Tom Hesse interviewed me for the 7 August 2012 Daily Sitka Sentinel. The full text of the article follows.
Student Maps Canada In Sitka Fellows Project
By Tom Hesse, Sentinel Staff Writer
Canadian Studies is an academic discipline, and it’s very likely that no one has a better knowledge of it than Amanda Murphyao.
Murphyao is a Chicago native spending seven weeks in Sitka with the Sitka Fellows program in order to finish her Ph.D. In Canadian studies and become the first person to hold three degrees (bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate) in the field.
Murphyao’s fascination with Canada has evolved into an interest in what she calls the five corners of North America. The corners are those areas that receive little attention and are often represented on a map by a small inset in the corner: like Alaska.
“They’re always in the wrong spot on the map and to the wrong scale,” Murphyao said. The other corners are Hawaii, Nunavut, Baja and Newfoundland.
Murphyao’s dissertation focuses on, among other things, how areas are represented on maps says something about the culture of North America. Working in Sitka has not only placed Murphyao in one of the corners of the continent she’s concerned about but it has also given her a supportive fan base.
“People have been really enthusiastic when I tell them that my dissertation is about maps of Alaska,” Murphyao said. “I like how it seems to resonate with people.”
Beyond her dissertation, Murphyao is hoping to package the material into a graphic novel to be used as a teaching aid in classrooms.
“I want students to think about where they’re from,” Murphyao said of her future book. Murphyao hopes that by making her work available online – not dependent on book sellers – she’ll be able to get more of the material into the academic world.
In the fellows program, Murphyao has found something of an ally when it comes to graphic novels. Sam Alden, another one of the fellows, is working on a graphic novel. While Murphyao’s work isn’t intended to be as artistic as Alden’s, she has found the expertise very helpful.
“It’s been amazing to watch Sam work,” Murphyao said of her studio partner. “He’s a very motivated and efficient worker.”
Murphyao said the fellows program and Alaska have been extremely beneficial to her project.
“Canadian studies is an interdisciplinary field so the fellows program has been great for keeping with that,” Murphyao said.
Her work may not lead to an industry-wide overhaul of the way Alaska is shown on a map and it’s likely that Alaska will continue to be thought of as existing outside of the “continental United States” long into the future. But, she said, the experience has been exactly what she needed for her work.
“It’s really helped my dissertation. I’ve gotten so much from being here,” Murphyao said. “During an interview, Robert (Woolsey of KCAW) even showed me how to make the little hand-map of Alaska by using your thumb and index finger.”