It’s been a year since I last posted. In that time, I passed my comprehensive exams in my history Ph.D. program at UT Austin, trundled off to Washington, D.C. for a terrific fellowship at the Smithsonian Institution Archives, continued on to Philadelphia for a spell as a fellow with the Philadelphia Area Center for the History of Science (Pachs), and did some writing in between:
A piece on how Harry Houdini (or at least his human remains) escaped the Smithsonian, for the SI Archives’ blog.
And a Talk of the Town piece for The New Yorker on Albert Einstein’s brain.
I’m also helping start up an online journal of archival and narrative history, The Appendix. (I’ll be posting more about that soon.)
So, don’t worry, I’ve been busy. Life got in the way.
I’m in Peru now, on a graduate research fellowship formerly known as the Fulbright-Hays, working on my dissertation. In the past, I’ve kept this work as a grad student fairly separate from my writing as a popular historian and journalist. Also, my interest in other things, like novels, comics, superheroes, and trying to be good.
From here on out, though, I’m going to be less compartmentalized. I’m going to start writing about more of each on this website and elsewhere — a more unified life theory, as it were.
In that spirit: ‘So, what’s that dissertation about?’
Some days … everything. On clearer days, though, it’s about how pre-Columbian graves, skulls and mummies from the Andes have traveled throughout the Americas since the conquest, but especially between Peru and the U.S., knitting us together in a strange empire of tissue, bone, treasure and science. It emerged from Cradle of Gold on Hiram Bingham and Machu Picchu, for sure, but it’s about bigger things, I think, than the nature of discovery and awkward American explorers “forgetting” to send back artifacts. It’s about how humans understand, write about and interact with other humans’ dead; how bodies get confused with riches, and vice versa; how real human achievement can cut through the awful tangle of race and science; but it might just be about how amazing pre-Columbian Americans were and how their descendants are, and how we can best honor them.
It’s also chockablock with grave-robbing, smuggling, mountains of gold, liquefying mummies, and skulls riddled with mysterious holes.
So if you’re interested in that, I’ll see you soon.