UPDATED with memorial service information below.
You may have been wondering where the sardonic, spicy cowgirl Historiann has been this long holiday season. For that matter, I have too. My one and only New Year’s resolution–now that my book is well and truly in production–was to get back on the horse and find my blogging voice again. But the fact of the matter is that I’m grieving two colleagues who died in close succession, so I haven’t felt like putting on Historiann’s trademark sass. If you care to read on, I’d like to tell you a little bit about my late friends, and why their deaths have made such a big hole in my heart.
The first, Andrew Cayton, died December 17 in Columbus, Ohio. You may have read about him over at the Junto blog, which published a moving series of testimonies to his importance as a scholar of the early American republic and mentor to junior scholars. We met at the start of my career, when I found myself living in Oxford, Ohio and commuting to the University of Dayton. Drew and his wife Mary Kupiec Cayton were tremendous friends and mentors to me at a time when I needed a reality check as well as some letters of recommendation to get the heck out of that job. A model scholar, Drew was incredibly accomplished but always happy to extend the ladder down to help others on their way, as the remembrances over at the Junto demonstrate. I’m sure his example informs a great deal of what I’ve tried to here on this blog. So there’s a good lesson for you, friends: generosity and compassion gets paid forward, as does hostility and competitiveness, so be kind and try to help.
The other death is even more shocking and close-at-hand. My colleague in the History department of Colorado State University, Jennifer Fish-Kashay, died Sunday January 3 of a heart attack in Fort Collins, Colorado. She was only 49, and leaves behind a widower and two young children. Jennifer was a historian of late eighteenth and nineteenth century Hawaii who wrote about early contact and conflict between native Hawaiians and Anglo-American merchants and missionaries, and who taught courses in the early U.S. Republic and Jacksonian America. Jennifer was also trained in material culture and museum studies, so in our department she was central to the training and advising of our public history graduate students.
Always sensitive to the politics of Hawaiian history as a non-Native historian writing about native Hawaiians, her work was deeply informed by her training in anthropology. She published her articles widely, in journals ranging from New England Quarterly to the Pacific Historical Review, and from the Hawaiian Journal of History to the Western Historical Quarterly, among others. (I was especially excited about her work on “Missionaries, Foodways, and Imperialism in Early 19th-Century Hawaii,” which was published in Food and Foodways in 2009, and her article on the history of sexuality in her 2007 article in New England Quarterly on “Agents of Imperialism: Missionaries and Merchants in Early Nineteenth-Century Hawaii.”) Her latest research was on religion, gender, kinship, and the transformation of death and burial rituals in early postcontact Hawaii.
I chaired the committee that hired Jennifer eleven years ago, and we’ve been friends ever since. As a new mother myself at the time, I was sympathetic to Jennifer, whom we invited to interview on campus when she was nursing a one-month old. I and my colleagues on the search committee made the argument (successfully) that we should also pay to fly her husband out to Fort Collins as well as get them a rental car so that she could nurse her baby while on campus. It was the best money we ever spent on a hire, and the easiest form of good will to extend to a potential future colleague.
Although I know that several of my colleagues read this blog, she was an especially enthusiastic reader, and the only one in my department who would pull me aside and talk to me about a recent post. We disagreed on a lot of issues, both within our department as well as in the wider world, but we could talk about our disagreements. Jennifer was an enthusiastic gun owner as well as a rigorous practitioner of gun safety. After the murders of the first-graders and their teachers at Sandy Hook in 2012, we agreed a lot more on gun policy than we disagreed. One of the last things she did for our department was to set up a meeting last month with a campus police officer on surviving a live shooting event, which most of the faculty attended and which we found enormously helpful as well as sobering.
For those of you who knew Jennifer and who might be able to attend, her memorial service will be Friday, January 15 at 11 a.m. at the Allnutt Funeral Service at 650 Drake Road in Fort Collins, Colorado.
My entire department is in shock. I’ve been crying on and off for the past 40 hours or so since I learned of her death, and there’s a fresh pile of damp and snotty tissues next to me right now. (Note to self: get Lysol wipes on keyboard ASAP after publishing.) I know this blog has been kind of a bummer lately, with way too much grief blogging, but I guess this is just where Historiann–both the blog and the blogger–is right now. Thanks for your understanding, friends. I hope soon to recover my voice, find my spurs, and get back on ol’ Seminar soon enough.
Be kind as well as wise. Help each other out. We’re all in this together.