Saint Louis University

Cindy Ott, Ph.D.

 Cindy Ott, Ph.D.    

Cindy Ott, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of American Studies

(314) 977-3790

Adorjan Hall 110
3800 Lindell Blvd.
St. Louis, MO 63108












Ph.D. in American Civilization, University of Pennsylvania
M.A. in History, Yale University

Professional Experience

Professor Ott teaches courses in material culture, visual culture, public art and memory, food and culture, U.S. environmental studies, museum studies, farming in American society and culture, American Studies theory and practice, and American cross-cultural studies. Besides SLU, she has taught at the University of Nevada Las Vegas as a visiting assistant professor, Montana State University as an affiliated assistant professor, Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany as a Fulbright Junior Fellow, and the University of Pennsylvania as an instructor. In fall 2015, she will be Acting Chair in American Cultural History at the Amerika-Institut at Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, Germany.

Cindy was a finalist for the Excellence in Graduate Mentoring Award in 2012, 2013 and 2014 and for the Excellence in Teaching Award in 2011.

Dr. Ott worked at the Smithsonian Institution for nearly ten years, including serving as museum specialist of art at the Archives of American Art, the registrar at the Department of Anthropology at the National Museum of Natural History, and as a research associate for the American Wine and Food History Project, where she had the special privilege of disassembling Julia Child's kitchen for re-installation in the National Museum of American History. Dr. Ott has also worked as a landscape historian for the National Park Service, and as a communications director for Rachel's Network, an environmental nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C. While history curator at the Museum of the Rockies, the university museum for Montana State University, she organized the exhibition "Crossing Cultural Fences: The Intersecting Material Worlds of American Indians and Euro-Americans." She also received a National Endowment for the Humanities grant for the exhibition, "Weathering the Years: The History of Winter in the Rockies." She has been a history consultant for the National Park Service and regularly serves on the National Endowment for the Humanities grant review panels.

Cindy has served on 13 dissertation committees, including chairing two; thirteen Ph.D. orals committees, chairing one; five M.A. thesis committees, chairing two. She has advised three undergraduate senior theses. Fields include American Indian studies, landscape studies, visual culture, urban environmental history, narrative history, public art & memory, popular culture, animal studies, folklore, and material culture.

Courses Taught


ASTD 5200 – Material Culture Studies
ASTD 5930 – American Environment, History and Cultures
ASTD 5930 – Public Art and Memory
ASTD 6100 – Dissertation Colloquium
ASTD 6200 – Visual Culture Theory
ASTD 6930 – Edibles are Good to Think With: American Food and Culture
ASTD 6930 – Nature in the City 


ASTD 1000 – Investigating America
ASTD 2100 – Studies in American Photography
ASTD 3020 – American Mosaic
ASTD 3930 – American Food and Culture
ASTD 4000 – Introduction to Museum Studies
ASTD 4100 – Senior Seminar

Research Interests

Cindy's work is highly interdisciplinary, exploring the intersections of cultural identity, history and memory, and the natural, visual, and material worlds. Her book Pumpkin (Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books, 2012) begins with the seemingly simple questions of why so many Americans take an annual trip to a pumpkin farm, why they decorate their homes with pumpkins every autumn, and yet why, unlike most people around the world who eat the vegetable unceremoniously through the year, they eat it hardly all at except at the national Thanksgiving holiday. These questions open up a far deeper story of how Americans have used nature and history to perpetuate a sense of rural identity and heritage, and of the unexpected impacts of these beliefs and traditions, in turn, on the material world. To explore these questions, the book pursues the connections among cultural ideologies, plant biology, literature, art, foodways, and the economy from the pre-colonial era, when Native Americans first propagated the vegetable, to the late-twentieth century. She analyzes the regional and ethnic debates over the vegetable's use and meanings over time. On one hand, she argues, many Americans celebrate the pumpkin today because they associate it with the mythic and long revered rural way of life. And yet, the pumpkin is actually helping to revitalize the very thing it has long symbolized--the small family farm. The main takeaway message is that the romantic agrarian myths that so many Americans have used to forge a national identity and heritage may be nostalgic responses to modernization, but they are hardly peripheral to real world economics and agriculture. In fact, these myths have changed the natural world and how markets and farms operate.

With the support of Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society in Munich, Germany in fall 2014 term, Harvard University's Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History during the 2013-2014 academic year, Humanities Montana in summer 2014, she is working on a new book and exhibition project titled "Biscuits and Buffalo: Squashing Myths about Food in Indian Country." Through a historical analysis of the production and consumption of food on the Crow reservation over the last 100 years, she aims to bust popular perceptions that pre-colonial foods, such as corn, beans, squash, and buffalo are the true American Indian foods and that twentieth-century diets are colonial corruptions and anathema to Indian cultures. Instead of turning exclusively, or even mainly, to pre-reservation times, many Crow Indians today look to the World War II generation for a sense of heritage and food traditions. Stories about grocery stores, pie-making, raising and eating beef cattle, and gardening counter persistent stereotypes that real Indian food, like real Indians, are a thing of the distant past. I uncover a history of private entrepreneurialism alongside tribal collectives, Indian and non-Indian cooperation instead of antagonism, and flexible rather than rigid ways of articulating a sense of American Indian identity. Her book supports local ideas of heritage by asserting that preferences for beef and biscuits are not a sell out to colonialism but affirm Crows' sense of identity. The larger aim of "Biscuits and Buffalo" is to help bring to light the dynamics and mechanisms by which American Indians have tried to reconcile their own experiences in a modern globalized world with the persistently romantic expectations of what it means to be Indian. She has chosen to focus my research questions on Plains Indian communities because of their rich history of food production as well as consumption and because of my experience working within those communities for nearly a decade.

With the support of a 2012 Visiting Researcher fellowship at Stanford University's Bill Lane Center for the American West, she also began working on an article about the Miss Indian American Pageant, which was held in Sheridan, Wyoming from 1953 to 1985. The papers at Stanford and in the town of Sheridan document through written and visual sources how an ideal American Indian woman was defined at the time, and by whom and how those determinations were made. The Pageant reveals surprising collaborations among American Indian communities and the largely white Sheridan community that organized the event, collaborations and forms of cooperation that resist simple categorizations of us vs. them, or Indian vs. non-Indian identity.

She has so far explored the topic of cross-cultural encounters and comparative histories in several venues: the Museum of the Rockies exhibition and Western Historical Quarterly article "Crossing Cultural Fences: The Intersecting Material Worlds of American Indians and Euro-Americans" and critiques of American Indian exhibitions, such as a 2008 Journal of American History review of the Denver Art Museum's "Tribal Paths: Colorado American Indians, 1500 to the Present."

Reviews of her work can be found in:

Marsha Weisiger, "No More Heroes: Western History in Public Places," Western Historical Quarterly 42 (Autumn 2011).

Mary Murphy, "Crossing Cultural Fences: The Intersecting Material Worlds of American Indians and Euro-Americans," Journal of American History 94 (June 2007).

Cindy was a fellow at Harvard University's Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History in 2013-2014 academic year, a Carson Fellow at Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society at Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, Germany in fall 2014, and a Visiting Researcher at Stanford University's Bill Lane Center for the American West in summer 2012. She received a Humanities Montana grant for the project "Biscuits and Buffalo: Squashing Myths about Food in Indian Country" in 2014 and a National Endowment for the Humanities grant for the exhibition "Weathering the Years: The History of Winter in the Northern Rockies" in 2005. Cindy was a Fulbright Junior Scholar at Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany in 2004-2005.

Curriculum Vitae

PublicationsPumpkin: the Curious History of an American Icon

Pumpkin: The Curious History of an American Icon (William Cronon's Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books series) Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2012

"Making Sense of Urban Gardens," Gastronomica: The Journal of Critical Food Studies (August 2015).

"Cindy Ott‟s Object Analysis of the Giant Pumpkin," Environmental History (2010).

"Visual Critique of Ken Burn‟s "The National Parks: America‟s Best Idea," The Public Historian (2010).

"Crossing Cultural Fences: The Intersecting Material World of American Indians and Euro-Americans," Western Historical Quarterly 39 (Winter 2008).

"Why Lewis and Clark Matter: History, Landscape and Regional Identity," Historical Geography 35 (2007).

"The Nature of Eating: Food, Cultures and Landscape," Distinctly Montana (October 2006).


Professor Ott is the director of the SLU American Studies internship program. She served as the 1818 Coordinator, working with university-affiliated high school teachers to assist and assess their college-credit American Studies courses through classroom critiques and workshops. She serves on the department's graduate admissions committee and all faculty search committees. At the university and college level, she served on the Global and Local Social Justice Program Advisory Committee from 2010 to 2012, the Women's Studies Program Advisory Board from 2008 to 2010, the Graduate Student Association symposium judge in 2009 and 2010, Martin Luther King Diversity Fellowship review panelist since 2010, and the Mellon Faculty Development Grant Committee from 2007 to 2009.

She served on admission committees for the Study Abroad programs at Montana State University and the Fulbright Commission in Germany. She also taught in the Teach American History program at Montana State.

Her professional service includes serving as the President of the Society of Fellows for the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society, an executive committee member of the American Society for Environmental History and a member of the American Society of Environmental History Advisory Board of Professional Development and Public Engagement. She was the graphics and gallery co-editor for the Environmental History journal from 2010 to 2015. She served on the board of Hopebuild, a St. Louis-based nonprofit devoted to providing underserved communities with fresh produce through farmers markets and community gardens, from 2007 to 2010.


Higher purpose. Greater good.
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