The first Ask. Ponder. Educate. [X]. event of 2022 featured Dr. Julie McCown as Southern Utah University’s distinguished guest lecturer.
McCown is an assistant professor of English at SUU. She received her PhD in English from the University of Texas at Arlington in 2016. She specializes in early American literature, animal studies and digital humanities.
However, it was her study of Martha Maxwell, the first female taxidermist, that McCown chose to discuss onstage at A.P.E.X.
Initially discovering Maxwell while working on her dissertation on early American natural history, she was stunned by the photographs of large taxidermy displays she saw and quickly went to work in exploring everything there was to know about this woman’s life.
Maxwell explored taxidermy as not only a scientific endeavor but an artistic one. Self-taught in both taxidermy and natural science, she hunted, collected and retrieved almost every specimen within her work.
Most prominently, her collection “Women’s Work” brought a new life to the display of taxidermy.
While this collection was lost, the book “On the Plains, Among the Peaks” by Mary Dartt remains. This book explored the life of Martha Maxwell and forces individuals to view the ethics of her work.
Not only did the book give an in-depth view of Maxwell and her ability to succeed in a man dominated field, but it also gives readers a deeper understanding of life in the West during the 19th century. Exploring the gold rush, the casual outlook on indigenous people and female propriety, it is a looking glass into the past.
McCown recently published a critical edition of Dartt’s book and hopes to allow the book to become a “literary artifact of its own right.”
More information on McCown and her work can be found here.
Information on future A.P.E.X. events like this one can be found here.
Article and Photo by: Audrey Gee