"Now, when I say that I am in the habit of going to sea whenever I get hazy about the eyes, I do not wish to have it inferred that I ever go to sea as a passenger." --Herman Melville, Moby Dick
I earned my doctorate in the department of English at New York University in 2009 where I wrote a dissertation on nineteenth-century American anti-slavery literature and early photography. While at NYU, I was awarded a Dean's Dissertation Completion Fellowship for 2008-2009, and I joined the Humanities Initiative that year as an Honorary Fellow. Following graduation, I joined the faculty of the Division of English in the School of Humanities and Social Science at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, where I spent three exciting and fruitful years.
My first book Girl in Black and White: the story of Mary Mildred Williams (Norton 2019) illuminates the influence of photography in the campaign to abolish slavery in the US by focusing on a daguerreotype of a seven-year-old girl named Mary. Mary spent her first three months of freedom, from February to April 1855, as America’s first poster child. Her image passed hand-to-hand through the Capitol, she was described in dozens of newspapers, and she joined Solomon Northup on the lecture circuit "as an illustration of Slavery." Senator Charles Sumner calls Mary "another Ida May" after the white heroine of the bestselling anti-slavery romance, Ida May.
With Broadview Press, I brought Ida May: A Story of Things Actual and Possible (1854) by Mary Hayden Green Pike, the antislavery romance that occasioned Sumner’s interest in Mary, back into print in 2017.
I first found mention of Mary in 2006. In 2012 and 2013, I was awarded two competitive grants for dedicated archival research to find out more about Mary—from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Antiquarian Society, and from the Newhouse Center for the Humanities at Wellesley College—and I have spent years in archives, courthouses, and interviews uncovering all I could of her untold story.
While in research residence in Massachusetts, I was contacted by Joan Gage, who had bought a copy daguerreotype of Mary on Ebay. Collecting photography and blogging about it had become Joan’s hobby in retirement. She had found my earlier article on Mary, “Another Ida May: Photography and the American Abolition Campaign” (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010) online, and knew there was more to the story. She lived a short drive away, so we met to talk anti-slavery photography over lunch in Worcester. When we saw each other, it became clear that, by chance, we had met years before in a mountainside village along the Greek-Albanian border. Joan had been accompanying her daughter Eleni Gage on that trip. Eleni was the writer for a story on Greece that I had been sent to photograph for Travel + Leisure.
Photography is not just my academic interest: I am also an editorial photographer with the team Morgan & Owens. In our 12 years sharing this by-line, my husband James and I have photographed for dozens of magazines, and in 2008, we won the coveted “PDN30” award for emerging photographers. We have been assigned to shoot towns and cities across Asia, the Americas, and Europe.
My next project will be based on the journals of John Thomson, the first photographer at Angkor Wat. That project originated in our own photographic practice, as our assignments with Morgan & Owens have brought us to places that Thomson photographed first: Singapore, Penang, Laos, and China.
My teaching practice is grounded in participatory pedagogies and seminar-style, inquiry based learning. As a professor, I taught nineteenth century America and photography for five years, from 2007 to 2012. In June 2014, I took up the role of Dean of Bard Early College in New Orleans, an initiative to increase access to college and the liberal arts by offering tuition-free, immersive college experiences for public high school students. New Orleans is my home, and this is my passion work.
I believe that success happens in crowds, and my friendships and family are my greatest treasures. You know who you are. Thank you. I love you.