University of South Florida
College of Arts and Sciences
Office: SOC 290
Ph.D., The College of William and Mary, 2001
My teaching at USF has been as varied as my research interests spanning the colonial era of American history to how that era has been remembered and reimagined over later centuries. I regularly teach Graduate and Undergraduate seminars on the colonial and on the Revolutionary era, but I also have taught many more topically focused seminars.
"Atlantic Piracy" looks at the nexus of the pirates, the rise of capitalism and the slave trade, while also asking how these characters became so sexualized in popular culture. That seminar created and has been maintaining the Wikipedia page entitled Atlantic Pirates. On the strength of my having been involved with museums more or less since I have a life-long interest and involvement with historical museums (South Street Seaport, NPS sites, Colonial Williamsburg, The George Washington Foundation) and so “The American Museum” looks at the development of museums through the lenses of Public History, memory, commemoration, consumerism, colonialism, and more. “Our ‘Founding Fathers’” looks at the figures of the Revolutionary generation to understand both the scholarly debates that surround their efforts and how they have been imagined and used over the course of the Republic’s history. "First Contact" looks at the literature of the Columbian encounter, but also covers contact in Hawaii, Papua New Guinea, and even UFO encounters.
My intermediate level teaching has included courses called American Slavery, Indian-colonial Relations, Early America in Popular Culture, Colonial Lives, Sex and Death in Early America, and The Forgotten American Sixteenth Century. In all of my teaching I like to work with students to really burrow into texts and topics and tend to believe that if we do not learn more about who we are and why we think and live as we do, then it is hard to get all that fired up about the question in the first place. One of my favorite recent classroom projects has been turning my intermediate Colonial America class into an extended role-play game in which the students develop and manage their own colonies through a set of crises and conflicts. I am developing new courses on American travel with a special focus on the Appalachian Trail; American Traditional Music with a special focus on the Appalachian Mountains string band tradition, and the history of Jews in America.
I also love internships and am always looking to find ways to get students into various local and national museums and historical projects. I have a number of projects that let students get the real hands on experience they so need to be competitive on the job market. Since 2001 I have brought about 150 USF students to Virginia to learn the ways and wonders of historical archaeology. I am also working with a number of local museums and community entities as wide ranging as the SS American Victory Mariners’ Museum in Tampa and the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office to create public programing and open up avenues for student engagement. I am very active in USF Faculty Governance and in Jewish life on campus and also serve as the faculty advisor for a number of Jewish student groups. I am involved with USF’s international initiative to promote our graduate and undergraduate programs to overseas students and faculty. Of campus, I am a prize winning old time fiddler, avid backcountry hiker and cyclist, and great fan of the urban chicken. I am always on the lookout for ways to turn these interests into ones that have an effect of campus.
Growing-up in New York City, I was always fascinated by something I became aware of while riding the subway. I had a very detailed and intimate knowledge of the walk from my home to the train station. Each crack in the sidewalk, each curb and sewer grate were the building blocks of my world. I had an equally deep familiarity with the places I visited most frequently at the other end of the line. But in between were places I knew best not as actual streets and buildings and homes and trees, but rather as units of time—how long between stations known only by the names that flashed by. Parts of my city were physical while others were conceptual. I am still intrigued by that idea.
That interest in space has carried on into my historical research. Working as an Historical Archaeologist has allowed me to literally dig into historical places and create meanings for them. Rummaging through American historical documents—as well as graphic sources—looking for discussions of travel, places, tourism, and historical preservation has allowed me to study how American landscapes and places have taken meaning from the early 1500s until today. My work has covered a range of topics from Native guides and colonial European travelers, the cross-cultural meaning of rattlesnake encounters, maritime cannibalism, early Virginia landscapes and built environments, and even Florida tourism and evolutionary theory.
2013 saw the release of Where The Cherry Tree Grew: The Story of Ferry Farm, George Washington’s Boyhood Home published by MacMillan St. Martins Press. That book tells the story of Ferry Farm, George Washington’s childhood home in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Ever since 2001 I have been part of the team excavating that site with my long-standing excavation partner David Muraca. In the book I tell the story of the landscape made famous by Parson Weems’s Cherry Tree story taking it from its earliest days as a meeting place between Natives and newcomers, through a new retelling of Washington’s childhood in light of archaeological evidence, on through the Civil War battle on the site, the Washington Bicentennial of 1932, and on to Walmart’s defeated attempt to put a super center where the Washington home place once stood.
George Washington Written Upon the Land: Nature, Memory, Myth, and Landscape (West Virginia University Press, 2015) is my second book stemming from over a decade of research into Ferry Farm and George Washington’s childhood. This book looks closely at Washington’s childhood years to see the different ways this story has been told and how we might tell it differently in future. The book ranges from biography to historical archaeology to issues of climate change and rabbinic thought.
My main current project is an archaeological biography of George Washington. The book will be a sweeping survey of all the sites related to the many phases of Washington’s life and will examine how what we see of the man and his times from that angle and how these many and varied excavations have contributed to the development of archaeology. I am also working on a book about a very singular 1746 court case, but more about that later.
Early America, Virginia History, Place and Landscape, Historical Archaeology, Public History.