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RESEARCH

I am a historical and environmental anthropologist, and I study how people politicize impure” environments in the long afterlife of American industry. My current work is based in Baltimore, where I follow industrialism’s enduring traces in toxified landscapes, patchy regulation, quotidian expressions of white supremacy, and particular orientations toward time. I am especially interested in what kinds of environmental futures take form amid these legacies. 

 

In my forthcoming book, Futures after Progress: Hope and Doubt in Late Industrial Baltimore, currently in production at the University of Chicago Press, I explore the central role of speculation in American life, from the vantage point of late industrial South Baltimore. Written and researched with support from the National Science Foundation, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, and the American Council of Learned Societies, the book draws on over a decade of fieldwork among Baltimore residents, activists, industrialists, and bureaucrats, and archival study covering more than 200 years. It tells the story of a place forged to enable futures elsewhere: from its early life as a quarantine zone under precautionary public-health regimes; through years spent provisioning the military for both real and speculative warfare; and culminating in plans to build the nation's largest trash incinerator there, billed as a climate solution and euphemistically called the Fairfield Renewable Energy Project. Early on, I show how efforts by city, state, nation, and corporation to master the future through ever more conjectural modes of governance have produced an ambiguously toxic atmosphere that has shaved years off locals’ lives. Later, I consider how people living with these burdens relate to the future from a present marked by doubt, after long-held expectations fall apart. Much of the ethnography tracks debates over the proposed incinerator, which were themselves debates about what residents could reasonably desire from within the haze kicked up by an aging industrial order. By following people’s efforts to plant their feet at the end of that worldso uncertain that conjecture has become a mode of lifethe book seeks insights into the paths we might yet take, in the face of ecological apocalypse. 

I am also pursuing two new projects. One stays in Baltimore but takes a more explicit turn toward climate change governance, investigating efforts to steel the city for increasingly strange weather. In this project, I study how vacant homes and crumbling infrastructure are being reimagined as “systemic vulnerabilities.” The second project—supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Science Foundation, the Cornell Society for the Humanities, the Cornell Center for Social Sciences, and the President’s Council of Cornell Women—concerns the rising tide of ecofascist sentiments in the United States, focusing on the dark utopian visions that sustain them and those visions’ roots in the genocidal environmentalism of the US settler state. Like Futures After Progress, both works combine ethnographic research with intensive archival study, contributing to a research program that lies at the intersection of anthropology and US history.

 

Before joining Cornell, I was a Collegiate Assistant Professor and Harper-Schmidt Fellow at the University of Chicago. Before that, I earned my doctorate in anthropology at George Washington University. And before that, I worked toward a master's degree in education at Johns Hopkins while teaching elementary school in south Baltimore City.

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