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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not only were women less likely to read and write than men, unmarried women's lives are often absent from many of the historical documents that do remain.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. 


Current Research

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Recent Publications

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.
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I contributed an essay entitled "'Ourselves Writ savage': Disease, Desire, and Colonialism in Kuru Country" for a "Disease and Exploration" special issue of the journal Terrae Incognitae. 

This essay interrogates the intersections of colonialism, western science, and desire through an analysis of the outbreak of kuru in Papua New Guinea in the mid-20th century. I argue that cannibalism drew eyes to the eastern highlands, and the discovery of kuru kept the colonial gaze fixed firmly on the region. Finally, I explore how the appetites of D. Carleton Gajdusek, both medical and sexual, further entrenched western power.

Este ensayo interroga las intersecciones del colonialismo, la ciencia occidental y el deseo a través de un análisis del brote de kuru en Papúa Nueva Guinea a mediados del siglo XX. Sostengo que el canibalismo atrajo la atención colonial hacia las tierras altas orientales de Nueva Guinea, y el descubrimiento del kuru mantuvo la mirada colonial firmemente fijada en la región. Finalmente, exploro cómo los apetitos de D. Carleton Gajdusek, tanto médicos como sexuales, afianzaron aún más el poder occidental en la zona.
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This essay situates the life of Mary Kittamaquund Brent, the so-called "Pocahontas of Maryland," within the larger context of intercultural diplomacy in seventeenth-century Maryland. It argues that the marriage between Mary, an eleven-year-old girl and the daughter of the Tayac (chief) of the Piscataway Confederacy, and Giles Brent, a forty-year-old member of a wealthy English Catholic family, demonstrates that sex and reproduction were key strategies for establishing diplomatic relationships between groups and for securing power in a particularly tumultuous time. Illuminating Mary Kittamaquund Brent's position as an embodied locus of power struggles between Chesapeake tribes and Anglo-Marylanders discloses both the role of Indigenous women in diplomacy and the importance of kinship in interethnic alliances. This article provides a brief background of Piscataway and Maryland colonial history, contextualizes the marriage of Giles and Mary Kittamaquund Brent, analyzes the place of sex and reproduction in western shore diplomacy, and considers Mary Kittamaquund Brent's place in the history of the seventeenth-century Chesapeake.
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