I am a Professor and former Department Head in Geography, University of Tennessee. My interests are cultural and historical geography with a specific focus on landscapes of public memory, race, heritage tourism, social/spatial justice, critical place name studies, and politics of geographic mobility and travel–all with the goal of advancing our understanding of the African American Freedom Struggle and the southeastern United States.
Much of my work focuses on the histories, memory-work, commemorative activism, and place-making efforts of African Americans as they assert and claim their right to be seen, heard, and belong within public spaces, and their power to remember the past and shape the American landscape on their own terms.
My work has spanned many aspects of the southern experience, including Civil Rights memorials (esp. streets named for Dr. King), slavery and plantation museum tourism sites, NASCAR, Elvis geographies, Black travel during Jim Crow era, Mayberry and film tourism, Hurricane Katrina tattoos, BBQ tourism, and even the cultural geography of kudzu.
I am a devoted scholar-teacher who enjoys working and publishing with students, both at the undergraduate and graduate levels. I am also committed to conducting critical public scholarship that engages, informs, and helps the news media, government officials, community activists and organizations, and the broader citizenry.
I founded in 2010 the RESET (Race, Ethnicity, and Social Equity in Tourism) Initiative, which analyzes and challenges the historical and contemporary inequalities that have characterized travel, tourism, and hospitality–with special attention to the African American freedom struggle and the southeastern US. Tourism RESET is co-coordinated by Stefanie Benjamin (University of Tennessee) and Alana Dillette (San Diego State University).
Under the auspices of RESET, I worked with a team of scholar-teachers from six other universities that completed a large NSF-funded project that examines the changing and contested place of the history of enslavement at southern plantations museums, having worked with my colleagues to analyze guided tours, exhibits, and preserved landscapes. The results of our work are reported in a forthcoming book to be published by UGA Press.
Joshua Kenna, Kurt Butefish, Ethan Bottone and I are leading in summer 2022 a NEH-funded 3-week institute that prepares educators to teach about the role of geographic mobility, travel, and tourism within the history of the African American Freedom Struggle.
Dr. Josh Inwood (Penn State) and I are working on a NSF-funded project that examines how SNCC leaders and workers used geospatial data and techniques to calculate, map, and analyze the spatial and social dimensions of segregation and discrimination in the US South during the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. This work is part of a larger interest we have in the role of counter-mapping within African American resistance and linking critical cartography with Black Geographies.
My attention is also focused on starting a new initiative called I-NAME (Interventions in Naming America and Mobilizing for Equality). I-NAME is a research and public outreach project that makes intellectual, policy, and educational interventions in highly charged debates over race, memory, and social justice in place naming. I am capitalizing on many years of work in the area of critical place name studies to fashion a workspace that can bring scholars and public leaders and activists together to carry out commemorative landscape reform.