My driving obsession is the culture and politics of the United States. In the 1970s as a graduate student, I became interested in how historical knowledge was used in the nineteenth century to create national narratives of progress, and I was drawn to writers who resisted this dominant mode of thinking about the emerging national culture. Even though my graduate education was grounded in literature, I studied at the graduate level comparative religion and fine arts. This interdisciplinary perspective has stayed with me throughout my life. I have continued my interest in national narratives by studying memoirs, factual reports, visual artifacts, and cultural rituals with the insights of gender, race, and class analysis. At present, I am working on what I call “public writing” in which the insights of cultural studies are grounded in the everyday lives of peoples living in the United States.
My early articles were on nineteenth-century American writers such as Emily Dickinson, Margaret Fuller, and Henry David Thoreau, publishing in 1987, Thoreau’s Alternative History: Changing Perspectives on Nature, Culture, and Language(University of Pennsylvania Press). In 1994, Healing the Republic: The Language of Health and the Culture of Nationalism in Nineteenth-Century America (Cambridge University Press) continued my research on national narratives. Since the 1970s, I have also been teaching courses on women writers, developing a class on women writers in the American West. Based on interviews with white and tribal women in the Pacific Northwest who were rodeo queens from the 1930s to the present, Rodeo Queens and the American Dream (PublicAffairs, 2002) examined how the cultural ritual of the rodeo was shaped by gender and race. Continuing my interests in the national narrative of the American West, my book, Gun Show Nation: Gun Culture and American Democracy (The New Press, 2006) studied why and how guns have entered our national politics. A section of this book was published in article form as, “The Cultural Anatomy of a Gun Show,” in Stanford Law and Policy Review. In 2010, I co-edited with William Glass a collection of essays entitled, Beyond Imagined Uniqueness: Contemporary Perspectives on Nationalisms (Cambridge Scholars Publishing). Recently, Three Coyotes: Art, Imagination & Survival (a literary and visual arts journal) published my essay, “Mirrors at Night.”