44: Loren Michael "Mike" Mortimer



Program and Year of Study

PhD, 5th year with a designated emphasis in Native American Studies

Previous degrees and colleges

BA, Hamilton College

MA, North Carolina State University 

Where did you grow up?

New Jersey, just off exit 153B on the Garden State Parkway

Where do you live now?

Davis, CA

What's your favorite spot in Davis?

On any given patio with an iced coffee and fast Wi-Fi

How do you relax?

By switching to a non-caffeinated beverage

What was the last book you read for pleasure?

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

What TV show are you currently binge-watching?

Chef’s Table on Netflix

Research interests

Native American history, indigenous political ecology, early American environmental history, the Atlantic World in the Age of Revolutions, settler colonialism, spatial history, and comparative border studies

Dissertation title or topic

'While the Mountains Remain and the Rivers Run': Indigenous Power and Presence in the St. Lawrence Borderlands, 1534-1842 is an environmental history of the Seven Fires confederacy, an Indigenous federation of Iroquoian and Algonquian communities along the St. Lawrence River. Combining ethnographic, environmental, and digital historical methodologies, my research examines how the unique ecosystems of St. Lawrence River watershed shaped the development of Native American societies and their relations with French and British colonizers. My dissertation unsettles longstanding assumptions about international borders by placing Seven Fires at the center of their own transnational history rather than the margins of United States and Canadian national origins stories. 

Please share a surprising or noteworthy fact or finding from your research

During the eighteenth century, Indigenous peoples and European colonists alike enjoyed the taste of American black bear, especially in the autumn when the bears were fattened on acorns. Colonists roasted bear like ham and drank melted bear fat to cure indigestion. Native peoples preferred communal feasts of hearty bear stew where they honored the spirit of the bear by ensuring nothing went to waste. Stewing the bear ensured its meat was not only more succulent, but also healthier to consume than the colonial “bear hams” because this cooking method also killed any unwanted parasites. 

Which professor or class inspired you to pursue graduate studies?

I have racked up a ponderous ledger of intellectual debts going back to the late 1980s, so stay tuned for a lengthy acknowledgments section when I complete my dissertation. 

Which scholarly text do you wish you had written? Why?

1066 And All That by W. C. Sellar and R. J. Yeatman because histories have previously been written with the object of exalting the authors. The object of this text is to console the reader!

Which other researchers at UC Davis are doing work that particularly interests you?

I wish I could say “all of the above” with respect to the important and exciting research coming out of the UC Davis History department. When I reflect on the recent spate of faculty accolades, I think what distinguishes UC Davis historians is their ability to investigate entangled histories of race, class, gender, and place and render them accessible to readers through the lived experiences of richly narrated human subjects, ranging from creole composers to Paiute prophets.

Looking ahead, Ellen Hartigan-O’Connor and Lisa Materson’s co-edited Oxford Handbook of American Women’s and Gender History is set for release this year. This definitive historiographic volume marks a significant milestone in a thirty-year intellectual project at UC Davis. Some may recall that in the fall of 2014, ISS co-sponsored the American Women's and Gender History Conference that played a key role in the book’s development. It was a summit meeting of distinguished scholars in this field, and I was fortunate to see some of the “behind the scenes” debates as this volume came together. Likewise, I’m excited about Justin Leroy’s book project Freedom’s Limit: Racial Capitalism and the Afterlives of Slavery. He currently co-directs the new Mellon Initiative in Racial Capitalism, and its program of public events and colloquia has generated incisive interdisciplinary conversations on campus. I’m also looking forward to Sudipta Sen’s forthcoming Ganges: The Many Pasts of an Indian River. Spanning millennia in its temporal scope, this new biography of India’s holiest river situates its diverse human societies in the Ganges’s seemingly infinite confluences of history, mythology, and ecology.

In my designated emphasis in the Native American Studies department, I continue to be inspired by the scholarship of Professor Beth Rose Middleton. Her work on political ecologies of healing combines public policy research, Indigenous critical theory, and decolonial praxis. Professor Middleton’s work with the Maidu Summit Consortium contributed to their successful effort reclaim sacred lands in Humbug Valley from Pacific Gas & Electric Company. I could go on about her generous mentorship and the positive effects of her community-engaged scholarship, but I think Chancellor May best summed it up when he recently honored Professor Middleton as a 2018 Chancellor’s Fellow, recognizing her as one of the “stellar educators and researchers who make UC Davis a world-renown institution.” 

What’s the best thing about being a grad student?

I can take my work very seriously without having to take myself too seriously all the time.

What's the worst?

Alternative facts

If you weren't a grad student, what would you be doing?

Well, I really enjoyed my stint as a features writer for ISS…

Finally, please ask yourself a question

What new ideas did you learn as a features writer for ISS that ended up benefitting your research in unexpected ways? 

I discovered the concept of chronesthesia—the capacity of the human mind to project ideas forward and backward through time—while writing a piece about David Kyle’s work on cognitive migration. I had the chance informally discuss the concept of chronesthesia at length with Professor Kristin H. Lagattuta and her graduate students following an ISS Noon Lecture on early childhood development. This idea helped me understand the origins of history and storytelling as evolutionary imperatives. I gained a deeper understanding of the underlying cognitive processes structuring Indigenous oral histories and the transmission of cultural knowledge across millennia. 


—April 2018


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