I'm working on several research projects, some on my own, others in collaboration with colleague Dr. Danine Farquharson, examining how culture produces the North Atlantic offshore oil industry. In Newfoundland and Labrador, oil extraction has transformed our province’s economy in ways that have myriad consequences for the every day lives of its inhabitants. Yet, how are we to interpret these changes? How might we “read” oil? What kinds of cultural frames potentially shape our responses to it? Danine and I have an essay on offshore oil rigs in Fueling Culture: Politics, History, Energy, edited by Imre Szeman, Jennifer Wenzel and Patricia Yaeger. Working in the energy humanities field has led to our joining the Petrocultures Research Group, and the After Oil initiative at the University of Alberta. I participated in the first "After Oil School" in Edmonton in fall 2015, and in the collaborative writing of the book After Oil. Danine and I also co-organized the third Petrocultures conference, Petrocultures 2016: The Offshore, which took place from 31 August-3 September 2016 at Memorial University in St. John’s. You can learn more about our research on the North Atlantic offshore at our website, Cold Water Oil.
I've recently edited a book for University of Toronto Press focusing on the Indigenous Beothuk people of Newfoundland. Tracing Ochre: Changing Perspectives on the Beothuk evolved from a SSHRC-funded workshop collaborator Dr. Lianne Leddy and I hosted in St John’s in June 2013 which brought together respected Indigenous and non-Indigenous scholars from a wide range of disciplines, as well as distinguished Mi’kmaq and Innu community leaders. The Beothuk exercise a tenacious hold on the imaginations of those who displaced them. Typically figured as an isolated, primitive tribe who disappeared in 1829, they evoke both fascination and guilt. These long established perceptions have created a range of negative consequences, most notably for surviving Indigenous people in Atlantic Canada. Indeed, when Newfoundland and Labrador joined the Canadian nation in 1949, no provision was made for the island's Mi'kmaw inhabitants, on the grounds that Indigenous people were supposedly extinct.
Over the last decade or so, entrenched beliefs about the Beothuk have begun to come under scrutiny. Demands for a reassessment can be found in such diverse contexts as art, ethnomusicology, archaeology, literary studies, genetics, and history. Tracing Ochre gathers, interrogates and expands upon this innovative thinking. In the process, it aims to definitively shift established scholarly and public perceptions about the Beothuk.
Tracing Ochre had its roots in an earlier comparative study of the aftermath of colonization in Tasmania and Newfoundland.
In 2007 I received a SSHRC Standard Research Grant to look at how images in literature, film, art and popular culture have reflected and shaped perceptions of two women: the Beothuk Shanawdithit, who died in St. John’s, Newfoundland, in 1829, and Truganini, of the Neuonnne, who died in Hobart, Tasmania, in 1876. Both were hastily and incorrectly depicted by the settler cultures that had appropriated their homelands as the last of their respective races. This has had real, political implications for contemporary Indigenous people on the two islands. The persistence of Indigenous communities in both Newfoundland and Tasmania has frequently been obscured by the insistence on Shawnadithit’s and Truganini’s respective statuses as the “last.”
You can access links below to some of the articles that resulted from Not the Last of Her Race.
“Reading Shanawdithit’s Drawings: Transcultural Texts in the North American Colonial World,” Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History 14.3 (2013).
“Art in the Bush: Romanticist Painting for Indigenous Audiences in Tasmania and Newfoundland.” Nineteenth-Century Contexts 33.4 (2011): 333-351.
“Memory against History: Figuring the Past in Cloud of Bone.” English Studies in Canada 35.4 (2009): 53-69.
My interest in island imaginaries dates back to the doctoral dissertation on contemporary fiction about Tasmania and Newfoundland that I completed at the University of Tasmania back in the early 2000s. It’s continued to inflect much of my research, and has become a focus of my teaching, too. Work I’ve published on the subject includes:
“Taking the Waters: Abjection and Homecoming in The Shipping News and Death of a River Guide.” Journal of Commonwealth Literature 41.1 (2006): 93-110.
“Home Births: Women and Regional Space in The Sound of One Hand Clapping and Waiting for Time.” Australasian-Canadian Studies 22.2 (2004) – 23.1 (2005): 181-208.