ASA and NWSA 2018 Annual Conferences: List of UT-Austin Presenters

The 2018 American Studies Association Annual Meeting (ASA) and National Women’s Studies Annual Conference (NWSA) will be held simultaneously in Atlanta, GA this November 8th through November 11th (Thursday – Sunday). Many graduate students and professors from UT-Austin’s American Studies department will be presenting at both conferences, as well as students and professors from other departments across campus. We have included a list of UT-Austin presenters at both conferences below. There is a separate list for each conference, and the lists are sorted alphabetically.

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American Studies Association Annual Meeting (Westin Peachtree, Atlanta, GA,  Nov. 8 – 11) 

Betsy Beasley

  • Panelist, Militarism and Capitalism: The Work of Wages and Violence
  • Nov. 8, 4 – 5:45 P.M., Westin Peachtree, Sixth, Chastain J

Daina Ramey Berry

  • Panelist, Program Committee: The Salience of Slavery: Scholarship and Teaching on Racial Slavery in a Moment of Crisis
  • , Nov. 9, 4 – 5:45 P.M., Westin Peachtree, Sixth, Chastain F

Nicholas Bloom

  • Paper Presenter, “’Go Home’: Reframing the Subject of Suffering in Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing.”
  • Utopic/Dystopic: Black Feminist Aesthetics
  • Sun, Nov. 11, 12 PM, Westin Peachtree, Seventh, Augusta B (Seventh)

Simone Browne

  • Chair, Maps for the Territory: Walks, Words, and Counter-Worlds in Palestine
  • Sat, November 10, Westin Peachtree, Sixth, Chastain J

 Nicole Burrowes

  • Panelist, Emergent Counter-Topographies, Infrastructures, and Genealogies of Struggle
  • Nov. 8th, 4 – 5:45 P.M., Westin Peachtree, Sixth, Chastain H

 Christine Capetola

  • Paper Presenter: “And We’ll Try to Imagine What It Looks Like: Prince, Synthesized Femininity, and the Political Potential of Vulnerability.”
  • Remember the 1980s through Black and Latinx Performance
  • Thu, Nov. 8th, 4 – 5:45 P.M., Westin Peachtree, Seventh, Augusta D

 Sarah Carlson

  • Chair: Emergence in the Archive: Cultural Heritage in Theory and Practice
  • Sat Nov. 10, 8 – 9:45 P.M., Westin Peachtree, Seventh, Augusta A

 Amy Sara Carroll

  • Paper Presenter: “States of Immersion: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s Carne y Arena”
  • Sans Emergence: Aesthetics of Immersion, Technology-Mediated Corporealities, and Weaponized Landscapes
  • Nov. 10th, 4 – 5:45 P.M., Westin Peachtree, Sixth, Chastain E

 Christine Castro

  • Paper Presenter: “Agricultural Labor, Discipline, and California’s Rural Salinas Valley as Carceral Palimpsest.”
  • On New Cartographies of Racial Capitalism and Black Radical Tradition
  • Nov. 8th, 12 – 1:45 P.M., Westin Peachtree, Sixth, Chastain C

Jose Centeno-Melendez

  • Paper Presenter: “Centering on the Nation’s Capital: Salvadoran Settlement, Survival, and Growth”
  • Performing Care, Domesting Labor, and Empire
  • Nov. 8th, 2 – 3:45 P.M., Westin Peachtree, Seventh, Augusta G

 Karma Chavez

  • Panelist, No Borders, No Prisons: Emerging from the Settler State Deportation Regime
  • Nov. 8, 10 – 11:45 A.M., Westin Peachtree, Sixth, Chastain 1

Martha Cotera

  • Panelist, Chicana Movidas: New Narratives of Activism and Feminism in the Movement Years
  • Nov. 9, 12 – 1:45 P.M., Westin Peachtree, Eighth, Peachtree 1 

Janet Davis

  • Chair, States of Embodiment: Animality, Racialization, and Environmental Justice
  • Nov. 8, 2 – 3:45 P.M. Westin Peachtree, Seventh, Augusta B

Peace and Love El Henson

  • Paper Presenter: “Pain, Pleasure, and Power: Queer Black Women and Girls Using Non/Erotic Strategies to Resist State Genocidal Terror
  • Women of Color Resist: Feminist and Queer Strategies
  • Nov. 8, 12 – 1:45 P.M., Westin Peachtree, Seventh, Augusta C

Ana Isabel Fernandez

  • Paper Presenter, “Contemporary Muralism, Performance, and the Emergence of a Zapotec Visual Archive in Los Angeles.”
  • Los Angeles Geographies and Archives
  • Nov. 10th, 12 – 1:45 P.M., Westin Peachtree, Seventh, Augusta 2 

Lyndon Gill

  • Chair and Panelist, Re-Emergent Erotics, On the Uses of Erotic Islands
  • Nov. 9, 4 – 5:45 P.M., Westin Peachtree, Sixth, Chastain E

Kate Grover

  • Paper Presenter: “The Chicago Women’s Liberation Rock Band and Emergences of Rock and Roll Feminism.”
  • My Music: Anti-Colonial Feminist Punk Rock
  • Nov. 10th, 2 – 3:45 P.M., Westin Peachtree, Seventh, Augusta 2 

Laura Gutierrez

  • Paper Presenter, “Divas, Exoticism, and Freakery in Nao Bustamante’s Filmformance Silver and Gold (2009)”
  • Performance Studies Caucus: Nao Bustamante’s Always Already Emerging Art
  • Nov. 10, 2 – 3:45 P.M., Westin Peachtree, Sixth, Chastain 1

Omi Jones

  • Paper Presenter, “The Block Party as Intervention.”
  • Creating States of Emergence: Scholar-Artists and the Life-Giving Capacities of the Arts
  • Nov. 10th, 12 – 1:45 P.M., Westin Peachtree, Seventh, Augusta E

Kerry Knerr

  • Paper Presenter: “Mai Tai at the End of the World: Nuclear Testing and Tiki”
  • Pacific Currents and Visions
  • Nov. 10th, 8 – 9:45 P.M., Westin Peachtree, Eighth, Peachtree 1

 Marisol Lebron

  • Panelist, Critical Ethnic Studies Committee: Academic Labor, Austerity, and Authoritarianism
    • Nov. 9th, 10 – 11:45 P.M., Westin Peachtree, Sixth, Chastain 1
  • Paper Presenter: “Counting Death and Making Death Count: Puerto Rico before and after Maria”
    • Temporalities of Catastrophe
    • Nov. 10, 12 – 1:45 P.M., Westin Peachtree, Sixth, Overlook

Minkah Makalani

  • Chair: Varieties of Groundings in Black Studies
  • Nov. 10, 4 – 5:45 P.M., Westin Peachtree, Seventh, Augusta A

 Jennifer McClearen

  • Chair: Sex Negativities: The Discursive and Institutional Life of Sexual Violence
  • Nov. 8th, 4 – 5:45 P.M., Westin Peachtree, Eighth, Peachtree 2

Julie Avril Minich

  • Paper Presenter: “The Politics of Public Health: Reading Rafael Campo in a Health Care Crisis.”
  • Embracing the Mess, Engaging the Complex: Disability Politics and Anti-Ableist Practices among Poor and Racialized Populations
  • Nov. 10, 12 – 1:45 P.M., Westin Peachtree, Seventh, Augusta D

 William Mosley

  • Paper Presenter: “Emergent Black Feminism: Intimacy, Interiority, and Tenderness in Alexis Pauline Gumbs’s Spill.”
  • Queer/Feminist Liberatory Futures
  • Nov. 10, 10 – 11:45 A.M., Westin Peachtree, Seventh, Augusta A

Lauren Nelson

  • Paper Presenter: “Some Third-World Sized Hole: Narrative Thourism in Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings.”
  • Global Emergencies, Caribbean Responses
  • Nov. 10, 10 – 11:45 A.M., Westin Peachtree, Sixth, Chastain H 

Monica Ortiz

  • Paper Presenter: “Bones and Bodies: Dead Body as Text.”
  • (Re) Emergent Bones: Settler Colonial Spaces and the Accumulation of Human Remains
  • Nov. 10, 2 – 3:45 P.M. Westin Peachtree, Sixth, Chastain J 

Paul Joseph Lopez Oro

  • Paper Presenter: “Diasporic Black Indigeneity: Performing Garifuna Memory”
  • Traveling Blackness in the Americas: Obscured Transnational Flows of Race, Culture, Gender, and Politics in the African Diaspora
  • Nov. 9, 12 – 1:45 P.M., Westin Peachtree, Twelfth, Piedmont 1

Ana Schwartz

  • Chair: Our Borderline Concepts
  • Nov. 10th, 12 – 1:45 P.M., Westin Peachtree, Sixth, Chastain J

Vivian Shaw

  • Paper Presenter: “Crisis Activism: Race, Gender, and Mobilization in the Aftermath of Disasters.”
  • Crisis Obscura: Racialized Exceptions and the Biopolitics of American Empire
  • Nov. 8th, 2 – 3:45 P.M., Westin Peachtree, Sixth, Chastain G

Brett Siegel

  • Paper Presenter: “Protect Our Kids!: Friday Night Tykes and the Ideological Crisis for Youth Tackle Football”
  • Emerging Minds, Bodies, and Values: The Concussion Crisis in American Youth Football
  • Nov. 10th, 10 – 11:45 P.M., Westin Peachtree, Sixth, Chastain J

Gaila Sims

  • Panelist: Emergence in the Archive: Cultural Heritage in Theory and Practice
  • Nov. 10th, 8 – 9:45 A.M., Westin Peachtree, Seventh, Augusta A

Eric Tang

  • Chair: Domestic Empires: Aftermath, Endurance, and Refuge in the Militarized City
  • Nov. 8th, 8 – 9:45 A.M., Westin Peachtree, Sixth, Chastain H

Lisa B. Thompson

  • Paper Presenter: “Black Women Under a State of Emergency: Black Feminist Revolutionary Theatre.”
  • On the Uses of Political Theatre
  • , Nov. 10, 8 – 9:45 A.M., Westin Peachtree, Seventh, Augusta E

 Shirley Thompson

  • Chair: 9-1-1 Emergency: Locating Emergent Racialized Coping Strategies in Popular Culture
  • Nov. 9th, 12 – 1:45 P.M., Westin Peachtree, Sixth, Chastain G

 Elissa Underwood

  • Panelist: Critical Resistance South at Fifteen: The 21st-Century Landscape of Abolition in the U.S. South and Beyond II
  • Nov. 10th, 4 – 5:45 P.M., Westin Peachtree, Sixth, Chastain F

 Tabias Olajuawon Wilson

  • Paper Presenter, “Born to Fly: Black Fugitivity, the Language of Freedom and the Branding of Outlaws.”
  • Racial Terror in the United States: Black Geographies and Popular Culture
  • Sat, Nov. 10, 10 A.M. – 11:45 A.M. Westin Peachtree, Twelfth, Piedmont Three


National Women’s Studies Association Annual Conference

(Hilton Atlanta, Nov. 8 – 11)

Shawntal Brown 

  • Poster Presenter, “Teaching While Black: Analysis of Black Women Faculty in Academia and Black Communities”
  • Sat, Nov 10, 1:00 to 2:15pm, Hilton Atlanta, Second Floor Lobby

Christine Capetola

  • Paper Presenter, “‘Could We Go to a Movie and Cry Together?’: Prince, Vibrational Vulnerability, and the Political Possibility of Androgyny”
  • Panel: “Sensing in the Interval: Aesthetics and Alternative Forms of Minoritarian Collectivity”
  • Fri, Nov 9, 2:45 to 4:00pm, Hilton Atlanta, 3, 310 (LCD)

Alexandria Cunningham

  • Roundtable Presenter, “Becoming Undisciplined: Black Graduate Students on Refusal, Pleasure and Possibility”
  • Thu, Nov 8, 1:00 to 2:15pm, Hilton Atlanta, 4, 407

Ann Cvetkovich

  • Roundtable Presenter, “Michfest Legacies: Performing the Impossible”
  • Fri, Nov 9, 9:30 to 10:45am, Hilton Atlanta, 2, 216 (LCD)

Kate Grover

  • Paper Presenter, “Surrogating Sister Rosetta: Shingai Shoniwa, Rhiannon Giddens, and the Performance of Black Feminist Memory Work”
  • Panel: “Performances of New Selves”
  • Sun, Nov 11, 11:00am to 12:15pm, Hilton Atlanta, 3, 308

Nicole M. Guidotti-Hernandez

  • Paper Presenter: “Undocu Pedagogies: The History of Freedom University”
  • Panel: “The Legacies of Freedom University”
  • Fri, Nov 9, 8:00 to 9:15am, Hilton Atlanta, 4, 404

Annie Hill 

  • Roundtable Presenter, “The Manifesta as Utopian Form: Queer and Feminist of Color Critique
  • Sat, Nov 10, 9:30 to 10:45am, Hilton Atlanta, 2, 222

Alden Jones 

  • Paper Presenter, “Ivory Tower Ignorance: Trans(*) Knowledge and Organizations as Adjuncts of the Academy”
  • Panel: “Thinking Trans*: Emergent Trans* Epistemologies in the Academy and Educational Space”
  • Fri, Nov 9, 11:00am to 12:15pm, Hilton Atlanta, 2, 215 (LCD)

Caitlin O’Neill 

  • Panel Moderator: “Traversing Academic Maroonage: How Black Women’s Kitchen Tables Conjure Radical Spacemaking”
  • Fri, Nov 9, 4:15 to 5:30pm, Hilton Atlanta, 2, 220

Andi Remoquillo

  • Paper Presenter, “Daughterhood and the Diaspora: Asian-American Women on Defining Home, Belonging, and Gender”
  • Panel: “Re-imagining Belonging in Asia and Asian America”
  • Fri, Nov 9, 2:45 to 4:00pm, Hilton Atlanta, 3, 309 (LCD)

Lisa B. Thompson

  • “The Mamalogues:” A Reading of Lisa B. Thompson’s “The Mamalogues”
  • Fri, Nov 9, 4:15 to 5:30pm, Hilton Atlanta, 2, 221



Five Questions with First-Years Returns: with Holly Genovese!

It’s October, and it’s time to introduce the newest cohort of UT AMS doctoral students! We asked all five incoming students about their academic backgrounds, their intellectual interests, and projects they plan to pursue here at UT. Today we bring you Holly Genovese. She’s straight out of the hallowed Civil War streets of Central Pennsylvania, and she’s done with the northern winter.headshot 

1) What is your background, academic or otherwise, and how does it motivate your teaching and research?

I got my B.A in history and political science (Temple University, ‘13) and M.A in History (South Carolina, 15). Right before coming to UT I served as the coordinator for the Field Family Teen Author Series at the Free Library of Philadelphia, planning author events for teens throughout Philadelphia. My work with YA literature has really influenced my interest in the cultural production written by and for those who aren’t taken seriously. This includes teenage girls, but also people of color, the incarcerated, and other marginalized groups. I had the opportunity to be trained in the Inside Out Prison Exchange Program a few years ago, which really motivated my work with and about the experiences of incarcerated people. And while I’ll always love history, my love of literature comes first, and I was feeling limited by some of  the boundaries of history.

2) Why did you decide to come to AMS at UT for your graduate work?

There were so many reasons I chose AMS at UT. The diversity of faculty and faculty interests, the supportive graduate student environment, the ability to explore my interests in history, in literature, in ethnographic research all in one place…I was also running from the northern winter, to be honest.

3) What projects or people have inspired your work?

So many! I am constantly inspired by the work of cultural critics, from Ta-Nehisi Coates to Susan Sontag to Roxane Gay. Activist scholars, like Ruthie Gilmore and Angela Davis. And importantly for my work, incarcerated and formerly incarcerated activists and intellectuals have been so inspirational to me, especially Robert King and Albert Woodfox of the Angola 3, whom I now consider friends.

4) What projects do you see yourself working on at UT?

I am trying to stay open minded because I tend towards myopic focus. But my work thus far has focused on cultural production and activism amongst prisoner rights activism in Louisiana. I hope to continue this work while at UT, as well as working more on African American women’s prison writing. But honestly, my interests are so broad, who knows where I will end up. I love writing and talking about the politics of young adult literature, feminism in television, southern studies, and victorian children’s literature.

5) What are your goals for graduate school? What do you see yourself doing after you graduate?

For graduate school, I want to soak up as many books as possible. I want to practice my writing, both academic writing and popular writing. I want to get more experience working in museums and historic sites. I have a lot of ideas about what I might do after I graduate, but in an ideal world I would be some sort of cultural critic and teach in a prison or jail. That might mean I have a traditional academic post or it might not. I’m just excited to see where UT leads me.

Bonus: What is American Studies?

I have no idea what American Studies is, but isn’t that kind of the point?

What I Did On My Summer Vacation: Judson Barber on Rollercoastering Through the South

In the final installment of “What I Did on My Summer Vacation,” UT AMS doctoral student Judson Barber takes us on his road trip to find the best rollercoasters in the American Southeast. Read on to join the adventure—and for Judson’s excellent photographs. 

Years ago, I heard from somebody that one of the tricks to surviving grad school is having a good hobby. Anything that can give you a break from the rigors of academic life—something that lets you disconnect from the burdens of books to read and paper deadlines to meet—will get you a long way. Luckily, I’ve never had a problem distracting myself.

I’m not sure where it comes from, but since I was a kid I’ve always had this compulsion to collect stuff. Back then it was stamps, coins, action figures, whatever I could get my hands on. As I grew up and started to travel that evolved into collecting different places, or pieces of them, and now each summer I attempt to visit different regions of the country that are new to me, if I can. After spending most of my life in the hazy, brown, concrete deserts of Southern California, what some might consider the most mundane aspects of different parts of the country—dense foliage, remote highways, scenic vistas—bring me a very special and unique delight. Getting away from urban sprawl of mass suburbia to more rural parts of the country is a welcome treat in itself.

In recent years, those trips have been guided principally by one thing: new roller coasters and amusement parks. Corny, I know. But it’s something that still grabs my interest year after year. These trips through the Midwest, Northeast, Southwest, and this year Southeast, have allowed me to collect place in a more experiential way than through kitschy tchotchkes from wherever.

This summer I had my sights set on a major oversight in my regional experience. My trip started in Atlanta where I spent my first day. From there I went up I-75 to I-40 through Knoxville to Pigeon Forge, TN to visit a place that should be on everyone’s to-do list, Dollywood. Pigeon Forge also offered up a unique research opportunity—a trip to the newly opened “Alcatraz East” crime museum. But this isn’t a venue for that sort of academic writing, so I’ll leave you with just a few photos of the façade of that industrial building, nestled comfortably between Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville Island Inn and the Comedy Barn Theater.

From Pigeon Forge, Highway 441 South took me through Gatlinburg and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, to the epic Newfound Gap lookout which separates the Volunteer and Tar Heel states. From there, Highway 19 reconnects with Highway 74 and then I-40 to about Asheville, and then I-26 turns south for about 35 miles until it reconnects with Highway 74 again, headed into Charlotte. There’s a theme park that straddles the NC and SC border, called Carowinds (“Where the Carolinas come together!”) where I spent the next day and a half.

After my time at Carowinds, and a quick stop in the small town of Belmont, NC for some of the best Barbeque in the state, it’s a straight shot down I-85 through South Carolina back to Atlanta.

In all, the four days in July added up to about 16 hours of driving which took me through 4 states (39 new counties), and on 31 new roller coasters.

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María Magdalena Campos-Pons’s “Like the lonely traveler”: A Conversation with the Neon Queen Collective

The Neon Queen Collective is a trio of Austin-based curators—Jessi DiTillio, Kaila Shedeen, and Phillip Townsend—who collaborate on topics such as race, ethnicity, representation, class, sexuality, and gender in socially engaged art produced by feminist artists of color. This fall, they are showing the second part of a two-part exhibition series on María Magdalena Campos-Pons at the Visual Arts Center here at the University of Texas at Austin. The exhibition Like the lonely traveler traces the evolution of María Magdalena Campos-Pons’s video production over the last three decades, from her early documentary and autobiographical photographic series to her more recent conceptual explorations.

On Friday, October 12th, The Neon Queen Collective will host a panel discussion on the work of artist María Magdalena Campos-Pons, who will join scholars from UT Austin and central Texas to discuss her practice in relation to the field of video art across the Americas. The panel will be moderated by Dr. George Flaherty, Associate Professor of Art History and Director of the Center for Latin American Visual Studies (CLAVIS) at UT Austin. The panel takes place at 4:30 p.m. in Room 1.102 in the Art Building.

Read on for a discussion between UT AMS doctoral student Gaila Sims and the Neon Queen Collective:

María Magdalena Campos-Pons Exhibition

A still from Like the lonely traveler. Image courtesy of the Visual Arts Center website. 

Gaila Sims: My first question is about the formation of the Neon Queen Collective. I’d love to know when you were formed and why you felt working in a collective was important.

Kaila Sheedeen: We started actually through a conversation Phillip and I had in March 2017, and there was a call out through the Visual Arts Center for Center Space Gallery, which is a student-run gallery space so you can submit proposals and do shows in that space, you can either curate or show your own work. And I saw that call come out and at the time I was really interested in figuring out how to put some of what I was learning in my classes to actual use. I have always been interested in curatorial work and I knew Phillip was interested and we share the same advisor, Cherise Smith. So it seemed to make sense, since our interests aligned, and at that time I realized I didn’t want to be the name of a show. I was trying to avoid that, so I thought the idea of working collaboratively with someone would make the process not only more interesting, it would make it more rich for everyone involved. And so Phillip and I had a conversation and we decided that since he had a personal relationship with Magda [María Magdalena Campos-Pons] from previous work he had done that it made sense to use that as a starting point, as a first time collaboration. It was a really easy stepping stone for us, and I’ve always really admired her work. He obviously loves her work, and it seemed like a really good way to start as a collective. We ended up moving the show to the Christian-Green Gallery, and it moved from there to a two-part show.

Phillip Townsend: And one thing that really evolved out of this process that we didn’t really anticipate was this community of art institutions that sort of formed and our being able to get work from various institutions. So the work in February was housed at the Christian-Green Gallery, we have work from the Blanton, we have work from the Peabody Institute in Salem, we have a work from the Cooper Gallery at Harvard. We’ve been able to create a smaller community of art institutions, and now we are involved at the VAC and the Contemporary. It’s become a very intimate relationship between all of them. And that’s a product of our work as a collective, we bring different things to the table but collectively we try to produce something that’s a whole.

Kaila Schedeen: And I think that’s something that was really conscious on our part, because we are working as a collective. We all see art as having the ability to provide connections between people, and I think that to me is one of the most powerful things about visual creation is that it connects people across spaces. And so to be able to not only connect ourselves but these different institutions around the country was a really powerful thing that I’m glad that we were able to do it to the extent that we did.

María Magdalena Campos-Pons

A still from Like the lonely traveler. Image courtesy of the Visual Arts Center website. 

Gaila Sims: You’ve already started talking about this, but I’m interested in the goals of the Neon Queen Collective.

Phillip Townsend: Well, one of the major goals for us is visibility. When Kaila and Jessi and I started talking about how we wanted to define ourselves, what contribution we wanted to make in Austin and in the art world in general, we thought about the invisibility of minority artists, particularly minority women artists or feminist-identified artists. We thought and feel strongly that that is our wheelhouse, that is where we are going to focus and that’s the contribution that we are going to make. So that’s the main goal, to provide a platform because we acknowledge and recognize that we are not making the art ourselves, that we are just providing a platform so that we can showcase artists’ work and bring these different perspectives to various communities.

Gaila Sims: I’d love to hear more about the exhibition that is on display now.

Jessi DiTillio: The exhibition is at the Visual Arts Center, in the Art Building. It is a retrospective of her video art—not everything but we have selections of her videos from the early 90s until 2016. It’s a cool space—we’ve built walls in the gallery to make viewing rooms for all the different videos. The show is called Like the lonely traveler, which is a line from a Cuban poet. Magda is really into poetry as an influential aspect of her practice in general. When we were interviewing her and asked her about artists who influenced her it was almost all writers rather than visual artists. She reads a lot of poetry and often draws on particular lines to influence images in her work. So for example there’s one video piece in the show that draws on this image from a poem about the moon and she drew from this image she got while reading the poem of a hill that had the moon sunk into it—the way you would see it at twilight. She built this whole visual experience from this image of a moon sinking into a hill. The show opened on September 21st and will be on display until December 7th.

What I Did On My Summer Vacation: Janet Davis on Touring for American Experience Miniseries, The Circus

In this fourth installment of “What I Did On My Summer Vacation,” UT AMS professor Dr. Janet Davis tells us about touring for the new American Experience miniseries, The Circus. Be sure to tune into PBS on October 8th and 9th!


This summer, I was part of the Television Critics Association Press Tour for The Circus, an upcoming American Experience miniseries that will air nationally on PBS October 8th and 9th. I’ve been actively involved in the series from start to finish—I’m a talking head onscreen and over the last year, I’ve reviewed the script and the rough cuts of the film.

Here are some photos of me and my fellow panelists on July 30th at the TCA event at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills. I am also part of other discussions and screenings at the New York Historical Society and the Portland Art Museum before The Circus airs in October. The series provides a remarkable multifaceted and intersectional exploration of how the circus made modern America.

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Left to right: Dominique Jando, Janet Davis, Jonathan Lee Iverson, Sharon Grimberg, and Susan Bellows

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A Conversation with Molly Mandell (B.A. 2016), Author of “Made in Cuba” (2018)


Molly Mandell (UT AMS B.A., 2016) will publish her book, Made in Cuba, in Fall 2018. AMS :: ATX sat down with Mandell to discuss the book’s origins in her undergraduate thesis research and the ways her American Studies background shapes her work as an editor and art director. Read on for insights on the DIY arts scene in Cuba, photography, American Studies research, and for an exclusive AMS :: ATX discount code you can use when ordering your own copy of Made in Cuba!

When did you graduate from American Studies at UT, and with what degree?

I graduated in Spring of 2016, earning a B.A. in American Studies with High Honors and Departmental Honors and a minor in Communications (focused more specifically on journalism). I didn’t find the AMS department until fairly late in my college career, but it was absolutely the place for me!

Can you tell us a little bit about your book, Made in Cuba?

Made in Cuba focuses on the DIY culture that is so prevalent in the country. As such, it’s really a look into everyday life on the island. Given that much of the media coverage surrounding Cuba is wrought with stereotypes, we set out to tell stories of people in the most genuine way that we could. I co-wrote and photographed the book with James Burke, and we featured 30 different creative professionals, entrepreneurs and makers—everyone from farmers who live almost entirely from their land to internationally recognized artists restoring the island’s old neon signs. The book also includes guest essays from the likes of writer Leonardo Padura and singer/composer Daymé Arocena. We wanted to be sure to include some perspectives that weren’t our own, and I think they add so much. More details can be found at our website If anyone is interested in owning a copy, we’ve also set up a special discount code for blog readers (type in AMSxCUBA at checkout).

What inspired you to pursue this project?

It all started as a university project. When the United States, under the Obama administration, began normalizing relations with Cuba, the country caught my attention. It’s a place that is so close to the States but at the time, seemed so far away. I was born in the early ’90s and didn’t grow up hearing or reading much about Cuba. Suddenly, there was a lot of media coverage surrounding the island but it primarily demonized or romanticized goings-on. I knew that things likely weren’t so black and white and so I was interested in exploring the gray area. Initially, I went to study agriculture with the help of an Undergraduate Research Award. After the United States instituted its trade, economic and financial embargo against Cuba in 1962, the country relied heavily on the Soviet Union for support. When the Soviet Union collapsed, however, they lost 85% of their trade and aid almost overnight. I had read about some of the organic and sustainable solutions that farmers had developed as a result and went to learn more. After an initial six weeks on the island, I realized that this resolver, as they call it, went far beyond agriculture. The DIY mentality isn’t limited to social strata, economic standing, race, age or geography. Thanks to the support and encouragement of Randy Lewis, Janet Davis and Steve Hoelscher, the project evolved into my undergraduate thesis with the AMS department—but I always wanted the end result to be a book. After I graduated, I went on to work at a quarterly lifestyle magazine in Copenhagen. My time there gave me a lot more insight into publishing so last fall, my partner James and I decided to pursue the project more seriously. James, a writer and photographer who graduated from UT’s RTF department in 2014, had joined me on several of my research trips and as the project grew, it became a joint effort. I’m so pleased with how Made in Cuba has come together, and most importantly, I hope it does justice to the people featured and their work.

Can you describe the research process for this project? What was your experience of traveling to Cuba in order to gather stories?

It all boils down to having connections on the ground and actually being on site. Since 2015, when we started, we’ve tried to read and watch as much as possible and keep up on reportage about Cuba generally. That said, doing research from abroad proved to be quite a challenge. Given that internet connectivity is limited in Cuba, people don’t frequently publicize their work online nor communicate regularly (or at all) via email. We did occasionally find subjects through other media sources but actually connecting with them often meant a lot of asking around before eventually showing up on their doorsteps unannounced. Some independent Cuban magazines have cropped up in the last few years, which were helpful in finding people who are doing interesting things but aren’t necessarily reported on by Western media outlets (we find that a lot of stories about Cuba are routinely recycled). Cuba can be a challenging place to dive into, so spending longer stretches there and getting a sense of how people move around and approach communication, for example, was imperative. It took a lot of time and many return visits to establish our relationships and grow our network. That network has absolutely been the most important element in the project’s success. The experience has been a friendly reminder that despite our reliance on the internet, actually talking to people face-to-face makes for the best exchanges. We’re still in awe of the generosity we received—people let us into their lives in deeply personal ways.

What projects or people have inspired your work?

Conner Gorry is a journalist who has been living in Cuba since 2002. Also the founder of an English-language bookstore and community center called Cuba Libro, she is truly a nexus for all different kinds of people and projects happening in Havana and beyond. I really admire her work and she has been so influential to ours. She also wrote a guest essay for Made in Cuba that draws on her personal experiences and truly gets at the essence of DIY culture in the country. I would be remiss if I didn’t give a shout out to professor Randy Lewis—I took his class “Politics of Creativity” on a whim and it turned everything I knew on its head. He encouraged me to think both critically and creatively and to pursue what I was interested in without necessarily knowing what the final product would look like. If it weren’t for that mentality, I’m not sure that this project would have morphed into the book that it is today. His teaching style is very unique, and I have learned so much from his approach to research. I also recently wrapped up working on a book The Eye with Nathan Williams, the founder of Kinfolk magazine. He is, in my opinion, an extremely talented curator and has been incredibly influential in how I’ve developed my own creative vision.

How does your background in American Studies impact your writing, your work as a photographer, and your career in general?

American Studies plays such a big part in my work. One of the foundational lessons that I took away from my time in the department was the need to constantly question mythologies. That very questioning is what led me to develop an interest in Cuba in the first place. So many departments focus on teaching hard skills, but American Studies taught me how to think. I always consider broad perspectives when I approach my work, which ultimately makes for better results. My time with AMS also made me comfortable not fitting into one box. I love to write, but I have a real passion for photography, for example. I used to believe that I had to focus on one or the other, but now I’m working on projects where I can successfully combine both (and all of the other things that I love!).

What projects are you excited to work on in the future?

As I previously mentioned, I just edited and art directed another book The Eye for Nathan Williams. It features over 90 creative directors in a wide range of fields from publishing to film and dance and takes a look at the processes and inspirations behind their work. I’m also collaborating with James on a new media project. Our end goal is to connect creative professionals who share a similar set of values and approach to life in a deeper, more personal way. I’m currently not at liberty to discuss details but excited to share with the AMS department in the near future!

Dr. Lauren Gutterman Debuts Second Season of “Sexing History” Podcast

Last year, we profiled the new podcast Sexing History, “a podcast about how the history of sexuality shapes our present” co-written and co-hosted by UT AMS Assistant Professor Dr. Lauren Gutterman, as well as Dr. Gillian Frank, Visiting Fellow at Princeton University’s Center for the Study of Religion. After a successful first season, Sexing History has just debuted the first episode of their second season. The episode is entitled “Bandstand and the Closet,” and you can listen to it here.sexing-history

“Bandstand and the Closet” is an exploration of the immense, and often damaging, narrative power of American Bandstand in shaping popular conceptions of youth culture in the 1950s and ’60s. “The hit television show American Bandstand,” Frank and Gutterman write, “has shaped how we understand the 1950s and early 1960s. For many, American Bandstand still evokes nostalgic images of white youth culture and sexually innocent teenage romance: a world made up of malt shops, juke joints, sock hops and drive-in movie theaters. If we look closer at how Bandstand was staged, and what was hidden from sight or hiding in plain view, we can see how the show’s creators erased blackness and queerness from the show itself and from the official story of youth culture.”