"Recalled to life..."*
I am a teacher, writer, and editor of history, focusing on grave-robbing, archaeology, and the collection of the dead in Peru and the Americas. I am an assistant professor of Modern Latin American History at the Pennsylvania State University, and a Barra Postdoctoral Fellow at the McNeil Center for Early American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. I am a graduate of Yale University and the University of Texas at Austin. Occasionally I write for a wider audience about museums, racial science, and the Incas.
As an historian, I study how live and dead bodies and their categories of identification have circulated within Latin America, the United States, and the wider Atlantic World, from 1492 to the present. My current manuscript traces the global circulation of pre-colonial Andean skulls and Inca mummies between Peru’s conquest in 1532 and its present fame as an epicenter of archaeology. It specifically argues that colonial Peruvian grave-opening and the ‘specimens’ it made of the indigenous Peruvian dead were two of the key foundations of anthropology and museum-making in the United States and the wider Americas. My research for this project was undertaken in museums and archives in Peru and the United States, and has been funded by a Fulbright Student Fellowship, a Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Research Fellowship to Peru, and smaller grants from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, the Philadelphia Area Council for the History of Science, and UT Austin, where I was a Harrington Doctoral Fellow and a Jess Hay Chancellor’s Fellow.
My current research grew out of my first book, Cradle of Gold (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010, 2011), about Yale explorer Hiram Bingham’s scientific discovery of Machu Picchu in 1911 and the controversy caused by Bingham's excavation and exportation of the Inca site's human remains and artifacts in 1912. Over the course of that research I discovered that the Yale Peruvian Expedition had smuggled artifacts to the United States in 1915, prompting their investigation in Peru. These revelations helped shape negotiations between Yale and Peru over the final status of Machu Picchu's artifacts, which were finally, happily returned to a joint Yale-Peru-run institution in Cusco, starting in 2011. The following year, my book was translated into Spanish as Las Tumbas de Machu Picchu (PUCP, 2012) and published in Lima. You can learn more about those books here.
In the realm of public and digital history, I am the co-founder and co-editor of Backlist, a digital platform that shares historians' recommended reading lists for the subjects they love. Before that, I was the first editor-in-chief of The Appendix: A New Journal of Narrative and Experimental History, which I helped co-found in 2012. A collection of my work for the journal, along with the pieces I’m most proud of helping edit, is here. In the course of my research I have been occasionally asked to weigh in by the media, including NPR, and have delivered invited lectures at Peru’s National Library, the National Geographic Society, and other settings. In 2012 I presented on Peru's cultural patrimony strategy, as it related to Machu Picchu, to the Cultural Property Advisory Committee at the U.S. State Department.
Finally, my work as a writer and journalist is deeply informed by my tenure as a facilitator in New York for the national oral history and radio project StoryCorps in 2005. You can read my subsequent and still occasional work on Machu Picchu, Einstein's Brain, apocalyptic prophecies, and masked writers 'wrestling' for book contracts in Lima, Peru, in The New York Times, The New Yorker, The New Republic, Slate, Smithsonian: Journeys, Legal Affairs Magazine, and The Believer.
In writing, as in teaching, I try to find the human lives suggested by the barest of bones. Charles Dickens had it right: ‘Resurrectionist, in search of a subject.'
* Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities