Professor and President-Elect, Faculty Senate | Human Geography
I am a Professor and former Department Head in UT’s Department of Geography (now Geography & Sustainability). My interests are cultural and historical geography with a specific focus on landscapes of public memory, race, heritage tourism, social/spatial justice, critical place naming and mapping 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 the Jim Crow era, Mayberry and film tourism, Hurricane Katrina tattoos, BBQ culture, and even the cultural geography of kudzu.
In August of 2012, I joined the faculty at Univ. of Tennessee-Knoxville after serving at East Carolina University since 2000. I also held a tenure-track position at Georgia College (1998-2000), a visiting position at Georgia Southern University (1995-1996), and temporary faculty/graduate teaching positions at the University of Georgia (1990-1998).
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. Thus far in my career, I have been cited, quoted, interviewed in over 280 news stories, radio & TV broadcasts, blogs—including in a number of nationally prominent outlets. I have (co)authored nine (9) pieces in The Conversation contributed pro bono research assistance and consultation to over 40 non-profits, government agencies, film-makers, and minority advocacy groups or initiatives. I am honored to have been a supporter and partner for the Beck Cultural Exchange Center in Knoxville, TN.
I founded in 2010 the Tourism 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. Tourism RESET is co-coordinated by my talented colleagues 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 book published by UGA Press.
Geographic education is important to me and I am committed to bringing innovations in the study of race, human geography, and memory into the classroom. Joshua Kenna, Kurt Butefish, Ethan Bottone, Katrina Stack and I led in July 2022 a NEH-funded 3-week institute that worked with 18 K-12 educators from across the USA to explore teaching 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 just completed a NSF-funded project that examines how SNCC leaders and workers developed a counter geospatial intelligence in which they calculated, mapped, and analyzed 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 a recently started initiative called I-NAME (Interventions in Naming America and Mobilizing for Equality), which I am developing with PhD student colleague Seth Kannarr. 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. In August of 2022, Department of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland appointed me to Federal Advisory Committee on Reconciliation in Place Names.
I am a former President of the American Association of Geographers (AAG)(2017-18). Previously, I served on the Council of the AAG as Regional Councillor (representing the Southeast), chaired of the Association’s Publications Committee, and co-chaired the AAG’s Strategic Communication Editorial Committee. I am also a former President of the Southeastern Division of the AAG and a former co-editor of the peer-reviewed journal Southeastern Geographer. My current major service-leadership duties include serving on the AAG Healthy Department Committee, serving as a member of the Board of Advisors for the Franklin College of Arts & Sciences, UGA, and serving as President-Elect of the Faculty Senate at the University of Tennessee.
Ph.D., University of Georgia