Stuff I’m Working On

The Unnatural History of Natural Food

This project maps out the shifting contours of the idea of “natural food” in the United States beginning around the early nineteenth-century as religious and health reformers responded to the emergence of new convenience and packaged foods. Perhaps because the term “natural” has become so ubiquitous, its long and complex history has been overlooked. Yet it provides a revealing lens onto popular relationships between nature, technology, and modernity. Even amidst massive cultural change over the last century, the way appeals to natural food have been formulated, contested, and appropriated provides much needed perspective on contemporary (but often ahistorical and reductive) debates about the meaning and implications of natural food, its place in our food system, and ways it continues to shape food production and consumption.

Sustainable Student-driven Digital Public History Websites

Many of my classes now produce some kind of digital public history project rather than standard essays and other assignments. Honestly, I like working with students to build things a lot more than just working through a more traditional grading regimen. Students indicate that they enjoy it, work harder, and learn more. Each class makes new contributions, and over time that work adds up to digital history projects that would be nearly impossible to do otherwise.

While the number of student-driven digital history projects seems to be on the rise, there also seems to be a fair amount of reinventing the wheel within each project. Some duplication is necessary for many reasons, but there would be many benefits in having a more centralized place for explaining a strategy for planning and executing these kinds of projects, both from technical and logistical standpoints.

With an emphasis on simplicity, sustainability, and thorough documentation, this project seeks to develop and maintain a jumping off point for public digital history projects with GitHub and GitHub Pages. My aim is to provide a middle ground between lo-tech platforms like Wordpress that sacrifice too much editorial control and entirely hand-coded websites that are too difficult to maintain.

There are three ongoing projects (each described in more detail below) helping me to refine the generic framework: Historic Sites on the Santa Fe Trail, UNM Campus History, and an Intro Guide to Historiography.

You can check out the latest version of Jekylton in my repository and use it as a template for a new project.

A brief set of slides provides more detail.

Digital Heritage Studies

Over the last year, my departmental colleague Taylor Spence and I have been working to formalize a new undergraduate minor and graduate certificate in Digital Heritage Studies at UNM. This program capitalizes on UNM’s position at the crossroads of both regional and international cultures, and offers undergraduates and graduates the opportunity to create a powerful synergy between their chosen major or research interests, the cultural diversity of the Southwest, core tenets of the humanities, and public digital humanities.

To promote digital research and publishing skills more broadly, faculty and students will collectively operate a Digital Heritage Lab, which will offer training for students in the conception, implementation, and maintenance of regional digital humanities projects, as well as integrate the certificate program to cultural heritage partners around the region.

The DHS grew out of a Spatial Humanities Working Group, which helped build connections across disciplinary boundaries by providing an informal setting in which students and faculty across the university could meet to discuss theoretical, conceptual, and methodological questions regarding space and human societies.

Digital National Historic Trails

Working with the National Historic Trails Intermountain Region (NTIR) Office, UNM history graduate student Guy McClellan and I organized an multidisciplinary research practicum course (the syllabus is archived here) that provided an introduction to the study, interpretation, and significance of the National Historic Trails System, as well as engaged students as core contributors to ongoing research projects at the NTIR office. As preparation for research projects, students read about trail historiography, overland migration, gender dynamics on the trail, interactions with native communities, international commerce, and borderlands. The strong public history facet of the course encouraged students to grapple with key questions about historic trails and national memory: How does a historic trail retain cultural significance? What are the challenges and strategies in communicating about the trails to a 21st-century audience? Our work came to life on a website on the National Historic Sites on the Santa Fe Trail.

This course has been generalized into a course on landscape and memory that contributes to the SFT website in the same way.

UNM Campus Histories

When walking around campus, it’s easy to accept that the space around us just is, or is as it should be. But the history of the campus tells a different story. Reflecting on the history of the space around us helps us to become more attune to the power of spatial relationships and to become more conscious consumers and shapers of the environments we inhabit. See our research from the Center for Southwest Research at our UNM Campus History website.

Intro to Historiography

Despite the importance of historiography to anyone interested in history, it’s frequently mired in abstract theoretical, philosophical, and methodological jargon. This project showcases the collaborative essays produced by an advanced undergraduate historiography course at the University of New Mexico. The essays collected here take both a chronological and thematic approach to highlighting important continuities and and ruptures in the way people have conceived and produced historical interpretations of the western world.

Our collectively written and edited Intro Guide to Historiography is building over time an accessible and welcoming guide for new undergraduates to understand the basics and importance of historiography for not only history itself, but also more critical civil engagement.

Isn’t there more?

Read about older project work