"I have always been fascinated with the way culture and social organization affect our personal experience of the world. How do the ideas, social arrangements, and structures of power that we happen to have grown up with affect our sense of who we are and what's important? In my research and writing, I try to examine and render visible the contingent relationships between these factors and their significance for people's everyday lives. These were some of the themes I explored in my book, Imagining the Course of Life, which looks at how people's ideas about human development are connected to cultural constructions of self and personhood.
The primary site for my research has been in Thailand, where I have conducted extensive and long-term fieldwork in the Thai-Burma border area and in the city of Chiang Mai. Over the course of this fieldwork experience, I have developed strong research interests in Buddhism, indigenous psychologies, rural economic change, schools and education, cross-border migration, and the contemporary expression of identity in urban, multi-ethnic contexts. I am always looking for ways to introduce students to the pleasures and rigors of ethnographic fieldwork, and often incorporate examples from my own research in my courses."
Years at Knox: 1984 to present
Ph.D., Anthropology, 1984, University of Illinois.
M.A., Anthropology, 1979, University of Illinois.
B.A., Anthropology, Phi Beta Kappa, 1975, University of Iowa.
Cultural anthropology, socio-economic change, psychological anthropology, Southeast Asia, gender, religion, ethnographic research methods.
Caterpillar Foundation Faculty Achievement Award, Knox College, 2010.
ACM Faculty Career Enhancement grant for sabbatical preparation in Thailand, 2005.
Philip Green Wright-Lombard College Prize for distinguished teaching, 1995.
Social Science Research Council Postdoctoral Fellowship, 1990-1991.
PICAS (Program for Inter-institutional Collaboration in Area Studies) grant for 6 months of research at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at the University of Michigan, 1989.
Charlotte W. Newcombe Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship (under the auspices of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation), 1983-1984.
National Science Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship, 1981.
Social Science Research Council Doctoral Fellowship, 1980-1981.
Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Grant, 1979-1980.
"Rite of Passage or Ethnic Festival? Shan Buddhist Novice Ordinations in Northern Thailand" in Contemporary Buddhism 10.1 (2009.)
Imagining the Course of Life: Self-Transformation in a Shan Buddhist Community. University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, 2006.
"Integrating Local Conceptions of Personhood, Agency, and Human Development into the Study of Morality." Paper presented as part of the double-panel session Toward an Anthropology of Morality at the annual meetings of the American Anthropological Association, Philadelphia, December 2009.
"What Does It Mean to Be Shan? Shifting Ethnic Markers for Shan in Northern Thailand." Paper presented at the International Burma Studies Conference, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, Illinois, 2008.
"Stepping into the Same River Twice? Re-studies of a Shan Community in Northern Thailand." Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Association for Asian Studies, Atlanta, Georgia, 2008.
"Negotiating Shan Identity in Northern Thailand." Paper presented at the Conference on Shan Buddhism and Culture, hosted by SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies) at the University of London, 2007.
"Evolving Economic and Gender Practices in a Shan Community of Mae Hong Son Province," with Steve Cohn, paper presented at IAFFE (the International Association for Feminist Economics), Bangkok, 2007.
"Religion and Self Transformation." Paper presented at a conference on Religion and Culture, hosted by the Institute of Religion, Culture, and Peace at Payap University, Chiang Mai, Thailand, 2007.
"Changing household strategies in a Shan community of Mae Hong Son province: The Impact of Cross-Border Migrants and Capitalist Development." Invited talk at the Regional Center for Social Science and Sustainable Development, Chiang Mai University, Chiang Mai, Thailand, 2007.
"Buddhism and Animism," guest lecture for course on Thai Buddhism at Payap University, Chiang Mai, Thailand, 2007.
"Education and Poverty." Invited discussant for panel at the international conference Critical Transitions in the Mekong Region hosted by the Regional Center for Social Science and Sustainable Development, Chiang Mai University Thailand, 2007.
Research on Shan Buddhist texts and ritual change in monasteries in northern Thailand, summer of 2009.
Sabbatical year in Chiang Mai, Thailand; affiliation with the Regional Center for Social Science and Sustainable Development, Chiang Mai University; research on impact of cross-border migrants from Burma on Shan population in northern Thailand, 2006-2007.
Extensive field research on various aspects of Shan culture and social life in rural Mae Hong Son province, Thailand from 1977 to 2009, funded by a series of grants from the University of Illinois, Fulbright-Hays, SSRC, NSF, and Knox College.
Member, American Anthropological Association.
Member, Society for Psychological Anthropology.
Member, Association for Asian Studies.
Member, Thailand/Laos/Cambodia Studies Group.
Elected to the Executive Board of the Central States Anthropological Society for two three-year terms beginning in 2005 and again in 2008.
Member, Phi Beta Kappa.
Campus and Community Involvement
Chair, Department of Anthropology and Sociology, 1995-1999, 2003-2006, and 2008-present.
Member, Peace Corps Preparatory Committee, 2007-present.
Appointed Knox College representative to the Board of Directors of the Knox-Galesburg Symphony, 2010.
Faculty tutor to the Knox College McNair Early Entry Program, 1995-1999.
Previous service on Executive Committee and Faculty Affairs Subcommittee, and on various faculty-administrative committees charged with institutional planning and program development.
What Students Say
"Nancy permanently affected my way of thinking, more so than almost any of my professors during my time at Knox. Always caring and approachable, she conducts an open, comfortable classroom, and she has the rare ability to incorporate and balance all aspects of sociology and anthropology in her teaching - women, gender, economics, climate, sexuality, methodology, history, language, etc. Her time spent researching in Thailand clearly shows her students that she is not just a professor of anthropology, but an anthropologist herself. She chooses contemporary ethnographies written by men and women who are thinking in new ways - every day, Nancy challenges her students to analyze the human condition, propelling us to leave our comfort zones or ethnocentrism and instead view all people and cultures as equals, on the same plane."
-Olivia Evelyn Engel, English Creative Writing Major, Anthropology/Sociology Minor
Music and writing students collaborated and performed with renowned bassist and composer Ben Allison, as jazz fans got a live, free preview of Allison's new album, during Knox's inaugural Mirza Jazz Residency.
Knox's Team X-Ray places second among 15 liberal arts colleges that competed in an intense regional contest involving programming teams from colleges and universities in five states.
Finals and term projects can be more than tests and papers, as Knox College faculty make engaging assignments and exams -- including design your own superhero -- to evaluate student academic achievements.