Skip to main content

Jennifer Lupu (she/her)

PhD Candidate in the Department of Anthropology

Jennifer Lupu (she/her)

I've been so fortunate to be surrounded by a brilliant, supportive, and dynamic group of fellow graduate students.”

Jennifer Lupu is a PhD candidate in the Department of Anthropology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. Her study focuses on urban America in the 19th and 20th centuries, including underrepresented and disadvantaged histories, queer theory, and public archaeology. She also examines these subjects in relation to health, healing, embodiment, and other topics.

Jennifer was awarded a Dissertation Fellowship in the Sexualities Project at Northwestern (SPAN) in 2021, along with a SPAN Summer Research Fellowship in 2018. She was recently awarded a 3-month fellowship at the Beckman Center for the History of Chemistry, part of the Science History Institute, and will also be teaching a summer class at Northwestern titled "Queer and Feminist Interventions in Science" offered by the Gender and Sexuality Studies Program before becoming a Visiting Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Northwestern next year.

How would you describe your research and/or work to a non-academic audience?
I am a historical archaeologist. I study excavated household trash from the 19th and 20th centuries to learn about daily life beyond what is recorded in documents and history books. Prior to the 1900s, most cities did not have trash collection, and many residents buried household refuse in their backyards or in an old privy or well. I have two focuses: one on pharmaceutical bottles to learn about healthcare and disease in American cities, and the second is around queer history. I am working with materials from an archaeological excavation at a house that I think might have been a queer party scene during Prohibition.

What have been some of the most memorable twists and turns of your career?
After high school, I went to a music conservatory to try to become a professional oboist. While I still play the oboe occasionally, I found that playing it so seriously took the joy out of it for me. I also missed other academic pursuits. While taking time off from college, I volunteered on an archaeological dig and loved that it could be intellectually stimulating and also hands-on. There is so much mystery about the past that has yet to be uncovered.

Whom do you admire in your field and otherwise, and why?
I most admire the other graduate students I've gotten to learn with and from throughout my time at Northwestern. I often feel that I learn the most from my peers. I've been so fortunate to be surrounded by a brilliant, supportive, and dynamic group of fellow graduate students. Our conversations and their ideas have influenced me tremendously over the last few years.

What do you find both rewarding and challenging about your research and/or work?
I do publicly engaged work, which means I am regularly talking to people of all ages and backgrounds about archaeology. Archaeological artifacts can be a tangible touchstone for learning about the past, and people are often excited to hear stories about who the artifacts once belonged to. This is also challenging because there is a lot at stake—how we understand the past influences people's politics and perceptions of the present. It is also challenging to learn how to teach to many different audiences and to think about how to present my research in accessible and engaging ways.

What is the biggest potential impact or implication of your work?
In particular with my work on queer history, I can see how powerful it is for people to see a version of themselves in the past. Often, people think of queer history as starting in the 1960s with Stonewall, but my research is one more example that provides tangible evidence of gender nonconforming and same-sex loving people in the 19th and early 20th centuries. When LGBTQI+ people are erased from or rendered invisible in the past, it can invalidate us in the present, making it seem like queerness is a fad or a modern trend. In reality, people who today would identify as LGBTQI+ have always existed. A presentation of the past without us is an incorrect version of the past. Countless people have fought to live as themselves and love beyond social regulations, but they are not usually recorded accurately in history books, if they are recorded at all. Especially when I have talked about queer history with other LGBTQI+ individuals like myself, it has been really empowering to see how meaningful it can be.

Why Northwestern?
I came to Northwestern for several reasons. One was that when I visited my department, I found a dynamic community of queer graduate students working across topics and supporting one another. My adviser was another draw because, in addition to appreciating his research, I felt that he encouraged his students to have their own voice and follow their own interests. And another factor was that I had a former professor encourage me to go where I felt people seemed most excited about my research. She said that having people be excited and enthusiastic about your research can be rare and valuable. I felt that at Northwestern, the other graduate students and faculty were excited and engaged with each other’s work and expressed enthusiasm about mine as well.

How do you unwind after a long day?
A walk with my dog, puzzles and audiobooks, and the occasional Netflix binge.

What inspires you?
The other students I've met and gotten to learn with and from. This includes the other graduate students across the university and also the undergraduate students I've met through teaching. I deeply love learning, and I want to share my joy for learning with everyone around me!

What did you originally want to be when you grew up?
When I was a kid, I was obsessed with manatees. I wanted to be a marine biologist and study them.

What advice would you give your younger self or someone considering a similar path?
Go for your big dreams, but keep in mind a back-up plan that you'd also find fulfilling.

Published: May 16, 2023

If you know a graduate student, postdoctoral trainee, graduate faculty member, staff member, or a member of our TGS alumni population who would make a great candidate for our TGS Spotlight Series, please complete this brief TGS Spotlight Series Nomination Form.