Associate Professor, Associate Chair
Office: SOC 290
Ph.D., The College of William and Mary, 2001
My teaching at USF has been as varied as my research interests. Most of my classes focus on the colonial era, but we often read well beyond those years for parallel examples or to see how people, places, and events took shape in later imaginations. My seminar entitled "First Contact" looks at the literature of the Columbian encounter, but also covers contact in Hawaii, Papua New Guinea, and even UFO encounters. My seminar entitled "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. On the strength of my having been involved with museums more or less since I was fifteen (South Street Seaport, NPS sites, Colonial Williamsburg, The George Washington Foundation) I teach classes on Public History, particularly that of the colonial era and the “Founding Fathers.” I also teach courses on historical theory at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. I have also taught classes 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 work with students to really burrow into texts and topics. I like readings that overlap in odd ways and that come at similar topics from many angles. I very much enjoy working with students to see the deep assumptions historians work so hard to hide from view. I hope to help my students understand that history is not a set of correct facts and biased error, but rather sets of ongoing discussions that change as the people engaging in them change. If we do not learn more about who we are and why we think and live as we do, then I cannot get all that fired up about the question.
I have a number of ongoing research projects that let students get the real hands on experience they so need to be competitive. Since 2001 I have brought nearly 100 USF students to Virginia to learn the ways and wonders of historical archaeology. I am 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. My Atlantic Piracy seminar is formally working in conjunction with Wikipedia to create a whole new Wiki space on Atlantic pirates. All of these are long-term endeavors built on students research and 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. I am also a prize winning old time fiddler, avid backcountry hiker, and great fan of the urban chicken.
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.
February 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. Its is the story of Ferry Farm, George Washington’s childhood home in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Ever since 2001 I have been co-leading the excavations of the 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. Please refer to the book’s Facebook page for more information. Also take a look at this special Pintrest page I have made with Grad Student help to share more site photos than a book insert can cope with.
I am currently writing a second book dealing with Ferry Farm for University of Nebraska Press. That book tentatively entitled Washington Written Upon the Land is a study of Mason Locke “Parson” Weems, Washington, and landscape. That book will be finished by 2014. I am also completing research for a book on a thrilling 1746 court case. More about that later.
In summer of 2013 I will conduct an important forensic archaeology project at the site of George Washington’s birth in Westmoreland County, Virginia. The project is a reexamination of several archaeological studies of the what is called the Washington Birthplace. The project is funded by the National Park Service and will involve a team of USF graduate students working at George Washington Birthplace National Monument.
Early America, Virginia History, Place and Landscape, Historical Archaeology, Public History.
Where the Cherry Tree Grew: The Story of Ferry Farm, George Washington’s Boyhood Home. St. Martin's Press, 2013. View on Amazon
Fellow Travelers: Indians and Europeans Contesting on the Early American Trail. University Press of Florida, May 2007. View on Amazon