Ellen Schnepel, PhD

From reading the works of Aimé Césaire, a Martinican poet, as an undergraduate at Vassar College to setting off papier-mâché volcanoes in a park with her third-grade students at a private school in Brooklyn, NY, Ellen has been interested in the Caribbean. Unsure how to approach the study of the region — through history, literature, anthropology, or linguistics — she met Dr. Lambros Comitas at Teachers College in 1979. Not only did he encourage her to choose the field of anthropology, as it cast a wide net, but he became her teacher, mentor, and dissertation advisor in the Applied Anthropology Program at TC/Columbia, from which she received her Ph.D. in 1990.

Dr. Schnepel’s early research focused on Creole languages and cultures in the French Caribbean (Guadeloupe, Martinique, Haiti), exploring the relationship between language and politics. Her post-doctoral research in the Franco-Creolophone Indian Ocean (Mauritius, Réunion) has examined language and gender, ethnicity, the politics of identity, and the Indian diaspora. She co-edited a special issue of The International Journal of the Sociology of Language, dedicated to “Creole Movements in the Francophone Orbit” (1993), and published the monograph, In Search of a National Identity: Creole and Politics in Guadeloupe (Hamburg: Buske Verlag/University of Wisconsin Press, 2004).

When a tenure-track, academic position eluded her, she founded Schnepel Consulting and conducts contract work for public and private institutions and non-profits, such as the National Park Service, City University of New York, and social service organizations. Projects have spanned a range of fields — adult literacy, urban partnerships, community college and minority education, immigration, public health, and youth development, as well as project design and evaluation.

In 2000, Ellen won the chocolate Easter bunny raffle at Aldo’s, a café in Greenport on Long Island. It was an epiphany, changing the course of her career by introducing her to the world of chocolate — its complex history, popular culture, and bean-to-bar processing. She is currently preparing a book on the anthropology of French chocolate, tracing cacao/chocolate as a commodity as it travels from the Antilles to the Metropole and onto France's former colonies.

When not conducting field research or writing, she gives educational presentations and chocolate tastings. She is also mining her anthropological field notes to write creative-nonfiction stories which incorporate Creole dialogue. More information about her work and interests can be found at www.ellenschnepel.com.