I am working on several projects at the moment. What unites them is my commitment to uncovering the gendered and sexual nature of colonial power.
My current book project focuses on the intersections of bio-colonialism, medicine, science, sex, and sexuality through the life and work of Nobel Prize winning physician scientist, and convicted child sex abuser, Daniel Carlton Gajdusek. This work is tentatively entitled The Pied Piper of Papua New Guinea: The Sexual and Scientific Appetites of D. Carleton Gajdusek. I presented an overview of this project at the Hall Center for the Humanities at the University of Kansas in 2022, which you can watch here.
I am also actively working on another project which centers the study of unmarried women in colonial North America. Research into the lives of single women is particularly challenging; not only were women less likely to read and write than men, unmarried women's lives are often absent from many of the historical documents that do remain. I contend that we need new historical theories and models to interrogate the lives of these so-called spinsters.
A comparative history of cross-cultural encounters and the critical role of cannibalism in the early modern period
Cannibalism, for medieval and early modern Europeans, was synonymous with savagery. Humans who ate other humans, they believed, were little better than animals. The European colonizers who encountered Native Americans described them as cannibals as a matter of course, and they wrote extensively about the lurid cannibal rituals they claim to have witnessed.
In this definitive analysis, Kelly L. Watson argues that the persistent rumors of cannibalism surrounding Native Americans served a specific and practical purpose for European settlers. These colonizers had to forge new identities for themselves in the Americas and find ways to not only subdue but also co-exist with native peoples. They established hierarchical categories of European superiority and Indian inferiority upon which imperial power in the Americas was predicated.
In her close read of letters, travel accounts, artistic renderings, and other descriptions of cannibals and cannibalism, Watson focuses on how gender, race, and imperial power intersect within the figure of the cannibal. Watson reads cannibalism as a part of a dominant European binary in which civilization is rendered as male and savagery is seen as female, and she argues that as Europeans came to dominate the New World, they continually rewrote the cannibal narrative to allow for a story in which the savage, effeminate, cannibalistic natives were overwhelmed by the force of virile European masculinity.
Original and historically grounded, Insatiable Appetites uses the discourse of cannibalism to uncover the ways in which difference is understood in the West.
I contributed a chapter entitled "Sex and Cannibalism: The Politics of Carnal Relations between Europeans and American 'Anthropophagites' in the Caribbean and Mexico," to this prize-winning collection
Long before the founding of the Jamestown, Virginia, colony and its Starving Time of 1609–1610—one of the most famous cannibalism narratives in North American colonial history—cannibalism played an important role in shaping the human relationship to food, hunger, and moral outrage. Why did colonial invaders go out of their way to accuse women of cannibalism? What challenges did Spaniards face in trying to explain Eucharist rites to Native peoples? What roles did preconceived notions about non-Europeans play in inflating accounts of cannibalism in Christopher Columbus’s reports as they moved through Italian merchant circles?
Asking questions such as these and exploring what it meant to accuse someone of eating people as well as how cannibalism rumors facilitated slavery and the rise of empires, To Feast on Us as Their Prey posits that it is impossible to separate histories of cannibalism from the role food and hunger have played in the colonization efforts that shaped our modern world.