US American Specialist in Geography and the Caribbean Wins 2023 Best Article of the Year Award
In January 2024, the members of NAMES’ Editorial Board independently reviewed all of the articles that had been published in volume 71; and cast their vote for the best articles of the year. After tallying the votes, a clear winner emerged. The 2024 winner of the NAMES Best Article of the Year is Dr. Russell Fielding of Coastal Carolina University, USA. The title of his award-winning work is “ ‘A Change of Name During Sickness’: Surveying the Widespread Practice of Renaming in Response to Physical Illness” [NAMES vol. 71, no. 2: 11-28]. As described in the article abstract: “This paper synthesizes and summarizes a selection of literature—largely anthropological and ethnographic, published between the early 18th and early 21st centuries—that describes the practice of renaming a person who is physically ill in order to affect their recovery”. In an e-interview with NAMES Editor-in-Chief, I. M. Nick, Dr. Russell graciously answered questions about himself and his research.
Much of your research is in Geography and the Caribbean. What first got you interested in these two areas?
I grew up in Florida where the Caribbean islands were among our nearest neighbors. As an undergraduate student I served as a research assistant in Cuba, helping a Ph.D. student with his work. It was a wonderful experience, and when I decided to go to graduate school, I intentionally chose programs that would allow me to continue to work in the Caribbean. I did my doctoral work at Louisiana State University under the guidance of Kent Mathewson, an expert on the human-environmental interactions of Latin America and the Caribbean. I'm currently working on a project that explores the fascinating history and promising future of breadfruit—an iconic fruit tree that grows prolifically in the region.
Your work is uniquely interdisciplinary. What would you say are some of the rewards and challenges of this approach?
I like to tell my students that the world is interdisciplinary. This project on name-changes was outside my normal area of research but, perhaps because of that, was exciting since it challenged me to learn more about anthropology and ethnography as well as research methods and world regions that were new to me. In terms of rewards, I've found that working across disciplines allows us to see connections and come up with ideas that might be elusive if we stay within the narrow confines of our fields. On the 'challenges' side, though, since it's impossible to read everything written and to gain expertise in every field, we have to accept that working across disciplines often means constantly needing to bring ourselves up to speed on newly integrated topics. It can be exhausting, but in a good way!
Can you recommend any references for scholars and students interested in the intersection between names and geography?
One that I have found the most useful is the website, native-land.ca, which is run by a Canadian nonprofit that aims "to create and foster conversations about the history of colonialism, Indigenous ways of knowing, and settler-Indigenous relations." On the website, the boundaries of indigenous lands are overlain atop a map of modern borders and placenames. By zooming in on a particular place, users can see the overlap of indigenous and settler geographies and will often recognize names with which they're familiar. For example, I live near the coast in South Carolina. From native-land.ca, I have learned that many of the local placenames (e.g., Winyah, Pee Dee, Waccamaw) that I know from the names of landforms, highways, businesses, etc., originated with indigenous peoples who lived in this area before colonization.