My Reflection on History, COVID-19, and Indigenous Life: Working Papers in Critical Disaster Studies


I am excited to share some new work: my contribution to the Working Papers in Critical Disaster Studies series from NYU Gallatin School’s Initiative for Critical Disaster Studies. Using a historical case study, it argues that the disproportionate crisis of mortality, morbidity, and memory striking Indigenous communities amidst the Covid-19 pandemic results from historical and ongoing restrictions to tribal sovereignty. I hope this piece also conveys the superior leadership of tribal governments and Indigenous communities in past epidemiological crises as well as the one we face now.

Each of the papers in this series aims to historicize elements of the Covid-19 crisis for use in undergraduate humanities courses. The work is organized under the Historical Approaches to Covid-19 Working Group of the National Science Foundation-funded Social Science Extreme Events Research (SSEER) Network and the CONVERGE facility at the Natural Hazards Center at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Epidemics and Empires: Historicizing Covid-19 in Native Communities,” Working Papers in Critical Disaster Studies no. 7, Initiative for Critical Disaster Studies, New York University, New York, July 28, 2021.  

My Article on Kiowa Nurse-Activist Laura Pedrick at Nursing Clio

Where do Indigenous women fit into the early history of nursing? How did their work intertwine with their personal, professional, and political lives?

My new piece, “Nursing for Generations: Kiowa Peoplehood in the Work of Laura Pedrick” is a short exploration into these questions through a study of one Kiowa woman, Laura Pedrick (T’oyhawlma). It’s the first piece of public writing that comes from my dissertation research, so I’m so excited to finally have it up.

Over the course of her rich life, T’oyhawlma saw the confinement of her people to a reservation, attended boarding school hundreds of miles from her home, served as a government field matron, became a leader in Kiowa arts, and survived two husbands and two of her four children. There is much to be learned from her about Indigenous progressivism and activism, Native women’s labor, and about resilience – the resilience of women, and the resilience of Kiowa people.

I can’t address all of that in a short post, or even in the dissertation chapter I hope to eventually write about Pedrick. In accordance with my broader research on healing in modern Kiowa history, this post examines her as a nurse, untrained but savvy and dedicated above all to the survival of her people.

If you want to learn more about Laura Pedrick, I highly suggest you read Jenny Tone-Pah-Hote’s book, Crafting an Indigenous Nation: Kiowa Expressive Culture in the Progressive Era, which examines Pedrick’s labor and legacy as a beadworker and activist in Kiowa arts.

My Review of Theobald’s “Reproduction on the Reservation” at Nursing Clio

I’m thrilled that my first book review goes live on Nursing Clio today! This is a review of Brianna Theobald’s first book, Reproduction on the Reservation: Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Colonialism in the Long Twentieth Century.

When I started graduate school, I thought my eventual dissertation would examine the history of midwifery in the Jim Crow South. As an undergraduate, I became keenly and perhaps obsessively interested in the history of reproductive health, and it surprised me when, as a graduate student, this concern faded from my research agenda. But this subject remains of major personal and academic interest to me. Now, as a student of health and healing in Native America, I absolutely jumped at the opportunity to review Theobald’s book.

For a long time, Indigenous women have been left out of scholarly conversations about the history of reproductive health. That leaves us with little context for modern sterilization campaigns that were so devastating to Native communities. Theobald addresses the long history of violations to their reproductive rights that Native women and their families suffered at the hands of government doctors, nurses, and other settler institutions.

Perhaps more vitally, though, Theobald’s book addresses Native women’s long and consequential history of activism surrounding reproductive rights. Native women were hardly passive victims of oppression, but sought in multiple creative and sometimes conflicting ways to maintain personal and collective ownership over their reproductive health care. Theobald’s book shows us that we must think of these Native women as founding mothers in the modern reproductive justice movement.

I highly recommend this book for students of Native history, the history of medicine, women’s and gender history, and reproductive rights.

My Reflection on Monuments and Memory in The Abusable Past

I’m excited to share a new piece of writing up today in the Radical History Review’s blog, The Abusable Past. This reflection is part of a larger forum on monuments and memory, looking outward from our nation’s ongoing debates around Confederate monuments. This is, of course, an especially salient conversation right now at Duke University, which has been embroiled in a long-term conversation over the namesake of the Carr Building (now Classroom Building), which houses my department, the history department.

My research does not concern Confederate monuments, but when I entered graduate school, the long legacy of racism in the south was a primary personal and academic interest and investment for me. I grew up in Georgia, attended university in Alabama, and am now in graduate school in North Carolina. I have been surrounded by Confederate monuments and the legacies of slavery and Jim Crow my entire life, and the sneaking silence of that presence awakened my interest in history in my freshman year of college.

Since then, I’ve become involved in a number of campaigns to #changethenames of campus buildings at Duke and at the University of Alabama. My comparatively limited experience in activism around Confederate memory served as an education not only in the nation’s long history of racist violence, but in the ongoing institutional resistance to address systemic racism.

Unfortunately, the Confederacy sometimes serves as a catch-all for a conversation that would more productively address a host of memorialization issues, not only those that laud Confederates and slaveowners, but segregationists, colonizers, nativists, and modern beneficiaries of systemic oppression. This is, in a limited way, what my contribution to this forum addresses.

I am, as always, thankful to be part of these ongoing conversations.