Hello…thanks for your interest. I am an art and architectural historian interested in ways to activate history and the arts in the present day, for a variety of people. Left alone, I research art, architectural and urban issues. But, of course, I am not alone in the world, so I try to find ways to connect my interests with what is important to other people: in books, articles, book reviews, blogs, emails (LOTS of email!), and conversation.
The photo that I use on the home page—part of a wonderful mural along the Akerselva River in Oslo—represents the importance that I attach to interactions, to relationships. I am also an introvert, so there’s an ongoing balancing act among solitude, interchange, and action.
I move back and forth from intense activities in organizations to retreat into my study, which is a privilege of class and whiteness. Most folks don’t have the option of pulling back from struggle. Some of the situations that have had significant effects on me, and continue to shape my emotional and physical states, as well as my intellectual life are: being raised in a mobile family—Seattle, Ohio, North Carolina, Minnesota, Mexico, Guatemala—and then, after I left my parents’ home, New Mexico, Illinois, and India; civil rights marches, voter registration drives, and sit-ins in North Carolina right around 1960; participating in Upward Bound at Xavier University in New Orleans in the late 1960s; living in Zumpango, Tlaxcala,Mexico, and then with the Saravia family in Guatemala City (under martial law) in the late sixties; and then, with my husband and children, staying in Chandigarh, Punjab/Harayana, in northern India for half a year.
After finishing my Ph.D. at Northwestern University in the mid-eighties, I moved to Champaign-Urbana in central Illinois. I got very involved in the sanctuary movement through the Illinois Disciples Foundation (IDF), and then served on the IDF Board for several years too. When I wasn’t at IDF, I worked with Ned Kaufman on a book-length bibliography of Medievalism in Architecture and Art in Britain and North America (1988). I became increasingly active with the Society for the History of Technology (SHOT) and their journal, Technology and Culture. I also published a monograph on the architect, Cass Gilbert (Monacelli Press, 1999). As my children grew, I got involved in the public schools, particularly the Urbana Project on Educational Democracy (UPED), and various spin-offs from there related to arts education.
Recent research has focused on the London-based artist Stephen Willats and the California-based artist Suzanne Lacy. My book, Suzanne Lacy: Spaces Between, was published by the University of Minnesota Press in 2010. See my publications page for an outline and video book trailer. I welcome opportunities to talk about that work with artists, historians, and anybody else, for that matter!
I earn my living as a project coordinator at the School of Information Sciences at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. In that capacity I am active with FemTechNet.
I can be reached at slirish at illinois.edu My Twitter name is @zumpang in recognition of Zumpango, Tlaxcala, Mexico, where I lived as a teenager.