Dr. Kera N. Lovell

Kera wide profile bw

Contact me at: keralovell@gmail.com

Quick Facts about me:

I am an Assistant Professor of History at the University of Utah’s Asia Campus in Incheon, South Korea where I teach courses on US history and global citizenship. I am currently working on my book project, titled The People’s Park: Work, the Body, and the Built Environment in Radical Postwar Placemaking. In the fall of 2017 I defended my dissertation to complete my Ph.D. in American Studies at Purdue University. I received my Bachelor of Arts degree in History from Agnes Scott College in 2009 and Master of Arts degree in American Studies from Purdue University in 2011. I specialize in twentieth-century U.S. social and cultural history, and my research and teaching focus on identity in American visual and material culture.

I have taught a variety of undergraduate and graduate courses across five universities. Since the fall of 2018, I have worked at the University of Utah as an Assistant Professor of History. While at the Asia Campus (Korea) my teaching focuses on US history, US women’s history, and US social justice movements, at the Salt Lake Campus (online) I teach undergraduate and graduate courses in public history. Between 2016 and 2018 I taught six American Studies courses (graduate and undergraduate) in the University of Hawai’i system at UH Manoa and Honolulu Community College.

For the 2016-2017 academic year, I was awarded a Purdue Research Foundation Fellowship to complete my dissertation titled, Radical Manifest Destiny: Mapping Power in Urban Space in the Age of Protest, 1968-1988. My dissertation examines the urban realm as a contested territory in the late twentieth century. This project traces a transnational movement of activist coalitions that illegally occupied, created, or reclaimed green space as a method of protest in the late-Cold War era. While my dissertation is organized around 3 distinct case studies, the book project takes a more thematic approach, comparing the ways in which parks across the United States centered food culture, work and performance, art and architecture, as well as horticulture and environmental design. Taken together, these collaborative design elements became mediums for communicating ideas about inclusion and conflict at a moment of crisis in American democracy.

Between 2015 and 2016, I spent more than 100 days in archives conducting archival research as part of my dissertation – across more than 15 repositories in 7 states. This research has received numerous awards, grants, and fellowships, including being awarded a 2016 Semi-Finalist for a special-themed Fulbright, the National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship.

On this website you’ll find my research interests and current projects, links to my blogs, academic and professional networking sites, and social media accounts (see left). Additionally you can follow my interdisciplinary research and community engagement by following me on social media. I look forward to hearing from you!


I have taught a variety of university-level interdisciplinary courses (undergraduate and graduate) across five universities. You can see some of my student work at GlobalFoodStudies.com and TeachingWithPodcasts.com.

In the fall of 2018 I began a faculty position as Assistant Professor at the University of Utah’s Asia Campus in Incheon, South Korea, where I teach courses on US history and global citizenship. My courses focus on using independent research and experiential learning to personalize the classroom, with the goal of making learning not only engaging but transformative.


I have taught undergraduate and graduate courses across three states and three countries. In 2015 I taught two self-designed courses on American body politics and transnational American youth histories in Purdue University’s American Studies program. In 2016 I taught two graduate-level courses – one an advanced writing course advising MA thesis projects in Ball State University’s Master of Urban Design program, and another an advanced seminar on American Studies in the School of Architecture at the University of Hawai’i, Manoa.  From 2016 to 2018 I taught American Studies courses in the University of Hawai’i system as well as global studies courses online in the Department of Humanities and Interdisciplinary Studies at Southern New Hampshire University.


Across the board, my discussion-driven courses emphasize critical analysis and evidence-based argumentation, and reinforce the importance of strengthening arguments using multiple forms of communication. In the words of Mrs. Traci Jones, my ninth-grade English teacher, “Repetition equals importance.” I believe that practice – through writing, speaking, reading, discussing, arguing, teaching, and learning – is the key to sustainable success. In particular, my courses thrive on group exercises that center discussions of disempowerment and resistance in cross-cultural, transnational US histories.

Identity + Citizenship

The central thread through all of my research is my analysis of the relationship between identity and citizenship — or how we know who we are and how that who we are is regulated.  In my dissertation I research how postwar activists understood this relationship as rooted in practices of police violence and urban renewal and histories of colonialism.

Two undergraduate courses I’ve taught in American Studies focus on this relationship between identity and citizenship.  My spring 2015 course “Blood, Bones, and Brains” examined twentieth century US history through the lens of the body, and focused on how the body became a canvas for self-definition and regulation.  My summer 2015 online course “Youth Cultures” used Tumblr to facilitate discussion about how American youth identity is continually constructed as both youthfully beautiful and immaturely undeveloped.

A graphic I made as part of the end-of-the-course “mind-mapping” assignment that asks students to rethink the organization of the course and connect class topics and readings in a new order. In this graphic I depicted the two core oppositional yet connected themes of youth culture — conformity and rebellion. To see more mind maps from the course, check out my Tumblr: http://amstyouthculture.tumblr.com/

Additionally, I’ve conducted research on the high school women’s liberation movement between the mid-1960s and mid-1970s. My paper, “Girls Are Equal Too: Education, Body Politics, and the Making of Teenage Feminism,” published in the academic journal Gender Issues, analyzes how teenage girls began to articulate how their age shaped their unique experience with sexual discrimination.  Another version of the article was published in Black Perspectives, the online journal of the African American Intellectual Historical Society.

In particular, in this paper I focus on how teenage girls articulated feminism through their own perspectives and bodies. Letters and essays written by teenage girls during this time demonstrate how girls saw feminism as a tool to challenge gender role socialization and build a supportive and collaborative community of girl activists within this revolutionary context. Ultimately, by challenging age divisions between the adult-dominated face of the Second Wave and the girl-focused Third Wave, this paper uses the voices of teenage girls to shed light on an earlier movement of “girl power” that has yet to be excavated.

This poster was created by See Red Women’s Workshop – a British women’s liberation graphics collective.  See this poster and more of their work by clicking on this image.

Urban Studies + Design

As an extension of my dissertation research, my project proposal for the 2015-2016 National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fulbright, awarded semi-finalist, focuses on the relationship between space and power. The project, titled “Grass/Roots,” compares and maps spatial and environmental power by analyzing how people occupy, reclaim, and create public green spaces in South Africa, New Zealand, and the UK.  The project combines ethnographic interviews, site and event documentations, weekly self-produced informational graphics, and a cumulative cultural atlas illuminating connections among my case studies and their intertwined colonial histories.

Food Studies

I blog my thoughts and projects on food studies on my blog GlobalFoodStudies.com.

In 2014 I was awarded a $10,000 exploratory research grant to study transnational American food studies at the World Expo in Milan Italy in May of 2015.  As part of this grant I worked with Dr. Simone Cinotto at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo, Italy, before organizing a symposium with him as keynote at Purdue University in October of 2015.  The symposium, called “Global Food: Local Perspectives,” offers an investigative look into how food production and consumption is transnational — even in West Lafayette, Indiana. Since then, I have integrated food studies into my dissertation and teaching.


Teaching: GIF My Feedback

I can’t always get students to read my feedback, so this year I decided to try something different and include students in the process. I had students peer review their first paper. Afterwards I gave them a brief overview of my main feedback comments so they could go ahead and know up front the range of possible comments.

Then, I had them work in groups to “GIF” my feedback. Each group had about 10 minutes to use an app or site to create a GIF that centered one of my main comments I normally write on papers. They were encouraged to take creative liberties to make it funny, thinking about what GIF they might want to see when receiving this feedback. Here are some of their results as well as some I added while grading throughout the semester. I’m always looking for more GIFS, so if you try this with your class, please tweet your results! If you tag me @keralovell, I’ll happily retweet!

Race, Gender, and the Promises and Perils of “Radical” Manifest Destiny

As an expansion of my dissertation, my book project titled, The People’s Park: Work, the Body, and the Environment in Radical Postwar Placemaking, traces the transnational People’s Park movement of insurgent park creation as a method of protest against urban renewal.

Having conducted archival research across seven states, this work breaks ground by documenting more than four dozen People’s Parks created after one of the first in Berkeley, CA in 1968. Utilizing a wide range of archival collections, oral history interviews, and spatial analysis, I argue that as practices of experimental community-based urban design, insurgent place-making initiatives—such as the illegal takeover of vacant lots and the anarchist creation of free public green spaces called “People’s Parks”—at times, facilitated cross-cultural coalitions that transcended ethnic, racial, and national borders.

diss map
My dissertation, Radical Manifest Destiny: Mapping Power in Urban Space in the Age of Protest, 1968-1988, traces the transnational People’s Park movement of insurgent park creation as a method of protest against urban renewal.

Linking these spaces together, my project analyzes how these parks were designed and built by coalitions, and ultimately regulated by police and bureaucracies.  I argue that this medium of protest attracted diverse groups of activists, urban design professionals, and urban residents who used the basic components of these parks—landscape architecture, public art, and shared food consumption—to create a diverse community of resistance across ethnic distinctions and national borders.

The process of design and construction of People’s Parks served as a form of empowerment, a medium for memorialization, and a tool for coalition-building.  By blurring the lines between public and private property ownership, People’s Parks became politically playful techniques for individuals and groups to draw attention to disempowerment and reclaim full access to American citizenship.

You can read more about my research in my article “‘Everyone Gets a Blister’: Sexism, Gender Empowerment, and Race in the Peoples Park Movement.” published in the Fall 2018 issue of Women’s Studies Quarterly.

Historiography on postwar urban protest and cross-cultural environmental organizing is rich, yet no historical scholarship traces the significance of socialized urban green space as a method of postwar protest. Conventional narratives of post-World War II activism have largely ignored tactical urban environmental place-making as a method of civil disobedience, and, in doing so, have neglected to analyze how issues over power in urban space shaped the meanings and methods of protest from the late-1960s to late-1980s. Nestled within scholarship on utopian communalism, cross-cultural political organizing, and urban planning lies the undocumented history of public protest advocating for bottom-up or “community-based” urban design.

Despite the proliferation of guerrilla gardening, the tactical creation and reclamation of urban green space remains highly political. Ultimately, by gaining insight into how urban green space emerged as a medium for activist identity formation and self-making across borders of identity politics and political movement boundaries, we can better understand how access to and power over urban green space remains a cross-cultural power struggle within contemporary cities.

Research Spotlight: Visualizing Chicago’s People’s Park in the Archives

Two weeks in the Special Collections at UIC’s Richard Daley Library as a Short-Term Travel Fellow resulted in significant finds for my research on illegal activist-created parks in the late-1960s and early-1970s.  These parks emerged at the intersection of several political forces: anti-urban renewal activism, environmentalism, hippie utopian communalism, anti-colonial land sovereignty organizing, and racial self-determination movements that were made visible in the visual, spatial, and material culture of these protests.

To date, I have examined material in several collections, including:

  • The Russ Gilbert Collection – (with extensive material on socialist periodicals and organizing)
  • The Immigrants Protective League – (offering a broad scope of immigrant assistance over the early-twentieth century)
  • Citizens for a Better Environment – (with extensive material on cases of Chicago-area pollution)
  • Chris Cohen Collection – (later, an alderman for the 46th ward)
  • North Side Cooperative Ministry Records – (with invaluable material on social justice organizing within church coalitions in Chicago)
  • Partial boxes in the Richard Daley Collection – (with mostly supportive documents  and correspondence relating to the 1968 Democratic National Convention)
  • Partial boxes in the Institute on the Church in an Urban Industrial Society Collection – (offering at least a little bit of information on a broad array of organizations, activist groups, and coalitions)

In particular, documents in the North Side Cooperative Ministry Collection and the Institute on the Church in an Urban Industrial Society Collection have been the most rewarding, offering unique primary and secondary sources that trace local urban renewal plans and policies pushed by the pro-Daley Lincoln Park Conservation Association and community outrage against the turmoil caused by urban renewal.

Lincoln Park Press, UIC
See this political cartoon in the Lincoln Park Press in the Institute of the Church in an Urban Industrial Society Collection at UIC Daley Library.

Meeting minutes, correspondence, community event flyers, and the neighborhood newspaper Lincoln Park Press/La Prensa evidence how an activist coalition formed between the Puerto Rican Young Lords, the white, working-class Young Patriots, some local churches, and the Lincoln Park Citizens Survival Front (with leadership from Pat Devine and Jim Reed).

Flyer, UIC
See this flyer in the North Side Cooperative Ministry Collection at UIC’s Daley Library.

Most importantly, these documents confirm the existence of Lincoln Park’s People’s Park – an illegal, activist-created green space built on a vacant lot at the corner of Halsted and Armitage that was constructed as a protest against urban renewal and police brutality.  Evidencing the park’s appeal across political boundaries, a story from the Chicago Sun Times and a later flyer by the feminist Chicago Women’s Liberation Union both site how housewives, hippies, kids, and Puerto Rican nationalists all worked to clear the lot and convert it into a garden and Leftist public event space.

Chicago Sun Times, UIC.jpg
See this document in the Institute on the Church in an Urban Industrial Society Collection at UIC Library

As illuminated by documents in these collections, the creation of this People’s Park on a privately-owned vacant lot emerged within many intersecting layers of repression: black students at Waller High School (across from the park) had just recently led a school boycott to protest racist hiring practices and curriculum, activists were in the process of protesting the expansion of McCormick Theological Seminary into bulldozed property once-rented by Puerto Ricans, and the Young Lords had only months prior commandeered control of Armitage Methodist Church to offer a free breakfast program and day care center.

LPCCC Flyer for McCormick, UIC.jpg
See this document in the North Side Cooperative Ministry Collection at UIC Library.

In addition, the Immigrants Protective League Collection included a pamphlet from the Open Lands Project that enables me to situate the park and activists’ environmental demands within broader discourses concerning access to safe, healthy, open green space in light of mid-century urban renewal upheaval.

Open Lands Project, UIC
See this document in the Immigrants Protective League Collection at UIC Library.

Additionally, the Daley Collection includes the non-digitized closing argument in the Chicago 7 Conspiracy, using similar language of activist territoriality and sovereignty in Yippie activist control over Grant Park during the Democratic National Convention more than a year earlier.

Taken together, my research has revealed new layers of complexity embedded within discourses on power over access to and design of urban space that cross racial, gender, class, religious, and political borders, fueling a cross-cultural coalition of activist park creators within this moment in time.

During the remainder of my visit at UIC I will access the following collections:

  • Remaining boxes in the Daley Collection
  • Remaining boxes in the Institute on the Church in an Urban Industrial Society Collection
  • Chicago Council on Urban Affairs
  • Citizens Alert Records
  • And the Industrial Areas Foundation Collection

More to come!

Teaching Spotlight: Indianapolis Urban Design

During the summer of 2016 I worked with a handful of graduate students in Ball State University’s Master of Urban Design program advising their graduate theses.  Taken together, they all tackled different sites in the Indianapolis-area that could better capitalize on existing yet underutilized waterways to accomplish the following tasks: drive job development, provide housing and social services, improve hydrological function, and create new, environmentally-sustainable urban green spaces.

Mud 2016 cover_image

From our first week to the last, these urban designers improved immensely in communicating and organizing their ideas. These projects are organized with the flow of the White River and its tributaries:

Mud 2016 table of contents_image

Each project begins by addressing the plethora of current problems plaguing the Indianapolis area, including vacancy, pollution, demand for housing, green-area development, and more. Each urban designer offers a cohesive, sourced, and detailed argument as to why their project is the best fit for their chosen site, providing expertly-crafted visuals to demonstrate how their designs will be experienced by Hoosiers on the ground.

2016 Ball State University alums of the Masters in Urban Design program are (left to right): Mohammad Alabbasi, Loaei Thabet, Ellen Forthofer, Sara Weber, Taylor Firestine, Jacob Sanders, Austin Roy, and Kevin Sweetland.

I am so proud – so excited – to share their final works collected in this text and hope to work with them on publishing in academic and professional journals in the near future! Join me in congratulating these urban design professionals on graduating!  Well done, team!

It’s a hefty file (linked below), so here are a few snapshots with their authors and abstracts.

An excerpt of Jacob Sanders’s MA thesis in Urban Design, Ball State University (2016).

Jacob Sanders, “The Exchange at Keystone: A Holistic Approach to Economically Successful Malls”

Abstract: “The mall has long been a key suburban destination and economic driver due to its historic consideration as a place you can hang out, shop for a variety of goods and services, and attend movies. Their stability has wavered in the last 15-20 years as malls have begun losing their customer base due to online shopping increase, cultural and social changes, and an overall feeling that malls do not offer an exciting experience. This study uses Indianapolis’s Fashion Mall at Keystone as a case study for redeveloping malls using a holistically sustainable framework. By redesigning and transforming malls to be environmentally sustainable, economically successful, and socially integrative, these sites will be protected from future downfall.”

An excerpt of Loaei Thabet’s MA thesis in Urban Design, Ball State University (2016).

Loaei Thabet, “Beyond GM Stamping Plant: A Conceptual Masterplan to Redevelop Post-Industrial Waterfronts on the White River”

Abstract: “As many American cities, Indianapolis has turned its back to its waterways. Along with the disengagement and privatization, heavy industrial activities have contaminated the waterfronts while the combined Sewer overflow (CSO) have remarkably degraded the water quality of the White River. In addition to that, current levees capacity fails to contain frequent flooding conditions from reaching to brownfields which factor in degrading quality of water by increasing toxic pollutants levels in the White River. The loss of industry created an opportunity for Indianapolis to rethink its waterfronts by focusing its resources on creating catalyst sites for resilient and successful waterfronts. New sites will include new water-infrastructure to adapt with flooding as well as to build a basis for a unique community and new models of the economy. This multi-layer strategy would not only contribute to improving the water quality of the White River but would transform the future of waterways in Indianapolis.”

An excerpt of Mohammad Alabbasi’s MA thesis in Urban Design, Ball State University (2016)

Mohammad Alabbasi, “Smart Indy: Using a Net Zero Energy Approach to minimize carbon footprint at the Indianapolis GM Stamping Plant”

Abstract Excerpt: “In today’s world, questions abound about how to generate energy and how to use energy…To combat [the damage of climate change] and alleviate systemic problems in Indianapolis’s post-industrial neighborhoods, this creative project seeks to develop the General Motors Stamping Plant into a net zero energy district called “Smart Indy.” This site would make a smooth transition between downtown Indianapolis and the West Indianapolis community, and between the site and the White River, by activating the water edge. As part of the current smart city movement, as defined by the use of technologies to improve the efficiency of services and creating cities that produce energy rather than just consume energy, Smart Indy seeks to minimize Indianapolis’s carbon footprint through an urban design perspective, which includes a focus on architecture, infrastructure, and the use of renewable energy productions. The goals of Smart Indy are: 1) To provide technologies that make the development area a local and global destination, 2) To reduce the annual consumption of fossil fuels by using green energy production, and 3) To make the development area a smarter place for people to visit, live, work, and play. The implications of being smarter will include utilizing new concepts of sharing, such as Airbnb and Uber, using prototypes like the Google self-driving car, and recycling, in addition to the main concept of taking advantage of green energy productions. This site will be close to downtown Indianapolis, as well as accessible, via monorail (to be constructed as part of Smart Indy’s development)….”

An excerpt of Ellen Forthofer’s MA thesis in Urban Design, Ball State University (2016).

Ellen Forthofer, “The River South District: Building Identity by Daylighting Pogue’s Run”

Abstract: “The area just south of the Wholesale District in downtown Indianapolis has been under-performing for decades. What was once home to the strong Babe Denny neighborhood (a neighborhood named for a Parks Department employee and longtime resident of that area) and a vital piece of the White River watershed now contains rampant vacancy, inaccessible public space, decades of housing and job loss, and a fractured water system. This proposal to transform this site into the River South District aims to create a new and lasting identity for downtown Indianapolis through the daylighting of a currently buried stream, Pogue’s Run. Daylighting, a relatively new practice, refers to the act of exposing a portion or the entirety of the flow of a previously covered waterway, usually in the form of removing a stream from an underground pipe and restoring the waterway to open air. Converting Indianapolis’ buried stream into an above-ground promenade and restored habitat will incorporate a correctly scaled community design focused on ecologically sensitive practices, balanced with housing, employment, and activities to attract a diverse range of users to the site. This River South District proposal accommodates a range of activities and uses through its gradient of destinations: an entertainment district, a revived Pogue’s Run habitat, and a vibrant residential neighborhood. By creating places to live, work, and play around Pogue’s Run, the River South District will create a highly integrated and unique site protected from further disinvestment and disconnection.”

An excerpt of Sara Weber’s MA thesis in Urban Design, Ball State University (2016).

Sara Weber, “Breaching the River Edge: Connecting Indianapolis with the White River”

Abstract: “The White River is not accessible to downtown Indianapolis and not being utilized to its fullest potential. The proposed solution for this site is to address the current barriers preventing access, the lack of development on and around this site, and how this development could enhance downtown Indianapolis. The proposal will include both private and public space along the river edge. These public and private spaces will begin to overlap one another so that the private entity does not overshadow the public entity. There will be trails, light commercial space, and river activities for the public that coexist with privately owned space. This provides the amenities of being close to the river and downtown while still providing a private feel to the residential space. This proposal will help to extend the lively atmosphere of downtown into a developing district to the south.”

An excerpt of Austin Roy’s MA thesis in Urban Design, Ball State University (2016).

Austin Roy, “River Key: Re-Establishing Community Identity in West Indianapolis Through Education and Re-Connection with our Waterways”

Abstract: “Historically, the west Indianapolis neighborhood was developed as a residential community that benefited economically and socially from job opportunities that the surrounding industrial development provided for residents of the neighborhood. In the early half of the twentieth century, the residents of west Indianapolis lived in a community driven neighborhood that provided almost all goods and services to support virtually all human needs. The neighborhood provided a school for children as well as transportation opportunities into the downtown area of Indianapolis via horse and buggy, mule and trolley, and later on, street cars. However in the 1970s, construction of Interstate 70 resulted in dividing west Indianapolis into two different halves. The population of the neighborhood was split and the sense of community within the area was lost. This division not only tore the sense of community in two, it also resulted in less demand for products and services sold locally in the neighborhood, resulting in almost all neighborhood shops to leave for the inner city. As the twentieth century progressed, industry, which had for so long supported west Indianapolis, began to disappear, as industrial jobs moved overseas, property values as well as standard of living also began to diminish. In 2011, the retraction of industrial jobs reached its peak when the GM stamping plant, located directly north of the neighborhood closed its doors.”

An excerpt from Taylor Firestine’s MA thesis in Urban Design, Ball State University (2016).

Taylor Firestine, “Theater Blocks: An Urban Design Strategy Modeled on Economic, Social, and Environmental Sustainability”

Abstract: “The Twin Aire neighborhood in Indianapolis, Indiana has suffered decline over the last generation, resulting from years of waning land value, loss of skilled labor jobs, and stagnant or decreasing income. These issues are intrinsically linked to other problems facing depressed neighborhoods across the U.S., including transit inaccessibility and barriers to educational attainment. Given the availability of urban land ripe for redevelopment, the Theater Blocks will initiate a phased redevelopment plan of the Twin Aire Drive-In Theater site under two guiding objectives: 1: Stabilize the Neighborhood through Accessible Social Services; and 2: Facilitate Growth and Reinvestment for Future Success. While the first objective is a short-term endeavor, the second addresses long-term strategic planning for the community. Both objectives contain various goals addressing a host of issues facing the area, including land use, social services and education, parks and open space, and branding. These objectives and their subsequent goals are directed at bolstering the area’s quality of life through a model of economic, social, and environmental sustainability.”

An excerpt from Kevin Sweetland’s MA thesis in Urban Design, Ball State University (2016).

Kevin Sweetland, “The Burnside District: A New Approach to Post-Industrial Development on Indianapolis’s Eastside”

Abstract: “This creative project explores the practical application of urban design strategies to reverse the effects of deindustrialization on Indianapolis’ eastside. If the problem of de-industrialization is not properly addressed, large numbers of inner city people will remain unemployed and the industrial sites that are decomposing in their backyards will continue to destroy the health of the local environment. In lieu of a future defined by hazardous places for wildlife and people, the Burnside District sets a new vision for the eastside’s vacant industrial sites. This project reimagines these decrepit places as valuable community assets that allow people to live, work, and play in their own neighborhood.”

Read their projects in full here: MUD 2016 Final Book

Research Findings and Fellowships

For the most up-to-date list of grants and fellowships I have been awarded, see my list of Scholarships, Fellowships, and Awards. Additionally, you can read Press on these awards as well as how my work has reached broader academic and public audiences.

Most recently I was awarded Special Recognition by the Graham Foundation for the 2017 Carter Manny Award in architectural history. In 2016, I was awarded by the University of Illinois, Chicago’s Richard Daley Library a Short-Term Travel Fellowship – offering funding to spend the month of August, 2016 in the archives. Read my brief mid-month research report and see photographs of my findings here.

Thanks to the Hoover Institution, the University of Illinois, Chicago, Michigan Tech University, the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, the Wisconsin Historical Society, and Purdue University for awarding me with archival research grants.

Silas Palmer Fellow Web Page

Inspiration: Mapping Chicago from Below

The history of cartography is often remembered as a legacy of white men.  With “imperial eyes” (Pratt, 1992), cartographers granted power to largely northern white nation-states through borders and names with the stroke of a pen. From the age of exploration to mid-twentieth century redlining, maps have shaped people, places, histories, and our identities.  Ultimately, maps visualize a particular subset of information at a particular moment in time.  When analyzed within their particular historical context through a critical lens of power structures, they collectively illuminate a quilt of information about the relationship between people and power.

CityLab’s (@citylab) recent post on “How Women Mapped the Upheaval of 19th Century America” offers a new perspective by evidencing how women engaged in map-making techniques that have been overshadowed.  This article is part of a series by Laura Bliss (@mslaurabliss) who interviewed New York Public Library map historian Alice Hudson who had names of more than a thousand women who had drawn, published, printed, engraved, sold, or traded maps prior to 1900 alone.  Bliss has also paired images with contextual information from Will C. van den Hoonardd’s book Map Worlds: A History of Women in Cartography.  [See this really cool image of maps drawn by Shanawdithit of the Newfoundland Beothuk tribe c. 1829. who plotted memories of her tribe’s movements and collisions with settlers nearly two decades prior.]


This map by Agnes Sinclair Holbrook, “Nationalities Map No. 1,” from Hull-House Maps and Papers, 1895, (Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library), visualizes demographics of nationalities in the Near West Side of Chicago as part of Holbrook’s work with Jane Addams’s Hull House settlement house that served these populations.  From this image we can see patterns of immigrant aggregations in the neighborhood along with segregation.  We can see how immigrants are being categorized – along lines of nationality like German and Swiss and language, rather than along lines of skin color [which evidences historian David Roediger’s argument in his book Working Toward Whiteness that reveals processes of labor organizing and real estate policy that transformed Northern European new immigrants into “white ethnics.”]

If you zoomed out, you could see how close rail lines and the waterways were to the East.   As shown in this stylistically identical map by Samuel Greeley, families in this neighborhood earned an average of $7.50 per week working in nearby factories.

Do you know what a map of this area looks like today?

map near west side chicago

It’s a tollway.  In the mid-twentieth century, politicians embarked on a massive urban renewal campaign to displace historic immigrant neighborhoods and communities of working-class people of color out of the city.  This demolition would make way for a new highway enabling middle-class whites to travel from the suburbs to the inner-city for work. Additionally, huge portions of the neighborhood were demolished as part of UIC’s expansion campaign.  For more on this read Amanda Seligman’s book Block by Block.

Although Holbrook’s work is significant (as well as fun and celebratory in light of Women’s History Month), focused narratives heralding the contributions of select middle-class women often read as more additive than revolutionary – at times reinforcing a liberal feminist discourse of “look, women were there” rather than re-examining how power structures have shaped the histories we hide, exalt, and define as part of our identities.

Ultimately, how can we excavate histories of mapping “from below”?  What can we learn from revealing map-making techniques of migrant farm workers, the enslaved, prostitutes, meth addicts, or Civil Rights Movement activists?  What would current folk cartography reveal about urban power relations today?

Teaching: Mind Mapping American Bodies

Untitled mind map
A student in my course “American Bodies” thinks back critically on the class, arguing that American citizens are defined by group-specific stereotypes that create different experiences and further reinforce misconceptions:
“We discussed many different forms of bodies that have all had distinct social associations connected to them.  For the most part, white men have dominated society, always being in power and having authority over others. Those with negative social associations have always been at a disadvantage and often have been restricted, whether that be socially or under very specific laws created by those in power. We discussed how people in power have tried to regulate and restrict those below them often for nothing more than their skin color….”

In my American Studies courses I ask students to construct a mind map with an accompanying essay reflecting back on the course. The assignment aims to secretly get students to think about a structural analysis of power.

For this assignment, students were asked to reimagine the course structure by choosing a few of the course readings, films, lectures, etc. and lumping them into new categories and linking these categories and topics. It might sound a bit confusing, abstract, or a little hippie granola for you, but when executed correctly produces beautiful, thought-provoking images that evidence students reflecting critically on the course material.

First I’m going to give you the assignment basics and then I’ll share some of the best mind maps and their essays from my Spring 2015 course I designed, “Blood, Bones, and Brains: 20th Century History of American Bodies.” (You can see the syllabus for that course on my Academia.edu page.)

Assignment Basics

I show them this mind map as an example and tell them that the center of the mind map should be their overarching argument — each branch shooting out from the center should be a main theme, and then the smaller lines attached to those main theme branches should be their evidence to prove their argument. I use that mind map example because many others that you can find through Google are not intending to evidence an argument and, therefore, tend to be more descriptive brainstorming maps than a tool for visualizing a thesis.

However, unlike that mind map example linked above, students are asked to build off the main theme branches with evidence from the course. These offshoots from the main themes can be organized in whatever fashion they want. Sometimes you’ll find clear linkages and in other cases huge messy clouds of connections. A brief 1-page explanatory essay accompanies the image in order to articulate the student’s argument and evidence why those themes, offshoots, and connections/linkages were selected. Students can create these mind maps whatever way they’d like — via 3D model, video, Powerpoint, drawn by hand, or using some of these programs.


Student 1:

mind map (1)

“My mind map is divided into the three units (Turn of the Century, World War Era, and Postwar) that made up our semester.  Each unit is then divided into the topics of each class.  Lastly, I added the distinct topics and concepts that we learned in class and discovered in the readings.  In the middle of my mind map I drew a person to represent the common theme of our class, American bodies.  I made him look kind of like a super hero because I feel like everything we learned throughout the semester makes the American body; no matter skin color, shape, class, race, a superhero….”  

Student 2:


“It is not everyday when you think about people and their mindsets/values as “bodies”. When we start to think of bodies and how they are shaped and characterized by society, I realized how we start to perceive them. Bodies such as women, people of color, or those who are poor are seen as “weak”, “disabled”, and even not worth “saving”. These perceptions lead to the image they have on society. They are viewed as these things with the help of racism and sexism. Are these bodies really “free” in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave if they cannot even be seen as equal?

It was interesting to see that the typical “white, middle class male” wasn’t even deemed glorious if they were not muscular and well behaved gentleman of society. The actions that were/are taken on these people include laws, internalized/externalized judgments, and discrimination. Society chose to oppress those who weren’t fit for society. Women, people of color, and even “weak” men were oppressed without question and still are today. The progression of these topics led to dire consequences for society. Society was divided and there was a lack of trust for other groups and the government as a whole. This begs the question: “why?”. Why did we oppress and continue to oppress different groups of bodies?”

Student 3:


“The concept of the ideal body came from the readings: Modified Bodies, Bodies on Display, Regulating Bodies, and Bodies in Crisis. Each of these readings spoke about wanting to achieve the perfect or ideal body or of not having that ideal body (Regulating Bodies). Another strong theme was race. The race factor was in almost every one of our readings. It was what I would almost venture to say the main theme was of our class. It was everywhere which is appropriate since it is everywhere in everyday life….”

Student 4:


“Something that I came to understand is that the theme of Bodies on Display is perpetual, for ‘the gaze’ as you called it, is and will always be present. In this course, I was able to look at bodies from a new perspective. With my mind map I aimed to visualize essentially, how the themes we covered are interconnected. For example, a modified body is equally a body in pain and a body in conflict. Women who would change their images whether through make up, breast implants, or vaginal reconstruction (a topic covered in another class), would initially be bodies in a state of conflict, torn between what they believed to be true beauty and ugliness. Simultaneous they would be a body in pain, for just about all the modification process that we talked about came at some cost or risk….”

Student 5:


This student divided their mind map into quadrants: “When I went to first create my mind map, I knew I definitely wanted there to be certain divisions of demographics and then I wanted to place the readings, that related to that aspect of the body, into that category. I chose to divide the course into four different categories: race, class, gender, and able-bodies. Although these are just a few of many demographics, I feel like the readings fit nicely and evenly into those categories. While I have placed all of these readings into specific categories, they definitely, without question, overlap with one another in more ways than one. After dividing the readings into their corresponding areas of concentration, I then wrote a phrase arrowed off of the reading that explained one prominent aspect of the reading….”


Ultimately, the assignment worked pretty well in getting students to explore the relationship between group identities and intersectionality. Having recently spoken with Julian Chambliss about his use of infographics in the classroom almost as research reports, I’m determined to find new ways of incorporating visual and experiential modes of communication and critical thinking into courses that moves beyond strictly reading and writing. Have other ideas?  Share them with me!

Teaching Spotlight: Maps of American Food


I’m in the throes of organizing a course for the American Studies program at Purdue on food studies – a class exploring the connections between food, identity, and place.  Today’s visual inspirations are maps I’ve found trying to embed certain recipes within US regions and cities.  What could you add to these maps?  How would your map of US food culture differ?

For me, these are missing a fundamental food from my youth: pecans. I was raised in Leesburg, Georgia – a city with mostly suburbs that were rapidly created after nearby Albany was integrated to meet the demands of white flight in the 1960s.

My family moved there after our home (and thousands of others) were flooded during Tropical Storm Alberto in 1994, fueling new housing development in the largely rural Leesburg.  When we moved to Leesburg, our middle-of-nowhere suburb was surrounded by pecan orchards.  Miles and miles of pecan trees about 20 feet tall, in rigidly aligned rows as far as you could see.

But this landscape changed in the 10 years I lived there from about 1995 to 2005.  Food culture shifted – nuts became more expensive and too caloric and fatty for mid-1990s diet fads.  The price of land spiked – the push for new housing developments made pecan orchards prime candidates for new suburbs.

When I left for college, few pecan farms remained.  Identical houses were built equidistant every 3-4 trees.  “Who would want to live in such a maniacal grid?” I thought from our largely wooded suburb (woods that would be demolished to build more houses in the coming decades).

Needless to say, I would add pecans and walnuts to Georgia on my map.  When I was young, I could find them raw in snack bowls on my grandma’s dinner table, sprinkled atop the sweet potato souffle on Thanksgiving, and forming the crunchy crust of a pecan pie…not to mention, right outside the kitchen window.

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