Green-Wood Cemetery Talk

For the Halloween season I led another virtual talk for Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery on the language of flowers as it appears on tombstones, such as snapped roses for a life cut short, lotus flowers for rebirth, and poppies for sleep. I explored the Victorian-era rise of “floriography” and what these sometimes obscure symbols can reveal about the past. I’m planning to develop some of the material into a zine, stay tuned!

Cooking with the Dead Zine

In a fun project, I created the Cooking with the Dead zine with two friends to try out recipes left on tombstones around the world. Carved and etched on granite gravestones, they dictate—sometimes hazily—the instructions for delicious fare such as cookies, cobblers, and bread. Scouring cemeteries and the internet, we collected and attempted seven of these kitchen formulas, found in burial grounds from Alaska to Israel.

JSTOR Daily: How Black Communities Built Their Own Schools

In a short post for JSTOR Daily, I wrote about how Black communities came together to build their own schools through the Rosenwald Fund that was established in 1917. The story also looks at how these historic sites are now in danger of being lost:

When the National Trust for Historic Preservation released its annual list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in 2002, it included the Rosenwald schools, estimating that only 10 to 12 percent of the buildings were still standing. One in Texas was torn down last year by an oil company; this July, one in Tennessee was destroyed in a fire. However, the National Trust recently announced that the 1921 May’s Lick Rosenwald School in Kentucky would receive a grant through its 2020 African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund. The saving of these sites protects a physical memory of how Black communities came together to give their children an education at a time when legal segregation and discrimination denied it.

Fine Books: Photography’s Gilded Age

In the Summer 2020 issue of Fine Books magazine, I have a story on daguerreotypes from the Gold Rush:

The 1848 discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill—a sawmill in Coloma, California—inspired thousands of people to uproot their lives and travel west to seek their fortunes. They arrived from across the country and abroad, from Chile, Mexico, France, China, and Australia. They believed they were part of something exceptional and many posed for portraits in the new medium of photography to commemorate this moment. These images are a contrast to the refined dress and gentility usually seen in 19th-century daguerreotypes. The miners had unruly beards, wore tattered work shirts, and proudly displayed their pickaxes; the lucky ones showed off gold nuggets and flakes, which were sometimes hand-gilded on the photographic plates to add a visual dazzle representing their success.

The story is only in print and you can pick up a copy through the Fine Books site.

JSTOR Daily: Why Do Police Use Tear Gas When It Was Banned in War?

As the US has experienced a wave of police brutality in response to the protests, I explored why they are allowed to use tear gas when it is banned in war. From the story on JSTOR Daily:

As a police tool, the current deployment of tear gas reinforces the effect that made gases so powerful in World War I: fear. With reports showing tear gas being used on peaceful protesters, that fear is itself a deterrent by law enforcement on public demonstrations. Given legitimacy by the CWS in the interwar period, tear gas provides police with a chemical weapon that is no longer permitted in war.

Read more at JSTOR Daily.

Wellcome Collection: Graveyards as Green Getaways

For Wellcome Collection, I interviewed three cemeteries that kept their gates open during the pandemic when so many spaces have closed to the public:

Notably, many of the cemeteries that stayed open were founded in the 19th century as respites from urban life, and their capacity to accommodate people safely comes in part from their design as spacious natural retreats. This era saw a shift from churchyards and Quaker Meeting House burial grounds towards what is known as the rural cemetery movement. The new, larger cemeteries were often on the edges of cities in the United States and Europe that had experienced a surge in urban population growth and industrialisation.

Read more at Wellcome Collection.

Nightingale: Color Field Paintings That Anticipated “Warming Stripes”

For Earth Week 2020, I contributed a story on color field paintings and Ed Hawkin’s “Warming Stripes” visualization to the data visualization publication Nightingale:

The reduction of an idea to its basic form in “Warming Stripes” is reminiscent of the Color Field style of abstract painting that emerged in the 1950s and ’60s, with hubs in New York City and Washington, DC. Building off postwar Abstract Expressionism, the Color Field painters stepped away from the gestural movement in work by artists like Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, where the process of painting was very much visible. A Color Field painting pulls the viewer in through its simplified lines and shapes, the focus on the interplay of the colors themselves rather than the hand of the artist.

Read more at Nightingale.

The Study: How Socially Concious Makers Are Giving Back to Local Communities

The 1stDibs The Study, I interviewed makers who are embedding socially consciousness in their practices, from heritage sheep wool blankets to mud bead chandeliers:

Each step in crafting an object has an environmental and social impact, from the sourcing of materials to production. Aware of the responsibility this entails, many designers and makers are thoughtfully organizing their processes to ensure that their impacts are positive.

Read more at The Study.

Hart Island in National Geographic

I covered the role of Hart Island in caring for the unclaimed dead and its new significance amidst COVID-19, for National Geographic:

The burial process hasn’t changed much since the late 1800s. An 1890 photo by Jacob Riis shows coffins being lowered into a trench, and an aerial video today shows a similar scene.

It’s been the practice that every week, staff and eight inmates from nearby Rikers Island prison have come to carry out the burials, stacking coffins three deep in trenches large enough to hold up to 162 for adults and a thousand for infants and fetal remains. Numbers and sometimes names are written in heavy black marker on the pine coffins and entered into a register, so that family members can claim their loved ones later.

This month, due to a spike in coronavirus cases at Rikers Island, the city began hiring contract workers—who wear hazmat suits—to bury the dead.

Read more at National Geographic.