I am an Associate Professor of Gender Studies at Memorial University. I am the recipient of numerous grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), and have also won a variety of awards for my research, writing, and teaching. Most recently, in March 2015, I was awarded the Dean of Arts Award for Teaching Excellence.
I teach undergraduate and graduate courses in feminist theories and methodologies, identities and difference, life writing, bodies and embodiment, feminist practices, and contemporary feminist issues. I have supervised or am supervising students with research interests in tattooing and embodied identity, trans identity and performance, breastfeeding and maternal desire, feminist performance art, doula work, gender-based violence, African-American women’s filmmaking, feminist geographies, online fandoms, and fallen woman literature, among others.
As a researcher, I am most interested in stories and storytelling. More specifically, I explore how people understand and tell their life stories and examine the role that the body plays in the telling of such stories. I am interested in how individuals shape their identities, and how these identities are, in turn, shaped by the social, cultural and political worlds they inhabit.
Methodologically, I work in the areas of life writing, auto/biography, and autoethnography. I work with textual and visual methods and am happiest when I can lose myself in the archives.
My research has taken me in numerous directions, from considerations of gender, class, embodiment, identity and citizenship in eighteenth-century medical letters (2015a, 2015b, 2014a, 2014b), to breastfeeding selfies and virtual activism (2015; open access), autobiographies of infanticide in trial records (2015; open access), vulnerability as longing in the writing of Hélène Cixous (2013), auto/ethnography and the embodiment of maternal grief (2012), political agency in women’s letters to J. R. Smallwood, the first premier of Newfoundland (2014), and the autobiographical performances of death and dying (2008), among others. From 2010-2015, I also maintained a research and writing blog at tellingtheflesh.com. As I state it there, the blog is: “Part repository for intriguing articles, part research journal, part free form rumination, this blog seeks to explore the myriad ways in which we tell the flesh…and it tells us.” In September 2015, I began a new collaborative blog, salwaterstories.net, in relation to my current research project.
All of this work circles around the same main questions: How do we tell the stories of who we are? What social, cultural and political forces shape those tellings? How do we navigate the worlds we inhabit, and how do we stake our claims to belonging? Where and how do we situate our stories of self? Why do we tell these stories? What larger stories can autobiographies and autoethnographies tell? And why should we care?
My current research project, “Saltwater Stories: Migration, Memory and Identity at the Water’s Edge” (SSHRC funded, 2015-2017), is an autoethnographic case study that investigates identities formed at what Mary Louise Pratt has termed the “contact zone,” the muddied waters between historical, geographical and political borders. I use the contact zone of the waterfront as a conceptual metaphor for the relationships between memory, migration, identity, and the landscape, key themes that structure this project. The waterfront is where commodities meet the market, where people come together, and where water meets land. The waterfront is also a material space, embodied in the harbours that managed transnational exchange. In this sense, Water Street in St. John’s can be seen as analogous to the Waterfront District in Paramaribo, Suriname, or the harbour areas of Vlissingen, and Middelburg, The Netherlands. My work focuses on these spaces, which have been mutually shaped by colonial histories. This project will use a multi-methods approach that includes archival work, visual methods, reflexive mapping, and memory work, Four key questions frame this study: 1) What are the relationships between the waterfront, migration, memory, and identity?; 2) What role do colonial histories of migration play in shaping contemporary identities?; 3) What are the relationships between space, place, and identity; and 4) What are the possibilities of transnational identity?
Notions of citizenship, identity, belonging and embodiment are also central to the research project I just finished. In Telling the Flesh: Life Writing, Citizenship and the Body in the Letters to Samuel Auguste Tissot (MQUP, 2015), funded by SSHRC (2011-2015) and nominated for SSHRC’s Aurora Prize, I engage in a close reading of eighteenth-century medical consultation letters addressed to the celebrated Enlightenment physician, Samuel-Auguste Tissot. Drawing on corporeal feminist theory, feminist political theory, fat studies, and disability studies, I argue that the individuals who wrote to Tissot used their letters to advance a form of what I term corporal citizenship; that is, they leveraged their bodily workings to assert their rights to citizenship and belonging. Some of my musings in the area of life writing, citizenship and the body can be found here: http://tellingtheflesh.com.
Bodily knowledge, in this case as a site of articulating difference, is also central to my first book. In The Life of Madame Necker: Sin, Redemption and the Parisian Salon (Pickering & Chatto, 2011), funded by SSHRC (2004-2008), I argue that the bodily sufferings of Suzanne Curchod Necker, a Swiss-born salon woman who lived most of her adult life in Paris, were the result of intense psychic suffering, the result both of unresolved guilt in relationship with her death of her mother, and of struggling to assert her Calvinist faith in the decadent world of the French elite. Religiously, socially and politically marked by her difference, Madame Necker’s moral and psychic sufferings manifested themselves in decades of unexplained bodily sufferings, sufferings which became intrinsic to her performance of self, what I term in the book “corporeal autobiography.”
I also have a professional background in historically-informed performance. I was principal flute of and a frequent soloist with the Portland Baroque Orchestra from 1999-2006 and performed as a soloist, chamber and orchestral musician with such organisations as the Toronto Symphony, Hallé Orchestra (Manchester, UK), Holland Festival of Early Music, Early Music Vancouver, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra (San Francisco), Pacific Baroque Orchestra (Vancouver), Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival and MusicFest Vancouver.