Alumni News: Interview with Dr. Samantha Good ’13 on doctoral dissertation at the University of Illinois

Posted on May 7th, 2019 by

Congratulations to Dr. Samantha Good on her recently defended doctoral dissertation “Negotiated Ecologies: Indigeniety and Ecocriticism in 19th Century Bolivia and Chile”.  Dr. Good graduated from Gustavus in 2013 with a double major in Environmental Studies and Spanish and a minor in LALACS. With such strong academic base and unique combination of interests, she continued her studies in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign. In her time there, she was awarded two fellowships for the study of Quechua (one for the 2014-2105 academic year and a second one for the summer of 2015).  She has also received the prestigious and very competitive Andrew W. Mellon Pre-doctoral Fellowship for Research in the Humanities in 2018-2019. Dr. Good was gracious to share a few words about her dissertation project and provide some advice to students working with indigenous communities.

1. Please tell us about your recently defended dissertation, what is it about?

My dissertation project examines attitudes towards the non-human environment in 19th century Bolivia and Chile. The 19th century in Latin America is often characterized by scholars as a time period of unbounded extraction of resources and modernization, which had a significant impact on the environment. However, my project intends to offer a more nuanced understanding of environmental relations in the Andes during this time period, by analyzing a variety of sources (including novels, newspapers, travel journals and photography) as well as different points of view.

2. How did you get interested in this topic?

At Gustavus, I double-majored in Spanish and Environmental Studies. At the end of my four years, I felt that I had to choose between these interests, so I pursued a graduate degree in Spanish. However, I soon realized I could continue studying environmental topics during my graduate studies. When I took a class on rural and modern landscapes a few years ago, my passion for environmental topics was reignited and so I began looking for possible topics which could let me combine my love for Latin American cultural studies with my interest in the environment.

3. How did you approach this research and what steps did you have to follow to complete it?

This research project developed over the course of about 2 and a half years. It began by preparing for my qualifying exams in my PhD program. In preparation, I read hundreds of books and articles on the topics that interested me, in order to see what research had been done so far. After this intense period of reading, I took my qualifying exams and wrote an initial proposal of my project. Once my committee approved my proposal, I was able to begin writing and I wrote my entire dissertation over the course of 11 months. Before writing each chapter, I would spend a few weeks evaluating my sources, crafting a thesis statement and outlining my argument and then I would spend about six weeks writing each chapter. After that, each chapter underwent multiple revisions by members of my committee before I was allowed to defend my project. I successfully defended my project in April of 2019!

4. What has been the most exciting aspect of this research?

During the summer of 2017, I received a fellowship to conduct archival research in Sucre, Bolivia for five weeks. While the library at the University of Illinois is one of the largest collections in the United States, the sources on Bolivia were relatively limited. So I traveled to Sucre and collected newspaper articles from the 19th century on the topics of food production and transportation, which allowed for a deeper understanding of practices which impacted the environment.  I’ll admit that working in the archives in not glamorous but I had a great time getting to know Bolivia, as well as its people and cultures.

5. In which ways does your research add to the field?

My central contribution to the field is working to continue expanding the scope of ecocriticism in Latin America in a few ways. My project examines multiple genres with the hope of offering a more holistic view of the cultural attitudes and practices which have impacted relationships with the environment.  Furthermore, very few ecocritical investigations exist which examine the 19th century in Latin America and so my project contributes to an understanding of the longer history of environmental relations in the Andean region.

6. How does a society navigate the difference of priorities/values between what is good for the economy, for the environment and for indigenous groups?  (question by Lindsay Concepción ’19 who has been accepted to a graduate linguistics program at the University of Alaska to study indigenous communities)

Sadly, I feel that in the majority of cases, the economy and the desires of the elite are prioritized over the environment and the common good. However, there are certainly a numerous instances in which you can observe negotiation between worldviews and acts of resistance which advocate for the protection of the non-human environment. For example, in the Bio Bio region of Chile, indigenous activists have taken up more radical, violent means of protest in recent years (see http://radioambulante.org/en/audio-en/war-in-bio-bio). However, there are a lot of other examples in the Andes of subtler forms of negotiation occurring to combat the extraction of resources and the degradation of the environment.

7.  How did you approach starting a relationship with indigenous groups? How do you make connections with a culture in which you are an outsider? (question by Lindsay Concepción)

I think every encounter with other cultures should be grounded in an attitude of curiosity and respect. However, the topic of connecting and understanding a worldview different from your own is the subject of many scholarly works. There are certainly some authors that I would recommend that can explain the experience of approaching other cultures and knowledge forms better than I can. So I would recommend the books Earth Beings by Marisol de la Cadena and The Hold Life Has by Catherine Allen.

8. How do you translate your experience with the language and the culture into tangible data? (question by Lindsay Concepción)

While I do have a scientific background, I don’t think everything should be thought of as data. Right now, within the environmental humanities, there is a push to focus on narrative and story-telling because in recent decades, the focus on data when discussing big environmental issues, like climate change, has not been shown to have a significant impact in changing people’s mindset and behaviors. Scholars believe that narrative and visual forms, perhaps paired with data and other forms of knowledge, can be powerful in effecting change.

9. What is next?  What do you hope to accomplish with this investigation and what other projects do you think will come from it?

I have hopes of broadening the project, to connect issues observed in the 19th century with current ecological crises in the Andes and trace the development of current practices and attitudes towards the environment over time.

Additionally, within the ecocriticism movement, disproportionate attention has been given to the literary and cultural production of countries of the Global North, failing to adequately consider the contributions of authors of the Global South in understanding the complex and dynamic interactions between humans and the environment. With this project, I hope to keep working towards expanding the movement to give more attention to current ecological crises from the point of view of the Global South, which is a main goal of scholars in the field currently.

There are many generations of students who will be lucky to study with Dr. Good to learn more about ecology and indigenous communities in Latin America. We look forward to reading her many contributions to the field in the years to come.  Thank you for this interview!

 

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