Grad Research: Eric Covey’s Intro AMS course creates photography Tumblr


It should come as no surprise that our department takes digital and new media very seriously. Many of our professors and instructors have integrated online tools into their research and in their teaching with fascinating and wonderful results. So, needless to say, we’re thrilled to share with you a photography project that emerged out of recent Ph.D. graduate Eric Covey’s summer introductory American Studies course, which centered on foodways in America.

Here’s what Eric had to say about the project in a blog post, the full text of which is available here:

This time around I decided to slightly refocus the course—engaging more closely with the field of American studies that has been my intellectual home for a decade now— but to still maintain an emphasis on US foodways. I would draw from many of my previous lectures, but each day’s class (this was a small lecture with about 40 students) would begin with a discussion of a selected keyword from  editors Bruce Burgett and Glenn Hendler’s collection of Keywords for American Cultural Studies (2007). The resulting course would be dubbed “Introduction to American Studies: Keywords and Key Foods.”

In practical terms, what this meant was that when I lectured about rice in West Africa and the Stono Uprising in South Carolina, students came to class having read African (Kevin Gaines). And when I lectured on barbecue and cotton culture in Central Texas, they read Region (Sandra A. Zagarell). Since this was a summer course, additional reading beyond keywords was light. Students read William Cronon’s “Seasons of Want and Plenty” from Changes in the Land alongside Colonial (David Kazanjian) the day I lectured on maize. My lecture on bananas was prefaced by Cynthia Enloe’s “Carmen Miranda on My Mind” from Bananas, Beaches and Bases and Empire (Shelley Streeby). I explained to students on the first day of class that what I expected was for them to develop a vocabulary that they could use in a variety of settings.

Of course I also expected them to demonstrate some mastery of this vocabulary in their coursework. Three exams asked students to identify material from the class and explain its significance using the language ofKeywords. I also assigned a photo project that required them to take a photo of a local food site and write a brief caption (450-900 words, also drawing on Keywords) to accompany the photo. These photos and captions were posted to a collective Tumblr at http://amskeywordskeyfoods.tumblr.com. When I initially described the project to my students, I suggested two approaches they might take: first, they could show how their photo illustrated a particular keyword; Or, second, they might use one of the keywords to analyze the photo. On the due date, students e-mailed me their photo and caption. Because Tumblr is mostly user friendly, it only took me a few hours to upload all the images and uniformly-formatted text.

Faculty Research: Janet Davis wins Constance Rourke Prize for Best Essay in American Quarterly

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Philippine cockfight 1900-02” by US military personnel. – Downloaded from http://quod.lib.umich.edu/cgi/i/image/image-idx?id=S-SCLPHILIMG-X-37%5DPHLK142.. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

We’re so thrilled to share with y’all the news that Dr. Janet Davis has won the Constance Rourke Prize for the best essay in American Quarterly in 2013 for her piece entitled “Cockfight Nationalism: Bloodsport and the Moral Politics of American Empire and Nation Building.”

Here’s the abstract of her article, which can be found in full here (login necessary):

This essay explores the symbiotic relationship between animal welfare and ideologies of nation building and exceptionalism during a series of struggles over cockfighting in the new US Empire in the early twentieth century. Born out of the shared experience of American overseas expansionism, these clashes erupted in the American Occupied Philippines, Cuba, and Puerto Rico, where the battle lines pitting American-sponsored animal protectionists against indigenous cockfight enthusiasts were drawn along competing charges of cruelty and claims of self-determination. I argue that battles over the cockfight were a form of animal nationalism—that is to say, cockfight nationalism. Cockfight enthusiasts and opponents alike mapped gendered, raced, and classed ideologies of nation and sovereignty onto the bodies of fighting cocks to stake their divergent political and cultural claims regarding the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, moral uplift, benevolence, and national belonging.

Congratulations, Janet!

Grad Research: Carrie Andersen publishes article on drones and Call of Duty in Surveillance and Society

A Reaper Remotely Piloted Air System (RPAS) comes into land at Kandahar Airbase in Helmand, Afghanistan.

A Reaper Remotely Piloted Air System (RPAS) comes into land at Kandahar Airbase in Helmand, Afghanistan.

Summer may be winding down – it is August, after all – but we still have exciting news to share with you folks about our departmental community and its various projects. Ph.D. student Carrie Andersen has just published a journal article in the July 2014 issue of Surveillance and Society, entitled “Games of Drones: The Uneasy Future of the Soldier-Hero in Call of Duty: Black Ops II.” This work comprises part of her dissertation research: her project examines the cultural and political construction of the drone within the post-9/11 milieu.

Check out her abstract below. The full article can be found here (bonus: the journal is open-access, so have at it without logging into any databases!).

In this article, I argue that the first-person shooter video game, Call of Duty: Black Ops II, reflects the U.S. military‟s transition as it reimagines the soldier‟s role in war. In the age of drone technology, this role shifts from a position of strength to one of relative weakness. Although video games that feature future combat often “function as virtual enactments and endorsements for developing military technologies,” Black Ops II offers a surprisingly complex vision of the future of drones and U.S. soldiers (Smicker 2009: 107). To explore how the game reflects a contemporary vision of the U.S. military, I weave together a close textual reading of two levels in Black Ops II with actual accounts from drone pilots and politicians that illuminate the nature of drone combat. Although there are moments in Black Ops II in which avatars combat enemies with first-hand firepower, the experience of heroic diegetic violence is superseded by a combat experience defined by powerlessness, boredom, and ambiguous pleasure. The shift of the soldier from imposing hero to a banal figure experiences its logical conclusion in Unmanned, an independent video game that foregrounds the mundane, nonviolent nature of drone piloting. Instead of training soldiers to withstand emotionally devastating experiences of death and violence first-hand (or to physically enact such violence), games like Black Ops II and Unmanned train actual and potential soldiers to tolerate monotony and disempowerment.

Alumni Voices: Jessie Swigger releases new book on Greenfield Village

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We hope you’re enjoying the tail end of your summer, friends of AMS! Some exciting news from one of our alumni: Jessie Swigger, who received her Ph.D. from the program and is now a professor at Western Carolina University, has just published a new book entitled “History Is Bunk”: Assembling the Past at Henry Ford’s Greenfield Village. The book chronicles the historical development of Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan. The synopsis from the press:

In 1916 a clearly agitated Henry Ford famously proclaimed that “history is more or less bunk.” Thirteen years later, however, he opened the outdoor history museum Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan. It was written history’s focus on politicians and military heroes that was bunk, he explained. Greenfield Village would correct this error by celebrating farmers and inventors.

The village eventually included a replica of Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park, New Jersey, laboratory, the Wright brothers’ cycle shop and home from Dayton, Ohio, and Ford’s own Michigan birthplace. But not all of the structures were associated with famous men. Craft and artisan shops, a Cotswold cottage from England, and two brick slave cabins also populated the village landscape. Ford mixed replicas, preserved buildings, and whole-cloth constructions that together celebrated his personal worldview.

Greenfield Village was immediately popular. But that only ensured that the history it portrayed would be interpreted not only by Ford but also by throngs of visitors and the guides and publicity materials they encountered. After Ford’s death in 1947, administrators altered the village in response to shifts in the museum profession at large, demographic changes in the Detroit metropolitan area, and the demands of their customers.

Jessie Swigger analyzes the dialogue between museum administrators and their audiences by considering the many contexts that have shaped Greenfield Village. The result is a book that simultaneously provides the most complete extant history of the site and an intimate look at how the past is assembled and constructed at history museums.

Go forth and buy the book here!

Faculty Research: Dr. Janet Davis and “In the Company of Cats and Dogs”

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The Department of American Studies is deeply concerned with public scholarship and finding innovative ways to reach out to the greater community around us. In that vein, we’re happy to report that Dr. Janet Davis has consulted on a brand new exhibition at the the Blanton Art Museum entitled “In the Company of Cats and Dogs.” The exhibition features works of art featuring – surprise – cats and dogs, including works by Pablo Picasso as well as some video clips of cats. Like Nora the Piano Cat. Seriously. No word yet on whether Keyboard Cat is also featured, but we can hope…

In addition to providing her own expertise on animals and humanities, Janet also incorporated the exhibit into her Plan II Signature Course: students in her class wrote papers on specific works, which the curators then used to generate some of the labels in the gallery. Truly a wonderful and fruitful bridge between the classroom and the community.

More details on the exhibition can be found here, and we highly recommend you check it out this summer!

The End of Austin: Brendan Gaughen’s work featured by The Criterion Collection

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The most recent issue of The End of Austin turned some heads, to say the very least. The publication skyrocketed from just over 50,000 views to over 70,000 in just three weeks thanks to the incredible work of the many contributors to the latest issue. One of these pieces, Slacker Geography, 25 Years Later by American Studies Ph.D. candidate Brendan Gaughen, inspired a whole host of attention from the city’s residents (past and present) and film buffs.

We’re thrilled that both Brendan and The End of Austin nabbed some very positive feedback. Among these plaudits were an Alcalde piece about his work as well as a quick piece from The Criterion Collection‘s blog. And be sure to check out the comment thread at Brendan’s original piece (linked above) for fascinating firsthand accounts from people who appeared in or worked on the film.

Talk about reaching the public through innovation and creativity. Nice work, Brendan!

Faculty Research: Dr. Karl Miller and Dr. Janet Davis at Humanities Texas Teachers Institute on 1960s America

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Some very cool activities from our faculty this summer: Dr. Karl Miller and Dr. Janet Davis are both participants in the Humanities Texas Institute for Texas Teachers, this year’s theme being “America in the 1960s.” Dr. Davis gave a presentation yesterday on “Influential Women in the Sixties,” and Dr. Miller is today speaking about “Music in the 1960s.” Both also led primary source workshops in the afternoons.

We just wish we could attend, too!