485 – Senior Seminar
"Mormon Women at Winter Quarters," Women on the North American Plains, Eds. Renee Laegreid & Sandra Mathews (Lubbock, TX: Texas Tech University Press, 2011): 128-47.
“Finding Mary Fields: Race, Gender, and the Construction of Memory,” Portraits of Women in the American West (Routledge, 2005): 185-242.
Filmmaking expands the possibilities for interpretation. In a film, one can layer interviews, still photographs, live action, voiceovers, period illustrations, landscapes, and music to create a multivalent historical investigation. Through film, one can also explore performances as cultural texts. I have produced two documentary films in which dance opens a window on collective memory. “Stepping: Beyond the Line” (2011) explores the percussive dance invented by African-American fraternities and sororities, a practice through which performers remember key elements of black history, comment on current issues, and express changing gendered identities.
“We Sing Where I’m From” (2014) investigates the world of powwow dancers and drum singers among the intermountain Salish, the Blackfeet, and one group of urban Indians in Idaho Falls. Like stepping, powwow performances invoke collective memory as well as individual identities. Tribal and intertribal practices in the arena are syncretic, revealing processes of cultural evolution and persistence. Adoption stories and controversies over women at the drum further reveal the vitality of these processes.
A team of 14 Rhodes students researched and produced a third film under my direction, “Remember Fort Pillow” (2012-13). The Fort Pillow Massacre was a Civil War atrocity in which Confederate forces killed Union soldiers after they had surrendered. The film explores how and why the slaughter took place, and how the incident has been treated in public memory.