Select Published Papers

The Meaning of American Pet Cemetery Gravestones
ETHNOLOGY 48 (2009):99-118.
This paper documents changes in pet gravestone inscriptions over more than a century.  It focuses on the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery, founded in 1896 and the oldest establishment of its kind in the United States.  The study provides new ethnographic evidence in support of the widespread observation that many Americans conceive of companion animals as full-fledged family members, endowed with cultural characteristics close to those of humans.  Gravestone inscriptions illustrate three principal developments over the past hundred years: first, the growing use of human names for pets; second, the evolving definition of pets as actual kin to their owners; and, third, an enhanced religious and ethnic identity bestowed upon pets.  The paper ends with suggestions as to the reasons for these changes. (pdf)

Dear Rin Tin Tin:
An Analysis of William Safire’s Dog-Naming Survey from 1985

This paper contributes to the study of how and why we bestow particular types of names upon companion animals, specifically dogs. The research is based on a cache of letters written in 1985 in response to a request from New York Times columnist, William Safire. Although the survey is in no sense scientific, it nonetheless taps trends in dog naming that have become steadily more prominent to the present day. Dog names as well as the criteria by which they are selected reflect central aspects of the relationship between pet owners and their canine companions. The letters reveal a growing preference for people names for dogs, which accords with the increasing treatment of companion animals as human. Dog nicknaming is common, particularly for those pedigree canines registered with the American Kennel Club. Dog naming provides pet owners a creative outlet, and a way to reinforce and communicate publicly a particular self-image. (pdf)

Graciela Iturbide as Anthropological Photographer
This article is a reflection on the images of Mexican photographer Graciela Iturbide. Focusing on her portraits of indigenous peoples of Meixco (particularly the Seri, Isthmus Zapotec, and Mixtec), the author addresses the anthropological value of a body of visual material that is artistic, rather than documentary, in conception and execution. The article inquires into whether and to what extent the images of a professional photographer such as Iturbide can be consdered ethnographic. In essence, the author argues, Iturbide may be though of as an anthropological photographer, given that her work is of educational and inspirational value to ethnographes or Mexico. (pdf)

Ratatouille: An Animated Account of Cooking, Taste, and Human Evolution
This paper analyzes the immensely popular animated film Ratatouille as a social and cultural document. It begins with a recapitulation of the movie’s story line – a saga of an astute, ambitious and talented rat, who becomes transformed into an accomplished haute cuisine chef. The film illustrates recent anthropological writings on the central role of cooking in human evolution. It also shows how varieties of cooking and table manners provide key indications of the civilizing process. Ultimately, Ratatouille explores distinctions and similarities between “man and beast.” It communicates the idea that all living creatures share more in terms of aptitude and feeling that divides them. (pdf)