Dr. Kera N. Lovell

Quick Facts about me:

I am an Associate 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. In 2023 I was promoted to Associate Professor of History at the University of Utah’s Asia Campus. While at Utah’s Asia Campus, 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 history and the humanities. 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 a Mellon-funded Dumbarton Oaks Fellowship on Landscape and Democracy (Spring 2024) and a $5000 Graham Foundation research grant to conduct research at the Library of Congress (Summer 2021).

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, and am now an Associate Professor of History at the University of Utah’s Asia Campus in South Korea.

In the fall of 2018 I began at UAC where I still teach courses on US history, the humanities, 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.


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 a research fellowship by the Graham Foundation for my book project on the People’s Park movement. I have earned several other research awards and fellowships, including the University of Illinois, Chicago’s Richard Daley Library a Short-Term Travel Fellowship – offering funding to spend a month 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


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

A global map of activist-created parks as protests around the world since the 1960s by Kera Lovell, “The People’s Park,” Google My Maps, Map Data ©, Google, INEGI: http://bit.ly/2wVlXcb. 

As an expansion of my dissertation, my book project titled The People’s Park: Work, the Body, and the Built Environment in Radical Postwar Placemaking traces the origins of insurgent park creation as a widespread tactic of civil disobedience in the late Vietnam War era. Using oral history interviews and archival research from collections across five states, the book documents how activist coalitions illegally transformed more than forty vacant lots into what they called “People’s Parks” during the long 1970s. In particular, the book project examines how key components of these parks, including food production, landscape design, art, and the underground press shaped activists’ memories of these spaces. Because my research focuses on identity, my work offers an intersectional analysis of these spaces with a focus on race, gender, and sexuality. My articles, “Free Food, Free Space” (American Studies Journal)  and “Everyone Gets a Blister” (Women’s Studies Quarterly) both explore women’s work in shaping the visual and material culture of these parks, illuminating how women activists struggled to create space within this largely white male-dominated protest movement. For park creators of color, such as those at San Diego’s Chicano Park to Chicago’s Poor People’s Park, park creation meant challenging police brutality as systemic racism. By putting these park creations in conversation with contemporary protests, my research offers historical perspective to growing protests about the right to space due to continued struggles over urban renewal amidst the growing housing crisis.

In 2020 I was awarded a research grant by the Graham Foundation to conduct an international research trip from Seoul to D.C. to collect archival data at the Library of Congress. This research is in the process of being published in two chapters in edited collections.

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.


The Dubai World Expo: 2022

Dubai is a city full of hope and energy. Rapidly rising out of the desert just a few decades ago, the city is an odd sensory mix: The dulcet sounds of the Muslim calls to prayer blend with your earbuds throughout the day. The spice souks smell of frankincense and rose hips with brightly colored displays. And yet every restaurant near the Burj Khalifa reads like a designer knockoff of the Cheesecake Factory. The city is roomy with massive highways and automatic tolls designed for car traffic. On your first day you might make the mistake of trying to walk to a metro station that seems close but is in fact a sweaty distance. Trying to dodge the bright sun on narrow curbs they consider sidewalks, the concrete pillars of highways tower overhead. And yet, take a short drive out of the city and the Vegas-style fountain shows are covered in sand. Look at the skyline from the surrounding desert and the city feels very small. Our Arabic ancestors harvested dates and camel milk to build an oasis now running on the fumes of urban tourism during Covid.

Dubai brings this energy of old and new to World Expo 202(2)―the first to be held in the Middle East. Delayed a year due to Covid, January 2022 marked the event’s halfway point of the season in what feels like a never-ending dumpster fire of a pandemic. The world may be dysfunctional but the Expo is on most days calm―I would argue, a slice of comfort with perfect winter weather in an otherwise unsettling decade so far. From the entrance, the park already feels far less crowded than recent Expos. Guards check your vaccinations, PCR tests, and ticket QR codes before directing you to a TSA-level standard of security. Upon entry, guests are instructed that they will be reminded to wear their masks correctly throughout their visit. There are so many hand sanitizer dispensers, you could bathe in it. Jets soar closely overhead leaving red and green contrails for the United Arab Emirates flag. A large convention center just inside the park hosts a daily PCR testing center with free tests for workers and eligible guests. It’s massive and busy but orderly. Hungry but afraid of breathing humans? You are likely to encounter more open-air restaurants in the park than those indoor, let alone ordering takeaway to dine on Arabic calligraphy-inspired benches lining the park’s walkways.

With so few crowds compared to recent expos in Shanghai (2010) and Milan (2015), the park feels almost luxuriously quiet on weekdays―a wonderland for the introverted. Most major pavilions require smart queues via QR with very short lines compared to the multi-hour waits at prior expos. Some countries step up the protocols such as Korea’s pavilion which requires multiple rounds of photographs taken by fever-sensing video cameras. Rarely an attendee still refuses to wear a mask. With most pavilions allowing a limited number of participants at a time, these socially-distant viewings offer attendees the ability to experience pavilions to a greater depth. Play with the interactive camera projecting a river―only four other people are in the space with you. Stressed by too many people in any one room? Pavilion workers easily assist attendees on how to move through faster, encouraging flow. With more space and a moderate feeling of safety of mask enforcement, you can stroll through pavilions safer than you could at Epcot.

And yet, the force of Omicron has left many of us in an existential crisis. What are we even doing here? What does it mean to have a World Expo when we are so globally disconnected? How do we collectively experience a space when we are forcibly distanced? What does our global future hold? Who are we in a crisis?

For the most part, I would argue that Expo 202(2)―the collective we―are hopeful. In Aotearoa/New Zealand’s pavilion, spectators celebrate the newly created law that grants personhood to the Whanganui River. The country’s national narrative argues that centering Maori people and their relationships to the environment is critical for a sustainable future. That future requires you to see indigenous people and the earth as part of you. 

From the Italian Pavilion’s funky boat-topped roof to the Netherlands’ umbrella projection screens, we can embrace sustainability as not only serious but silly. Luxembourg, Brazil, and Hungary’s pavilions all encourage us to just chill out. Be the adult that takes the giant two-story tunnel slide. Lounge in the water hammock. Take off your shoes and get in the ball pit representing an ancient therapeutic bathhouse. Tired of that ball pit? Campus Germany has you covered with its room filled with 100,000 ideas (balls) for a sustainable future.

Make no mistake, the expo was home to several sustainability debacles that take one step forward and three steps back.Terra, the sustainability pavilion with a solar panel roof has a gigantic carbon footprint for a building that size. With the park sponsored by PepsiCo among other corporations, several infomercial-like pavilions sponsoring Aquafina and Lays are out of place and advertise more than engage. Covid undoubtedly altered the design and management of pavilions like Spain’s with an entire wing left empty. Sometimes the social distancing is palpable to an extent that the expo can feel lonely with video screens as teachers and the constant reminder to not stand near anyone. Ever. 

Right near the exit, the UK pavilion reminds us that in a world filled with loneliness and confusion, we think beautifully together. As an enactment of Stephen Hawking’s legacy, the pavilion uses artificial intelligence to work with attendees to create poetry that will be projected into space. Couplets about the moon, love, and darkness flash on and off the screens that make the exterior facade of the pavilion. As we have learned these past two years through Zoom, even sharing a screen can make the world a much smaller place. What word did I choose to send into space as a future interstellar poem? Hopeful. 

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!

Hawaiian Food Flag

Look at those hard lines and rice filler – the Spam musubi was made to be turned into a flag. Challenge accepted.

As one component of the final project for my AMST 202 class at Honolulu Community College this semester, students were asked to create a food flag.

And as I’ve mentioned in this past blog post, I love food flags! A flag is a symbol of national identity – we salute flags, we sing to flags, we preserve flags, we as nations plant them in conquered territories and raise then when we’re wounded. They become a symbol that imagines us as a shared community. And yet we accept them as an arbitrary arrangement of symbols. Flags are bestowed upon us by nations and we accept them into our families.

But what if we created our own? What would it look like?

After demonstrating a family recipe and mapping where they eat, buy, and produce food on the island, students were asked to construct a flag out of ingredients familiar to them:

I want you to create a Food Flag using foods that you argue reflect Hawaiian/ American/hapa food culture. This needs to be based off of a particular flag: the Kanaka Maoli flag, the American flag, Hawaii’s state flag, or a fusion. A food flag is when you reproduce the colors and patterns of a flag using actual food as the building blocks. For this, put some thought into why you’ve chosen the ingredients you’ve chosen. How are you using these foods to support an argument about Hawaiian/American/hapa food culture? How have you visualized some sort of critical analysis? Get some insight into what the heck a food flag is here and here.

Their results were fantastic. Here’s a sampling of their creativity which reveal how they similarly and different position their ethnic and national identities:

Ed made the Hawaii state flag out of a fusion of Japanese and Portuguese ingredients to represent the different ethnic heritages of he and his wife. Here you see rice, Okinawan purple sweet potato, and sliced Portuguese sausage.


AMST Final-1.jpg
Jacques spent his youth in the Philippines where he mostly ate meat and rice. For his US food flag he chose turkey bacon and rice because she said that when he was losing weight as a young adult in Hawaii, that was just about all he ate. The blue jello and Cheeries reflect his American processed food fusion.


Food Flag
James had a killer idea to take photos of foods he eats and make them into a Hawaiian state flag. Here you’ll see an assortment of big mainland brands popular here, like Budlight, along with rice, ramen, cookies, eggs, and more.


Tisha_Japanese Flag
Because Tisha’s family is largely Japanese, this Japanese flag is made out of rice and ahi tuna which are staples in Japanese/Hawaiian fusion cuisine here on the island.


Elisse_Kanaka maoli flag
Elisse made the Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) flag out of egg, Spam, and ti leaves (pronounced like the drink “tea”) which are used in Native Hawaiian recipes like lau lau.


Last but not least Alan uses the Hawaiian state flag to showcase an assortment of staple food items here that are essential to every local Hawaiian dinner serving plate lunch. From the bottom you’ll see red Redondo wieners (it seems like the more dye, the better here), macaroni salad (mainlanders watch out – it. is. the. best.), some pastele stew, rice, poi made from ground taro, poke (pronounced “pokay”), and the top stripe is haupia. For the green on the seal you have lau lau. These foods are not cheap! Alan said he spent about $40 to orders of all of these dishes that he shared with his family.

My food flag was one I usually make every July 4th – I call it my July 4th cake. We inhaled it collectively before I could take a photo, but here’s the gist: 1) Take a box of white Duncan Hines cake mix, 2) Make some whipped cream from scratch for icing, 3) Decorate with red and blue fruits to make the stars and stripes. This could be its twin:


I shared how the cake represented America to me:

  • a box of white completely processed, super sweet, completely unhealthy, and taking no time to cook. There is something that has always intrigued me about its supernatural bleachy whiteness that seems to claim perfection in the most inauthentic way.
  • the fruits are from Mexico and Chile – foreign countries that the US colonizes through trade agreements to get us our berries for cheap all year around
  • the dairy in the whipped cream is the only ingredient from the US, yet represents something that’s completely unhealthy, the dairy industry being toxic to the environment and animal welfare, and yet framed as a staple of the American diet in advertisements
  • and finally sugar – one of the culinary roots of slavery and the colonization of Hawaii that is now killing poor Americans and poor Pacific islanders who are addicted to its immediate high and low cost. Sugar is in every processed food. Sugar is America. Sugar is death.

Layer them together and you have a deliciously unhealthy dessert that you eat chilled on a hot Independence Day (hypocrisy intended). It is about as far away from local food and a melting pot as you can possibly get.

What would your food flag look like? What do the foods you eat say about your ethnic and national identity?

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.

Global Family Meal

This semester I taught an online graduate level course on American culture to a mixed nationality group – two students from the University of Hawaii studying abroad in Tongji, China, and four students from Tongji who are about to study abroad in Hawaii at UH next year. Food became a way for us to talk about the similarities and differences in histories of colonialism and contemporary experiences with families, relationships, celebratory customs, and dining out within the US and between the US and China. The discussion was also a way of celebrating the friendships that the students had made, and to share in their excitement of venturing to Hawaii next year.

After discussing the importance of food and rituals for Thanksgiving, I assigned a small food studies project. First the Chinese students read an essay by Rachel Laudan on food in Hawaii that focuses on the archipelago’s food culture as a mix of agricultural, colonial, and multi-ethnic influences. Next, students wrote a response putting Hawaiian food into conversation with their own assumptions about American food (since none of the Tongji students had been to America and neither of the Hawaiian students had really been to mainland America). You can read more of Laudan’s work on Hawaiian food in her book The Food of Paradise. Additionally the two US students wrote a longer critical analysis of their family’s food culture, focusing on how race, gender, class, ethnicity, nationality, and other factors influence what their family eats, where they shop, where and how they dine, and how students’ own food preferences might differ from their parents’.

One of my most favorite Hawaiian foods has been Spam musubi. You’ll find these in plastic wrap often near the counter of a 7-11 for about $2. The Spam is sometimes cooked in sweet Hawaiian teriyaki sauce that contrasts the overpowering saltiness of the canned meat, is balanced by the ever so slightly savory rice, and is held together by the seaweed wrapper. These make excellent beach food snacks if you’re on the go, are cheap and easy to make at home, and can be adapted! I’ve had excellent versions with egg inside or fried shells outside, in fancy food trucks and at the gas station. In this Texas-style adaptation, the musubi includes pickled cactus and Dr. Pepper Unagi sauce: http://www.star-telegram.com/living/food-drink/article79844007.html

Second, students were asked to share a picture and recipe for an essential dish served at an important family celebration. Taken together, that class meal included the following items:

  • jiaozi, pork and cabbage dumplings
  • Mahi Mahi green bean casserole
  • zongzi rice dumplings: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=waaJ_prlZNk
  • pecan pie
  • braised prawns
  • and cold oven pound cake

Zongzi – some amazingly fantastic street food in China

Additionally another student from China shared a list of foods typically served in his family at a spring festival:


Braised Plate (Beef/Oxtongue/Gizzards/Chicken Wing Tips/Chicken Claw)

Salad Dried Bean Curd with Coriander

Steamed Chicken with Chili Sauce

Main Course

Glutinous Rice Meatballs

Stewed Meatballs with Brown Sauce

Steamed Weeverfish

Boiled Chinese cabbage

Braised Pork With Preserved Vegetable

Stewed Duck in Beer

Steamed Pork with Rice Flour

Braised Pork Feet

Hot Pot with Pig Blood and Tofu


Steamed Fish Cake Soup with Cuttlefish, Chicken and Tendons

Stable Food




Milk Bun

Spring Roll

Fried Corn Cake

With my southern background, I mostly geared our conversations toward the kaleidoscope of American culture – prodding students to identify and analyze why common assumptions about American culture (like frontier films or fast food) are both grounded in fact and not representative of the whole country. I sought to prove to the Tongji students how, due to gender, class, race, and region of origin, how my experiences in the South differed from those of my Hawaiian-born students, revealing many different sides of American culture. And now that we have a collective epic family meal, we have something to plan for next fall when the students are feeling homesick for China and excited for touring the US.

Today I want to share my contribution to the collective class meal – the South Georgia cold oven pound cake.

Cold oven pound cakes have a crunch top layer on top, and can be identified from other traditionally moist pound cakes from their intentionally busted crackly tops.

Food in the South is either and all together, sweet, salty, and fatty (fat is a whole food group down here). An example of salty would be dark leafy collard greens boiled in broth with salty ham bits. An example of sweet would be sweet potato casserole, which is boiled sweet potatoes mixed with sweetened condensed milk and brown sugar, topped with toasted marshmallows. And example of fatty would be biscuits made of lard and covered with butter after baking. An example of sweet and salty and fatty would be our barbecue which often includes salty smoked pork or fatty ribs covered in like a brown sugary sauce.

You can tell we have high, high rates of diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity, but it doesn’t really sway us. My grandmother is nearly blind and can barely walk due to health problems. She takes insulin for her diabetes – and yet she still eats half a slice of pie after taking insulin. This doesn’t mean that everyone eats this way in the South, as my parents reacted to this by raising my siblings and me to eat low fat or sugar free foods that were often processed – perhaps just as unhealthy as the full fatty Southern versions.

Frequently at a Thanksgiving my family would serve turkey, cornbread stuffing (like a slightly soggy savory bread casserole dish), gravy and cranberry sauce (not actually a sauce but more like a cranberry-flavored gelatin that is super sweet and slightly sour and what you’re supposed to dip the stuffing and turkey in), sweet potato casserole, collard greens, and maybe some other additions like homemade macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, a light broccoli salad, and/or a green bean casserole.

Traditional Southern-style cornbread dressing is soggy, made from baked corn bread that is crumbled into silt and covered with cooked veggies, cooked eggs, and broth. Don’t forget the poultry seasoning – the distinct flavor of this dressing.

We’d always have at least one type of bread – usually a sweet store-bought roll. And for dessert we’d serve pumpkin pie, maybe pecan pie, and pound cake, although there might be other additions. Generally you eat dinner at about 4:30/5 and then eat a second plate at about 7:30ish whenever your food has settled enough to eat more. And then a 9:30ish dessert sampling. By the end of the night, you should be walking funny or grunting from the discomfort of eating so much. It’s a masochistic ritual.

These are all very normal southern foods but a family favorite connected with my hometown is my grandma’s special cold oven pound cake which is the recipe I’d like to share for this course. To be frank, it’s called a pound cake because historically it included a pound of sugar, a pound of butter, a pound of flour, a pound of eggs… And it tastes pretty much like a cake version of a shortbread cookie which is made of those ingredients. Normally pound cakes are pretty moist and dense, but the cold oven technique popular in Southwest Georgia where I’m from requires you don’t preheat the oven but put it straight into a cold oven when you go to bake it, creates an effect in which the outside of the cake is crunchy. Some people think it makes it too dry. I think they’re crazy and can’t stand pound cakes that are too soggy. This is clearly a preference thing, and because I grew up with only one type of pound cake, I favor the Southern style.


Recipe for cold oven pound cake taken from Paula Deen (who is from my hometown, is a world-renowned Southern cook, and is known in American popular culture for making super fatty food and being racist to African Americans. For more on her and how racism is perceived as “accidental” and therefore tolerated in the South, read this essay by author Ta-Nehisi Coates http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/06/the-guileless-accidental-racism-of-paula-deen/277153/.)

For the original link to the recipe, go here: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/paula-deen/southwest-georgia-pound-cake-recipe.html.

Also, you’re supposed to bake this cake in a Bundt pan that creates a whole in the middle. My grandmother ALWAYS chops up an apple and stuffs the slices in the whole or just throws them into the container covering the cake. This makes the cake smell like apples and also adds moisture to the air which the cold oven pound cake needs since cakes normally progressively dry out. Because this cake will last a few days, you’ll need to add more apple slices or replace them as they dry out every day or so.

No one on the internet is putting apple slices into the cake hole after it is baked. This is a missed opportunity….

Side note: I grew up with a family tradition to eat certain foods on New Years Day for luck. I haven’t many people that follow this tradition so I wanted to share. For this meal each food is supposed to represent a source of good fortune in the upcoming year. The meal includes black eyed peas which are supposed to represent coins for money, collard greens to represent good health, and ham to represent strength, although no one can ever seem to remember what anything means except for the black eyed peas. I remember this being the one day that my mom would pressure my siblings to eat their whole plate otherwise they would have bad luck.

Eat ya peas and greens!  Gotta make all that coin this year!


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