I am Thelma and Jamie Guilbeau/BORSF Endowed Professor of History and Director of the Guilbeau Center for Public History at University of Louisiana at Lafayette, in the Department of History, Geography & Philosophy. I completed my PhD at UCLA in History, with a focus on history of science, technology and medicine in modern Europe. As an Assistant Professor/Faculty Fellow at NYU’s Program in Museum Studies, I developed my interests in the overlapping relationships between art and science and science and the public.
My current research projects include:
Redefining Human: Photomontage in Twentieth Century German Art and Science: Twentieth century German artists’ engagement with new understandings of the human body as developed in the social sciences, technology and medicine. How did artists debate knowledge production regarding what it means to be human in the wake of the Great War and new measures in medicine and government to rehabilitate soldiers? How did they combine these developments in medicine with women’s suffrage, popular fears about miscegenation and homosexual emancipation and new imaging techniques? How did scientists and physicians perceive and appropriate the work of artists to reconsider definitions of the human body? The book will focus on photomontage to examine how images were used to instruct viewers in how to catalog information and use visual media to produce knowledge.
Collecting Asia-Pacific: Museums, Race, and the Anthropological Sciences in Imperial Germany. This book demonstrates that the peoples of Southeast Asia and Oceania troubled anthropological knowledge of human difference. By focusing on the creation of and research produced by museum collections, I show how new technologies of exhibition, preservation and visual reproduction were all inspired by the unexpected cross cultural encounters between European scientists and islanders in New Guinea, Oceania, and the Philippines. This work also offers insight into the history of antiracist scientific work, demonstrating that anthropological work done with antiracist intentions nevertheless contributed to harms against descendant communities.
As European museums begin to address the harms they have and continue to cause descendant communities, this book examines the complex history behind one museum which aimed to prevent such harms at its founding. The Dresden Museum proposed an historical, non-essentialist approach to understanding racial and cultural difference because of a commitment to extensive field research, Darwinian evolution, anticolonialism, and experimentation with techniques of visual representation. Internationally, this historical understanding of ethnicity attracted the attention of Filipino nationalists and launched the careers of its staff and collaborators in European and Latin American museums. The findings of my research draw on a wide range of archival and published primary sources including museum catalogs, popular and scientific publications, state records, and personal correspondence held at state archives, libraries, and museums in Germany, Austria, England, the Philippines, Spain, and the US.
My methodological focus is based in anthropological and art historical methods, Indigenous Studies, and STS literature which shows that knowledge, facts and objects always carry their prior contexts and histories with them. Recently, Dresden’s Ethnology Museum has started to repatriate ancestral remains that were stolen and acquired by the museum during its founding years. This book seeks to support this decolonizing work by considering how cultural resources were represented, how and why they were acquired and how various stakeholders perceived these activities.
Reclaiming Turtles All the Way Down (TAWD): Animal Cosmologies and Paths to Indigenous Sciences, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science Working Group, Germany 2020-2024. PIs: Lisa Onaga and Leah Lui-Chivizhe
Public History Projects
Extended Reality and Social Justice in History Museums investigates 1) how virtual reality, mixed reality and augmented reality have been employed in history exhibits aimed at social justice; and 2) in light of COVID-19, how successful virtual tours of analog social justice history exhibits are at achieving their goals.
Shared Histories: COVID-19 and the Movement for Black Lives in Southwest Louisiana: A digital archive of community contributions and oral histories, a series of student-curated digital exhibits, and a webinar series of continued conversations to address the twin pandemics facing our community.
Do No Harm: The Healing Touch of Louisiana Women in Medicine, Louisiana State Museum, Baton Rouge, 2021: A history of the barrier breakers that revolutionized the development of medicine, from the mothers of gynecology — the enslaved women who were involuntarily experimented upon by white male medical professionals — to Black MDs like Dr. Viola Coleman Johnson who fought against segregation to improve professional medical training opportunities for African Americans.
History of Knowledge Digital Database – A Collaboration with the History of Science Society and The Research Center for Arts, Society and Culture (CELAT) at Universite Laval for National History Day
Healing in the Bayou: A podcast series that looks at the history of medicine in Louisiana. Each episode includes interviews with community members to learn about different experiences with mainstream medicine or alternative healing practices, including midwives, traiteurs, and traditional Indigenous healers. Seasons two and three examine examines the shared histories of COVID19 and the movement for Black lives in Southwest Louisiana.
In general, I am interested in nineteenth and twentieth century social sciences; modern Europe cultural and intellectual history; German Empire – especially German-Asian studies; museum studies; history of collections and display; visual and material culture of science; transnational history; history of race and ethnicity.
I have advised theses on: land acknowledgment policy in mainstream U.S. museums; the ethics of decolonizing private museums; contested monuments; the representation of nature in science museums and urban parks; school programs at living history museums; disability studies and contemporary museology; community art museums and social justice; African American historic sites in the public history landscape.
My advisees have won NYU’s GSAS Master’s Award for Academic Achievement in the Humanities, as well as awards for best thesis and distinguished thesis in museum studies.