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HI Faculty Fellow Spotlight: Tamara Thornton

October 19, 2020

Each month, we will feature one of the Humanities Institute Faculty Fellows and their answers to a short questionnaire. This month’s featured fellow is Tamara Thornton whose [Virtual] Scholars@Hallwalls talk, “Globes and the Global Imagination in Early America: Objects, Ideas, and People” takes place on Friday, October 23rd at 4pm.

What material(s) sparked your current project that you are now working on as a faculty fellow?

antique globe with wood table leg base

Terrestrial Globe by William Bardin, London, 1783. (National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London. Caird Fund.)

My last book (also supported by an HI fellowship—thank you again!) took me into an early America where few people had mathematical training, and those that did mainly applied it to navigation and commerce. Intrigued by that connection between knowledge of numbers and knowledge of the wider world, I read what is probably the first travel book published in the United States, Indostan Letters of 1790, written by Bartholomew Burges, a sometime East India Company employee, navigation teacher, and globes instructor. His reference to “the use of the globes” led me to the literature and material culture of globes.

What has been a source of entertainment these past months as we deal with coronavirus? Any specific recommendations (books, podcasts, film/tv, etc.)?

Walking the historic cemeteries of western New York. I live near Forest Lawn, which is spectacularly beautiful, but I am also drawn to wondering about—and sometimes reconstructing—the stories of the “inhabitants” of graveyards. In a roadside cemetery in rural Niagara County, I found the grave of one Czar Peter North. I could not resist a quick dive into digitized databases to solve the riddle of why a man born in Farmington, Connecticut, in 1802 was given this name. No definitive answer, but I do have some evidence for a theory . . .

What is your favorite place outdoors in WNY?

Close to home, the stone bridge, woods, and paths of Delaware Park. Thank you, Mr. Olmsted. Farther afield, the Stella Niagara Preserve in Lewiston, where you can enjoy the natural shoreline of a particularly lovely stretch of the Niagara River.

Is there a UB colleague whose research or work you think others should know more about?

My colleagues in the History Department are all so accomplished and creative, but I will draw your attention to a new colleague, Gene Zubovich. His work on the American Protestant engagement with global human rights and governance in the mid-twentieth century and its implications for political mobilization in the US intrigues me in light of my own interest in the global imaginary. I’m very much looking forward to the publication of The Global Gospel: Protestants, Human Rights, and the Fracturing of the Twentieth-Century United States.

Originating as a 19th century parlor game, popularized by Marcel Proust’s responses, pick a question from the so-called “Proust Questionnaire” to answer.

Who are your favorite writers?

I am especially drawn by writers who depict worlds I should find unfamiliar, yet feel deeply familiar to me. Two of my favorites: Magda Szabó’s Katalin Street and R. K. Narayan’s The Financial Expert.

Our thanks to Tamara for sharing with us! For more information about Tamara and the rest of the 2020-21 HI Faculty Fellow cohort, please visit our Faculty Fellows page.