In 1983 I immigrated from Peterborough, Ontario to Sarasota, Florida at the age of thirteen and the experience of moving from the north to the south, and of suddenly being not only a Canadian but a Floridian, sparked what would become my life's work and personal passion: documenting and writing about people's sense and perception of home.
I earned my doctorate in sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and have over twenty years of ethnographic and curatorial experience documenting the histories of small communities, families and individuals in South Asia, midwestern Canada, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Arizona, New Mexico, the borderlands between Canada and the northeastern United States, Mexico, Central America, New England and New York City. These projects have all had a strong focus on people's everyday lives and culture, legal inequalities and injustice and, perhaps most importantly, the research methods used to gather, catalogue and share this data, both with the people who provided it, as well as other academics, students and the general public. I describe some these projects below.
As an undergraduate and during my first years of graduate school, I received grants from the American Institute of Indian Studies, to do ethnographic and newspaper archival research on the regional and class differences of families who defended the social custom of dowry, which, had become a very popular practice in South India in the late 1990s, despite being illegal since 1961 and not even very common in those parts of India when it was legal. During this time I mastered an Indian language, Telugu, so I could work without a translator and learned a lot about the ways that language can minimize the gap between researcher and subject, especially when gathering data. I collected oral histories from over twenty-five families during this time and analyzed over sixty years of marital newspaper want-ads and announcements, which I later published and presented in my Master Thesis, as well as several academic papers.
A little later on in my years as a graduate student, I was hired by the Canadian Forest Service and the University of Alberta, to gather data in the backwoods of Manitoba on the ways that people's work and lives in or nearby newsprint mills became ingrained in their sense of personal identity, regardless of how environmentally dangerous these mills were or could become. Not only did this research require me to communicate with and become close to several different kinds of forest dwellers - English speaking mill workers, Ojibway speaking lumberjacks, French speaking farmers and all of these forest dwellers' families and wives - I often had to act as a liaison between these groups and the team of natural scientists and economists I was hired by and working with at the Forest Service and University of Alberta.
I spent over five years gathering data in Manitoba and my findings and experiences have been published in several academic papers and governmental reports. They also are the basis of my forthcoming book Home Goings, which, in addition to the research I just mentioned, also specifically foregrounds the stories and histories of forest dwellers whose numbers are too few to ever be officially counted by the government as a demographic group, even though some of them settled in these backwoods over two generations ago. They include communities of workers and whole nuclear families and extended families, such as the Catholic and Anglican missionaries, priests and nuns who set up and continue to manage the boarding schools for Native Canadian children, female bush camp workers (mostly cooks), a Chinese family who owns and operates the only restaurant other than a Dairy Queen for miles around and a Jewish family who owns and operates the only bakery.
After returning from Manitoba, I continued to document the lives of people who live off the rustic margins. In the late 1990s I was hired by the University of Wisconsin-Madison Medical School to travel to and gather data on Native American's access to public health care on the Chippewa, Potawatomi, Ho-Chunk and Navajo Nations and my research was published in a 1998 issue of Public Health Reports. Later, from May of 2006 until September of 2007, I produced a series of audio documentaries on the French-Canadian, Franco-American, Italian-American and Amish-American communities settled all along the borders between New York, Ontario, Vermont and Québec, as well as families and individuals living on both the Canadian and American sides of the Mohawk Nation at Akwesasane. During this time, I also gathered audio diaries from migrant farm workers from Mexico and Central America and in the summer of 2007 spent several months working out of Guatemala to gather more data, voices and sounds from the families these workers left behind.
My most recent work has shifted from the rural to the urban and the present to the past and has been focused on the artistic and bohemian communities who moved through and sometimes settled in New York City in the late 1940s and early 1950s. My research on Kerouac has been exhibited at the Denver Public Library and will be included in my book Jack Kerouac, The Beauty Parts. I have also been called on to discuss Kerouac and his archive as an expert on national public television and radio, including the PBS NewsHour in the fall of 2007, as well as in Malin Korkesato and Maris Ramstöm's With Love, From Carolyn (2011), a documentary film.
In addition to my work on Kerouac, I have also worked on the archives of another notable American artist, composer and musician David Amram. From the summer of 2006 until the fall of 2013, I curated and fully digitized Amram's archive of symphony and movie scores, chamber pieces and other professional and personal documents accumulated over his sixty plus year career. This project was acquired by the Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts at the New York Public Library. It required me to hire and supervise a small team of graduate and undergraduate students, as well as create and manage the public events arranged to celebrate this archive, which has been noted by some music critics and ethnomusicologists to be particularly important, since it contains musical scores written on paper and in ink, as opposed to on a computer.
I have very strong audio, visual and digital media production skills. I have been using digital audio recording equipment for gathering data since the winter of 1998 and formally studied digital audio production at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University in the spring and summer of 2006. I have produced many audio and video documentaries for public radio and television and once guest curated and edited a special edition of the on-line academic journal Fast Capitalism, which not only encouraged academic social scientists to learn how to express themselves through digital media, but also contained several projects specifically featuring family histories.
In May of 2011, I created and produced a full length digital play about the novelist Jack Kerouac for the Reorb.it Digital Theatre Company out of San Francisco. And finally, since the spring of 2013, I have received over one hundred hours of training from both Purchase College-SUNY and the College of Mount Saint Mary (Newburgh, NY) in on-line course construction and so am very familiar with many academic digital platforms, including library databases.
From August 2007 through September 2008, I produced several very large and high profile public events including collaborations with the Denver Public Library, Rocky Mountain Public Broadcasting, PBS' Masterpiece Theatre, the Denver Art Museum, the Wyoming Arts and Humanities Council, the Nation magazine and the 2008 Democratic National Convention. My work with the Nation and 2008 Democratic Convention included producing a short film based on people's personal recollections about using public libraries, including those of the civil right activist the Reverend Jesse Jackson, who grew up and came of age in the segregated South.