I teach courses about colonial North America, the United States’ War for Independence, environmental history, and Native American history. My favorite class is a Short Term course on the history of Wabanakis, the collective term for the Penobscots, Passamaquoddies, Mi’kmaqs, and Maliseets of Maine but also New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and eastern Quebec.
My principal scholarly interests focus on Native American interactions with Europeans during the colonial period. I have written a book exploring how European and Native American understandings of trade and gift-giving shaped the history of the Southeast between 1350 and 1740, but more recently my interests have shifted north. (See the link to the book below.) I am currently developing a research project around the question of how Wabanakis cultivated their ties to their homelands even as European-American colonists dispossessed them of most of that territory. It is inspired by a longstanding curiosity about the contemporary place of our colonial past and a developing desire to collaborating with Wabanaki historians on questions of common interest.
My love for history springs from what I saw—and overlooked—in my childhood. My hometown, Newport, Rhode Island, has long trumpeted its pre-Revolutionary past, and there are dozens of beautiful colonial homes to justify the local pride. Only late in college, though, did I realize that enterprising English colonists had not settled an empty colony. Although I knew “Narragansett” as a beautiful bay and a cheap beer, I had never thought much about the Narragansett people who continue to shape Rhode Island’s history. Such a late epiphany for one fascinated by history was embarrassing, but it made clear to me that the biggest blind spots about our past are frequently the ones right in front of our faces. Whatever I teach, I continue to ask questions about the stories we tell and why. I may not make every student of history into a lover of history, but I hope that what I have to say about it encourages people to think carefully about where they are and how they got there.
These kinds of lessons make Wabanaki history especially interesting to teach. Students are almost always surprised to learn that Maine has American Indian inhabitants, and they are even more surprised to learn that Wabanakis continue to play a prominent role in our state. The class includes visits to Wabanaki communities and requires students to present some of what they have learned to people outside of the class. For some examples of student work from the class, see these links below. The first two connect to posters on Wabanaki basketmaking and on the impact of pollution on Wabanaki rivers. The third link to work by history majors includes two podcasts from the class. The fourth is a web page that presents a map of Wabanaki place names. The maps were developed from research by students who took the class in 2012 and 2014. I hope through projects like these that it is possible for students to avoid some of the blind spots that have clouded my own understanding of the world.
- Wabanaki Basketmaking
- Wabanakis and River Pollution
- Notable Work by History Majors
- Wabanaki Place Names
- American Indian History
- Origins of the New Nation, 1500-1820
- The Age of the American Revolution, 1763-1789
- US Environmental History
- Wabanaki History in Maine
- Native American History