I am an anthropological archaeologist interested in historical and contemporary representations of peoples and places and I practice engaged, socially informed anthropology. For over twenty years, I have done field-intensive research in Amazonia and other tropical sites in Central America, and the Pacific, deepening my work on how humans encounter and make the world around them.
I earned my MA and PhD in Anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley, in 2011, and then engaged continuously in research in Amazonian archaeology. Before joining UofL, I held several fellowships, first as a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Ohio State University, then as a Post-Doctoral Researcher at Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi (MPEG) in Brazil, and finally, as a Kluge Fellow at the John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress.
My data-driven geoarchaeological and anthropological approach combines deep theoretical and historiography to challenge preconceived notions of Amazonia and other American landscapes as “empty” or primordial rather than deeply modified and populated. My new work troubles the erasure of Afro-descendant populations from Latin America, and specifically in certain parts of Brazilian Amazon. I ask: why do we expect to find certain populations in particular places, and not elsewhere? Where do such ideas come from, and how do they gain footing? This works builds on my past oral-historic and participatory research with Quilombola (maroon descendant) communities on the Lower Xingu River in Amazonia. This research was funded by a fellowship from the Brazilian Ministério de Cultura, Tecnologia e Inovação, and was part of the interdisciplinary and collaborative project Origens, Cultura e Ambiente, (Origins, Culture and Environment—OCA, Helena Lima, director) at the Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi. In 2013, we were awarded funding by the National Geographic Society for our collaborative project History of a Crossroads: An Amazonian City in Deep Time, which helped take OCA through its first field season.
One of my other key interests is anthropogenic (human-made) nature and its short and long-term effects. How do legacies of a distant past, including anthropogenic soils like Amazonian Dark Earths and engineered landscapes shape life in contemporary Amazonia. What do landmarks like canals and raised fields, or anthropogenic forests, tell us about ancient Amazonian societies? What can we learn about human agency and our effects on the environment through the study of these remnants of the past? Terra Preta do Índio, a sub-class of Amazonian Dark Earths, are exceptionally fertile soils that stand as evidence of deep, and deep-historical, indigenous modification of tropical forest ecologies that produced a positive result (environmental enrichment rather than degradation). These soils are sought out by contemporary farming communities in Amazonia, who contend daily with threats from changing climate, local and national infrastructure projects, agribusiness, and logging. In light of the urgency of these matters, my research is at once archaeological—in order to learn as much as possible about ancient Amerindian management practices and technologies—and applied—in order to attend to needs of contemporary farmers.
In my historiographical work on Amazonia, I explore how long-held, deeply embedded ideas about technology, the relationships of humans to nature, and moral geographies can limit what we are capable of imagining or understanding about tropical places. These habits of thought constrict understandings of the past, and in the same instant, affordances for the future—whether in terms of human rights, education, health, or sustainable development. It is from this perspective that I build my engaged, collaborative archaeological research.
We began pioneering aspects of this approach in archaeological and heritage work along the Lower Amazon in collaboration with Dr. Filippo Stampanoni of the Museu da Amazônia, and before that, as part of the OCA project in the region of Gurupá with Dr. Helena Lima and the project team. This approach, which foregrounds community needs and benefits, guides my research questions, efforts, and action.