- Faculty & Staff
Cindy Ott, Ph.D.
Cindy Ott, Ph.D.
Adorjan Hall 110
Ph.D. in American Civilization, University of Pennsylvania
M.A. in History, Yale University
Professor Ott teaches courses in material culture, public art and memory, food and culture, U.S. environmental history, museum studies, 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.
Cindy was a finalist for the Excellence in Graduate Mentoring Award in 2012 and for the Excellence in Teaching Award in 2011.
MUSEUM AND PUBLIC HISTORY EXPERIENCE:
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 is currently 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 8 dissertation committees, including chairing one; ten Ph.D. orals committees, chairing one; five M.A. thesis committees, chairing one. She has advised three undergraduate senior theses. Fields include American Indian studies, landscape studies, visual culture, urban nature, public art & memory, popular culture, and material culture.
ASTD 593 – Material Culture
ASTD 593 – American Environment, History and Cultures
ASTD 593 – Public Art and Memory
ASTD 612 – Dissertation Colloquium
ASTD 615 – Visual Culture Theory
ASTD 693 – Edibles are Good to Think With: American Food and Culture
ASTD 202 – Investigating America
ASTD 230 – Studies in American Photography
ASTD 250 – Introduction to Museum Studies
ASTD 393 – American Food and Culture
ASTD 410 – Senior Seminar
ASTD 425 – American Mosaic
Cindy's work is highly interdisciplinary, exploring the intersections of cultural identity, history and memory, and the natural and material worlds. Pumpkin 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, art and literature, foodways, and the economy from the pre-colonial era, when Native Americans first propagated the vegetable, to the late twentieth century. On one hand, I argue, 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.
Like Pumpkin, Ott's new research projects are rooted in history, identity, and the material world and uses interdisciplinary methodologies, yet it moves her work in new directions by exploring a more intercultural topic. One project entitled "Indians Making History," explores how American Indian communities of the northern Plains have documented their past and perpetuated their heritage in the last half century. Some of the questions this project raises are: What are the dynamics and mechanisms by which American Indians reconcile their own experiences in a modern globalized world with the persistently romantic expectations of what it means to be Indian? Are there tensions between personal and family traditions and idealized projections of the tribal collective? I especially draw on Indians' use of visual and material culture, food, and land preservation, and the connections among them, to explore this topic. As a Visiting Researcher at Stanford University's Bill Lane Center for the American West in the summer 2012, I researched the Miss American Indian Pageant, which was held annually in Sheridan, Wyoming between 1953 and 1985. The papers 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 Shriners who 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."
Dr. Ott is also working on an urban garden project, which explores on how different American cultural groups have established a sense of heritage in gardens and, in turn, how the local environment has shaped their sense of cultural identity.
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).
AWARDS & FELLOWSHIPS
Cindy was a Visiting Researcher at Stanford University's Bill Lane Center for the American West in summer 2012. She received 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.
Pumpkin: The Curious History of an American Icon (William Cronon's Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books series) Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2012
"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 Graphics and Gallery editor for the Environmental History journal and a member of the American Society of Environmental History Advisory Board of Professional Development and Public Engagement. She currently is a board member of Annie Malone Children and Family Services Center of St. Louis, whose mission is "to improve the quality of life for children, families, elderly and the community by providing social services, educational programs, advocacy and entrepreneurship." 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.