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Cindy Ott is an associate professor of history and material culture. Her fields of expertise include American food and culture, environmental humanities, history and memory, material and visual culture, and race and ethnicity studies. Her first book, Pumpkin: The Curious History of an American Icon, published with William Cronon's Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books at the University of Washington Press in 2012, uses this beloved vegetable in all its various guises, from the pie and the jack-o'-lantern to the affectionate term of endearment and the 1000-pound giants, to analyze Americans' long-held and deeply felt veneration of nature and the small family farm and the impacts of those beliefs and traditions on rural communities.
Her current book project, Biscuits and Buffaloes: The Reinvention of American Indian Traditions in the 20th and 21st Centuries Buffalo covers the history of ranching, wheat farming, gardens, rodeo, a 30-year joint project called All-American Indian Days, and the life work of a cook who modernized traditional Crow Indian fare in the fashion of her contemporary Julia Child. Through these stories of the northern Plains Indian communities, Biscuits and Buffalo aims to understand how American Indians have tried to reconcile their experiences in a modern globalized world with persistently romantic expectations of what it means to be Indian.
Through her five-year service as the graphics and Gallery co-editor of the journal Environmental History, she is co-writing a guidebook for interpreting images of people and the environment for the University of Washington Press.
Cindy began her work as a historian in the public section and publically-engaged projects are at the heart of her experience and current work. She is currently developing the Crow Indian Virtual Archive and Museum, is a virtual repository of Crow Indian cultural items and images housed in public and private collections around the world. She has developed cultural history projects and art exhibitions at the Smithsonian Institution and the Museum of the Rockies, community development projects at the University of Pennsylvania and Saint Louis University, and historic preservation projects at the National Park Service. She also served as communications director of Rachel's Network, an environmental nonprofit devoted to the promotion of women environmental leaders. She was the president of the Society of Fellows for the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society, based in Munich, Germany, from 2015-2019, and recently on the executive committee of the American Society for Environmental History. Her research has been supported by fellowships from the Fulbright Commission, the Smithsonian, the National Endowment for the Humanities, Stanford University, Harvard University, among others.
American Food & Culture studies culture through food production and consumption, investigating mainly American foodways through such diverse topics as labor, science and technology, the environment, the body, race and ethnicity, ethics, and gender, and the ties among them. We will discuss global issues of hunger and obesity, food safety and waste, and private versus public control and responsibility for food choices. The course is designed to press students to consider how humanities, as opposed to science and technology alone, can help us deal with the global challenges of food sovereignty and access, and environmental and human health.
Nature & History (HIST223) is about the history of the representation and display of nature from Cabinets of curiosities to modern-day zoos and nature programs. We study the role of aesthetics in science, the gender dynamics of botanical illustrations, the racial politics of Smokey the Bear, and the social dimensions of museum and zoo designs. We conclude with a critique of the strategies for representing Climate Change in an age of doubters. In all cases, you will pay particular attention to the way natural resources and concepts of nature have affected people differently, and inequitably, depending on their race, class, gender, sexuality, and ethnicity.
American Environmental History (HIST337) Hiking on a mountain trail or swimming in a lake may strike most of us as being in nature, but what about turning on a facet or taking an elevator up a skyscraper? And who has access to a water facet or skyscraper and who doesn't? This course addresses those sorts of questions. Students gain a deeper understanding of the vital role the environment has played in American history, the ties between nature and culture, and the social disparities that belie the idea of One Earth.
Theory & Practice Material Culture Studies (MCDT610): helps graduate students to use objects as sources for historical and cultural analyses and to decipher ideas and meanings embedded in a variety of artifacts, from souvenirs to plastic pink flamingos. We especially focus on museum objects, examining how an object – or set of objects - can communicate history and cultures to the public, and how an object is transformed from mundane houseware to a precious icon when placed within an exhibit case. We especially interrogate the collection and display of indigenous objects in their colonial and post-colonial context.
Museum Studies: What can historic house museums, city zoos, national art galleries, and tribal museums tell us about how Americans have thought about themselves and the world around them? In this course, students study the history, politics, and design of museum collections and exhibitions. They explore these topics through scholarly writings, visual and material culture studies, visits to local cultural institutions, and through the development and organization of an original exhibition.
I also teach graduate and undergraduate courses on visual culture, American Studies theory and practice, farming in American society and culture, public art, and race and ethnicity. In many of my courses, the students organize exhibitions or engage in public humanities projects, including an oral history project where students interviewed urban residents about urban gardens in their neighborhood. Most recently, students in my spring 2019 graduate course in material culture studies helped launch the Crow Indian Virtual Archive and Museum and during the summer of 2020 I supervised undergraduate interns working on the site. I have also created and organized virtual museum internships for UD students who created online exhibitions for regional museums.
Mentorship & Advising: I have extensive experience as a graduate advisor, serving on dissertation committees on such topics as the animal rights movement; landscapes in John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath; a social and environmental study of contemporary New Orleans; a labor, race, and environmental history of northern California from 1850 to 1950, and the history of Victory gardens, among others.
“Gardeners on the Crow Reservation
in the 1930s,” Crow Reservation Community Centers in Crow Agency, Lodge
Grass, and Pryor, Montana, 2015.
“They Said It Couldn’t Happen Here: Racial (In) Justice at SLU,” Student exhibition at Saint Louis University, 2015.
Cultural Fences: The Intersecting Material World of American Indians
and Euro-Americans,” Museum of the Rockies, Bozeman, MT, 2006.
Pumpkin: The Curious History of an American Icon (University of Washington Press, 2012)
“Making Sense of Urban Gardens,” Gastronomica: The Journal of Critical Food Studies (August 2015)
“Getting on a High Horse about Food,” Reviews in American History 43 (March 2015)
“Visual Critique of Ken Burn’s 'The National Parks: America’s Best Idea,'” The Public Historian 33 (May 2011)
“Crossing Cultural Fences: The Intersecting Material World of American Indians and Euro-Americans,” Western Historical Quarterly 39 (Winter 2008)
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