University of Delaware
I am a geographer. I research how scientists and experts grapple with the interaction between humans and the urban environment. I focus on those experts who presume that this interaction produces populations that are deficient, disadvantaged, and/or diseased.
I interrogate these relationships in a variety of time periods: how cholera and marshland was thought to make cities inherently unhealthy (1870s-1890s); how religious pilgrims were blamed global pandemics (1890s-1920s); how inner-city environments were feared to lower children’s IQ (1950s-1960s); and how environmental toxins are suspected to be the cause of the autism epidemic (1990s-present). I trace how experts measure and demarcate these populations through ecology and biology, but also urban planning and public health, and propose solutions. The basis of my book manuscript is a concept I have called ‘proliferating life’ that illustrates how experts feared the increase of unhealthy and deficient urban populations.
My projects arise directly from dissertation research on cholera, marsh reclamation, and the science and expertise of urban health. I traced the historical links between the state control of cholera with the ecology and economy of urban waterfronts to show the ways that they reinforce one another. My dissertation research unpacks how North American cities prepared for cholera pandemic that threatened, but never became the crisis that it was feared to be. My purpose was to show how major shifts in local ecologies, city form, state institutions, and social practices come not from the crisis itself, but from the planning and speculation around future outbreaks. My research contributes to the fields of environmental politics, science studies, and public health, but I draw on fields ranging from the science of microbiology to urban planning to state theory.
I do not put aside my critical inquiry when I enter the classroom; instead I work through new research questions and the ongoing debates in geography with my students. My pedagogical method inspires students to question urban processes, current crises, and health interventions by examining the relations between political struggle and historical change. Questioning the nuanced interplay between health and environmental geography has become an essential part of my historically informed pedagogy. The distance from bygone disasters, and the corresponding misplaced responses, has allowed me to challenge the politics of today’s impending crises.
I am obsessed with many things (in no particular order):
cholera, cities, capital, infectious disease, ecology, state, ideology, public health, science, malthus, nature versus nurture, eugenics, disinfection, hygiene, marshlands, social infrastructures, urban planning, population, zymosis, darwin, degeneration, urban crisis of the 1960s, I.Q., economism, moral panics, medical topography, geographies of fear, the future, quarantine, migration, microbiology, epidemiology, diphtheria, neurasthenia, miasma, international sanitary conferences, international health board, the politics of funding, SARS, de-politicization, efficiency movement, biomedicine, nationalism, public charge, migration, border crossing, bills of health, milieu, vaccines, autism, spectrum disorders, and so on.