Professor of History and Latin American Studies
Where did you go to school?
I did my BA in anthropology at UMass/Amherst where I completed an honors thesis on the participation of women in the Nicaraguan Revolution. I returned to UMass to do my Masters in Latin American History, which is when I began working on Guatemala. I then went to Tulane for my PhD in Latin American History.
What do you teach?
I teach a wide range of courses that are designed to provide multiple ways of approaching historical topics. These include a series of survey courses in Latin American, U.S., and European history. I also teach reading seminars on colonialism, environmental history, agricultural history, and ethnohistory. Finally, I teach courses on the ground in Latin America that focus on helping students develop the skills to conceptualize, plan, and carry out sophisticated intercultural research projects in communities. This community-based teaching is intended to help students develop the capability and competence to work in community settings around the world.
Why do you teach at COA?
COA has a unique, institution-wide commitment to individually-designed and student-driven education. This means that students who come here participate in an educational process that helps them develop the skills of self-direction and creative thinking. I came to COA because I was impressed by the student body and their genuine desire to learn in unconventional ways. After teaching in a variety of other institutions, I recognized that as unusual if not unique.
The education here can be deeply transformational for students, and that is what I believe higher education should be all about. It's complicated and sometimes chaotic, but I have seen students do remarkable things that no single faculty member could do. I have also always commented that the college is like a tiny artisanal workshop were exquisite work is done laboriously by master craftsmen who take tremendous pride in their work. With the transformation of higher education over the last few decades it is critical to have a small school that offers a model of how things can and should be done in higher education.
How long have you been part of the COA community? What has changed?
I have been here for over a decade; in that time the college has experienced a profound and thoroughgoing internationalization of the campus and curriculum. I was hired as part of an intentional plan to internationalize the college's curriculum, so it is exciting to see the success we have had in this regard. I would also comment that in the time I have been here the college has become more conventional in many ways. A key challenge is to preserve the experimental and visionary approach of the place.
What new course would you like to design?
I am designing a new course on the history of agriculture, using the apple as the focus to explore the ways in which farming and food have changed here in Maine. It will connect the local and global aspects of apples with the practical skills of making cider and orcharding. I am also developing a food and culture class, which will explore small rural communities in southern Europe (Italy and Spain) as places to examine the history of food and agrarian issues in global context.
Which project thrills you most to assign and witness?
The work I do in international settings is some of the most rewarding. I enjoy watching a student lean into a major research project -- one that requires them to push deeply into their own presumptions and knowledge. It is the transformational dimensions for students as they engage intensely different ways of living and being that is so fascinating. I enjoy working with students to honor the people they work with in intercultural settings. They often accomplish this through conveying the local knowledge of a specific place back to their friends and peers on campus. I also love seminars where students read important texts and discuss them with their peers. The skill of talking together about books while exploring ideas that are exciting is also a transformational form of learning for many students. As a humanist, the kind of community of learning that emerges in a seminar is a rewarding dimension of teaching.
What does COA stand for?
C - Challenge - The practice of faculty pushing students to challenge their assumptions while students challenge faculty to be agile, creative, and dynamic.
O - Organic - The learning we do here flows and moves in ways that respond to the rhythms of student interest, global events, and sheer curiosity. It is not always pretty.
A - Alternative - The college must remain an explicit alternative to more conventional forms of higher education. The radicalism of the institution's early years is a precious and delicate legacy we must carefully nurture.
If your students were fruit, you'd have a class full of ...
apples....each one has seeds that will produce something unlike themselves.
Where are your roots?
I have roots in Maine. I come from Georgia.
Beyond teaching at COA, which projects or passions energize you?
I have been restoring a 230-year old house in Ellsworth. That is both energizing and exhausting. It is a perfect house for an environmentally-conscious historian. I am also deeply interested in the local history of apples. Finally, I have been working slowly on the history of ethnicity in southern New Spain (Guatemala).
Which books do you keep on your desk, in your pocket, on your nightstand?
It changes all the time. I am a voracious reader of random things, even as I read for work.
If you have a vehicle, does it have bumper stickers? What do they say?
Only one...a catch and release sticker.
What can't you live without?
Coffee, Chocolate, my family, and good friends.
What brings you joy?
My kids, fly fishing, good food, and good wine.
Describe your ideal academic moment.
The moment when a student has pushed so deeply into a topic that their ownership of the learning they have done propels them into another completely unknown and vertiginous territory.
What role should rebellion or revolution play in contemporary societies?
Society needs those revolutionary/rebellious thinkers who push us all to see things in new ways. I am deeply opposed to the use of violence, so I choose to think of the ways contrarian and radical thinkers propel society to a new place.
Which rule, theory, assumption most needs dismantling?
The idea that technology makes our lives easier.
What is the most compelling question for the future of the College?
Do we have the courage and conviction to remain a radical alternative institution? How well we address the paradox of how to foster genuinely creative and innovative thinking in an institutional setting will define if we become just another small college or remain a truly unique place.