When Ken Foote first visited Salem, Mass. in the 1980s, he was fascinated by what he didn’t see. There was little in this picturesque seaside town to note the hysteria that had gripped the region between February 1692 and May 1693 during the Salem Witch Trials.
At the time of Foote’s visit, there was no monument acknowledging the 20 people who were executed. No gravesite markers. No official records on file in the town hall. It was as if the historical slate had been wiped clean. It wasn’t until 1992, some three centuries after the events had occurred, that a public memorial to the victims of the witchcraft scare was erected.
“I had always had an interest in behavioral geography and the ways in which people develop strong emotional bonds to certain places,” Foote says, “and when I visited Salem I was struck by the fact that such an important event seemed all but forgotten. There was almost no recognition that something really important in the history of our nation had transpired there. I guess that is what really started me on what has become a fascination with how events involving violence and tragedy are treated.”
Foote came to UConn this semester from the University of Colorado at Boulder, as head of the Department of Geography in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
While much of his scholarly research has dealt with the memorialization of space and the deep personal connections that people have to sites of tragedy, he is decidedly upbeat when talking about his chosen field.
“I was attracted to geography by its breadth, its interdisciplinary nature, and the chance it provides to work collaboratively with people with varied interests,” he says. “There’s so much potential for growth in the field, and that’s partially what attracted me to UConn. This [geography] department has traditionally been strong in economic geography and location theory, as well as geographic information science. But there’s also room for growth in recent areas of innovation, such as climate change studies, medical geography, and environmental and geospatial studies.
“The choices are almost unlimited,” he adds. “It’s having all these possibilities ahead of us that really makes this an exciting time to be in the field as well as an exciting time to be at UConn.”
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