Abbie Reese

academic speaker + lecturer on artistic practice

Abbie is requested to speak about her collaborative research-based practice, which spans the disciplines of visual anthropology and visual art, ethnographic fieldwork and documentary studies.

Trust and negotiations have been fundamental to her long-term engagement with an insular subculture that prizes anonymity. Speaking to audiences at universities, academic conferences, libraries, and literary and film festivals, Abbie shares the process, approach, and methodologies.

Cluj-Napoca, Romania – 2013

Cluj-Napoca, Romania – 2013



Ms. Abbie Reese is a wonderful storyteller. Aided by a visual presentation, Abbie captured in essence the life of the Poor Clare nuns located in Rockford, Illinois. This counter-cultural lifestyle which was basically foreign to our twenty-first century scholars left our students curious about a life solely dedicated to God long after the presentation ended.
— Sister Theresa Boland, SP Principal, Aquin Elementary School
Our library recently had the privilege of hosting Abbie Reese, author of Dedicated to God: an Oral History of Cloistered Nuns. Our patrons were impressed not only by Abbie’s knowledge, but by her relationship with the nuns she interviewed. This project is one which required delicacy and diplomacy, and Abbie clearly displayed both. The respect and consideration she shows for the women of the Poor Clare Colettine order is obvious, and helps us to see the humanity in a calling shrouded in mystery. We enjoyed the program very much, and look forward to the completion of the film.
— Mary Cheatwood, Mt. Morris Public Library

I had no idea how interested I was in the inner lives of nuns until I saw Abbie Reese talk about her oral history Dedicated to God in Chicago in early 2014. It was an evening of discovery.

Reese is an exceptionally thoughtful narrator of a compelling story: how she gained the trust of the sisters of the Poor Clare Colettine order and what she learned over the eight years she talked to them and observed their everyday routines.

Reese’s photographs from the monastery are striking and perhaps most absorbing of all is the audio she shared with us from her interviews. Especially talking about their lives before they were called—which they mostly describe as ordinary—these woman are at once riveting and disarming. They found an ideal historian in Reese, without whose work their experience would have remained hidden.
— Laura Demanski, Editor of the University of Chicago Magazine


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Abbie Reese combines ethnography and oral history, the artistry of the documentarian with the dynamism of a collaborative process, in this extraordinary study of a community of otherwise cloistered nuns. By speaking at length with those who typically speak little, Reese’s project raises important questions about when and why we talk about ourselves. By asking those living in community to tell their own stories, this work explores what it means to live a collective life.
— Amy Starecheski, Associate Director of the Columbia Oral History MA Program

RECent select talks

The Transdisciplinary Imaging Conference at the Intersection Between Art, Science, and Culture - Plymouth, England; Conference on the History of Women Religious - Santa Clara University; Digital Arts and Digital Art History / Digital Memories, a joint conference at the University of Oxford – England; Writing Women’s Lives: Auto/Biography, Life Narratives, Myths and Historiography international symposium by the Women’s Library and Information Centre Foundation and Yeditepe University – Istanbul, Turkey; Rethinking Intermediality in the Digital Age conference, Sapientia University Department of Film, Photography and Media – Cluj-Napoca, Romania; Mobility, Memory, Material Worlds: Crossroads and Convergences, a joint conference of the University of Chicago Anthropology Department and Université Paris-Ouest Nanterre Maison René-Ginouvès et d'ethnologie, Ritual Movement panelist – Chicago; CINESONIKA: Celebrating the Soundtrack conference, University of Ulster School of Creative Arts–Magee – Derry-Londonderry, Northern Ireland; Dr. Luc Schaedler's visual anthropology course, Film as Method at the University of Bern's Institute of Social Anthropology – Bern, Switzerland; Methods Workshop, Intermediality Research Unit at the University of the Arts – Bern, Switzerland; the Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling and the Department of Religion at Concordia University – Montreal; In/visibility: Projects, Media Politics, American Ethnological Society spring meeting in conjunction with the Society for Visual Anthropology – Boston; Society for Visual Anthropology annual Visual Research Conference – Chicago; American Anthropological Association annual conference, Filmmakers and Photographers: Experimental Trends panelist – Chicago; the Oral History Association's annual meeting, Oral History in Motion: Movements, Transformations, and the Power of Story – Madison; Visual Anthropology Society at Temple', Futures of Visual Anthropology conference – Philadelphia; the American Catholic Historical Association spring meeting, Xavier University – Cincinnati; the American Catholic Historical Association spring meeting, University of Notre Dame; University of Chicago Film Studies Center, cosponsored by the Lumen Christi Institute, the Department of Cinema and Media Studies, and Calvert House – Chicago; Columbia University's Paul F. Lazarsfeld Lecture Series with the Oral History Master of Arts program – NYC; The Center for the Humanities at Temple – Philadelphia; Dr. Jayasinhji Jhala's Anthropology of Tourism course, Temple University Department of Visual Anthropology – Philadelphia; Dr. Kathleen Sprows Cummings' Gender and American Catholicism course at the University of Notre Dame; the Catholic High School of Baltimore; National Catholic Sisters Week, St. Catherine University – St. Paul, MN; Printers Row Lit Fest – Chicago; Seminary Co-op Bookstore – Chicago; Barnes & Noble – Rockford