Esme Murdock Awarded Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship in Philosophy at Penn State

By Leslie L.J. Reilly

Esme Murdock

Esme Murdock, assistant professor of philosophy, has accepted a full-time position as a Mellon-funded postdoctoral scholar at Penn State University, beginning in August. “Teaching and research often pull you in different directions. With this opportunity, I’m looking forward to more dedicated research time,” Murdock said.

After receiving her Ph.D. at Michigan State University, Murdock became a visiting assistant professor at Morehouse College. In 2018, she joined the College of Arts & Letters at SDSU as an assistant professor in philosophy.

Her research explores the intersections of social/political relations and environmental health, integrity, and agency. Specifically, her work troubles the purported stability of dominant, largely euro-descendent, and settler-colonial philosophies through centering conceptions of land and relating to land found within African American, Afro-Diasporic, and Indigenous eco-philosophies.

Murdock is looking forward to the opportunity to work on her first project and primary focus, a forthcoming book tentatively titled, Blood, Bone, & Land: Black Environmental Identities, Heritages, and Histories in Coastal South Carolina.

“I situate this project as a response to Toni Morrison’s call to memorialize, in bodies and landscapes, the presence of enslaved African being. Blood, Bone, & Land will chronicle a land history and history of place of enslaved Africans in coastal South Carolina, specifically Sullivan’s Island and James Island, with the aim of fleshing out the diverse and rich environmental ethics, identities, and heritages these stories reveal,” she said.

“I am Intrigued by the land history, indigenous history and military history of Sullivan’s Island — It was in the 18th century, the main port of entry for enslaved Africans. About 40% of African Americans can trace their roots to West Africa through there,” Murdock said.

“My research project will function as public land history that represents underrepresented relationships to place by peoples systematically made vulnerable and marginal by British colonial and U.S.American white dominant culture, but it will also lift up the incredible variability and agency of the lands that made/make these histories possible themselves,” Murdock said.

This non-teaching position gives her a chance to immerse herself in writing the manuscript and gives her access to external readers and a plethora of research support options.

“I’ll be looking at documents and programming of the national parks in South Carolina. The McLeod Plantation, which is the one I’m most interested in, is on James Island.” Much of her research is based there, and the benefit of being in close proximity, is that she’ll have access to sites such as Fort Moultrie, Sullivan’s Island’s African American Cemetery, Sullivan’s Island’s National Park Service’s Museum, McLeod Plantation on James Island, and the International African American Museum (pending its opening).

Her goal is to write the book in an openly accessible style for all readers — as it is a very important piece of public history to share broadly.  “It will make widely accessible, the narratives and stories so sorely missed and needed from U.S. environmental histories and environmental ethics.”

“I think it will shakeup thinking,” Murdock said.