KAREN MORIN is a Professor of Geography and Associate Dean of Faculty at Bucknell University. She works within the disciplinary subfield of feminist historical geography. Her recent book Civic Discipline: Geography in America, 1860-1890 is about the roots of American geography as specifically commercial in nature and argues that much of what was constituted as geographical knowledge in the 19th century can be traced to the personal financial missions of the men who promoted it.
Karen is working on a number of projects related to spatial forms of incarceration and punishment, as well as an historical-geographical study of what she calls the “usable carceral past.” Karen is co-editing a volume on this with Dominique Moran (University of Birmingham) which she hopes to launch at the International Historical Geography Conference in London in July 2015. She is working on a paper that compares the “caging” of humans in prisons and animals in zoos, in terms of experience, ethics, disciplinary regimes, and the respective animal and prisoner rights movement. “There are many resonances with this kind of work and feminist geography. In fact, I just returned from the AAG meeting in Tampa at which a University of Guelph feminist geographer, Alice Hovorka, who makes explicit in her work in Botswana the intersections across animal and feminist geographies, presented the Gender, Place and Culture Jan Monk Distinguished Annual lecture,” she said.
Karen recently moved into an administrative role at her university and is finding herself more and more concerned about the problems and issues related to women and women’s work in higher education. “I’m not sure how yet but I hope to help make some contribution there – on misogyny and racism in the classroom, work-life balance, issues surrounding mentoring, on diversity in leadership and communication styles – there’s an endless stream of topics to tackle. Despite some bright spots we’ve seen very little progress in these areas over the past several decades,” she said.
Karen chose feminist geography due to changes happening throughout the academy in the 1980’s and 90’s relating to women’s writing, work, lives and travels. She also believes her mentors have a hand in helping her select feminist geography. “I owe my career in feminist geography to my mentors, especially Jeanne Kay Guelke, a pioneer in the field who offered some of the most incisive critiques of the masculinism of American historical geography and who advised my PhD dissertation,” she said.
Feminist geographers gave Karen a feeling of belonging in geography. “I initially felt like such an outsider when first attending AAG meetings for instance, but quickly found a place in the GPOW (Geographic Perspectives on Women) specialty group and subsequently went on to be associated with that group in many capacities including as chair and as first organizer of what have now become the very popular annual book parties. Almost all of my most important relationships and friendships in geography have been with feminist geographers, through and outside a number of professional societies,” she said.
Karen’s all time favorite intellectual and influential book for her work and life would be Edward Said’s Orientalism. “What a powerful manifesto on our times,” she said. Karen has a lot of eclectic interests and a wide range of ‘must-reads’. “Jeanne Kay Guelke’s feminist critique of North American historical geography were the most formative works in terms of what would specifically become my research area. But it was probably Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble that transformed how I think about gender norms, roles, and performances,” she said.
There is one particular course that stuck out in Karen’s mind as her favorite: Feminist Philosophy with Sarah Hoagland. “that was very formative, my first encounter with the likes of Simone Du Beauvoir and the whole notion of heteronormativity. Sarah was also such a supportive professor, quite exceptional within the masculine world of philosophy,” she said.
Karen’s advice for students is to keep moving until you’ve found what you love to do and find work that resonated with the progressive social changes you’d like to help make happen in the world. “We are all going to make a difference; the question is, what kind of difference do we want to make?” she said.
Karen is a native Nebraskan and glad to be back for the conference in the ‘Big O’.
Karen would like to thank the organizers and everyone who worked on the conference for making it happen.