AMS Distinguished Graduates: Veronica Tien

Veronica TienToday we are pleased to profile another brilliant and accomplished UT-Austin AMS undergraduate: Veronica Tien, who was one of two AMS majors this year to be named an honorable mention on the Dean’s Distinguished Graduate list.  

1. When you came to UT, what did you think you would major in?  

Veronica: I thought I would major in ethnic studies or sociology, and I wanted to minor in economics.

2. What was the first American Studies course you took at UT?  Why did you decide to take the course, and what do you remember about it?

The first American Studies course I took was AMS 310 the second semester of my freshman year. I actually took it because it was cross listed with HIS315L (one of those required core courses!). I remember we started talking about the 1920s and ’30s in the context of swing music and then continued on through the decades by popular genres like salsa and rock and continued into even more modern history like sampling in the ‘90s. Though we were talking about music a lot, we also focused on key historical moments from the Zoot Suit Riots to Disco Demolition Night and how it all interacted with public policy. It was the first time I learned about history and policy looking through lenses of music or film, and it really changed the way that I understand history and government.

3. Why did you decide to major in American Studies?

Veronica: After taking that class, I realized it was the perfect fit for my interest in race, sociology, and public policy and was a great complement to economics. Though the field is so broad, I saw that as an advantage because I could specialize and focus on the aspects of American culture and history that were especially interesting to me. Seeing courses on the schedule specifically about pop music, reality TV, and even oil brought the everyday of my life into an academic setting, then asked me to question it. I felt like every time I left class I wanted to talk more about what we discussed that day, which made the task of reading and writing at a college-level more meaningful and really worthwhile. I had to major in American Studies because I was thinking about it all the time!

4. What have been some of your favorite courses in the American Studies department and why?

Veronica: I have so many favorite courses, but I have to start with Introduction to American Studies because it drew me into the framework of the discipline, thinking about music, films, and history all together. We talked about so much stuff – it was challenging, but so interesting to learn so much. American Disasters is another one of my favorites because it challenged me to consider perspectives in issues like “natural” disasters, which we often process as neutral, unfortunate events. I loved this class because it was so discussion-based, so I was always curious to hear what other people thought. Professor Cordova taught both of these classes and really encouraged everyone to participate, which always made our discussions more interesting because we were hearing new perspectives. Borrowing and American Culture and Politics of Creativity are a couple more of my favorites! In these courses I was also able to hear peoples’ opinions in a 15 to 20-person class and was encouraged to share mine as well. All of these classes pushed my writing skills as well, but in research papers where I was able to do my own exploration into a topic that I found interesting. The independent nature of this work has really empowered me to keep reading and writing about things that are specifically interesting to me. And this of course prepared me as much as it could for my Honors thesis (which has taken a lot of independently-motivated effort)!

5. What are some of the most important questions you’ve considered during your time in American Studies?

Veronica:  I always come back to questions about identity, power, and the ability to control a narrative in American culture. A couple questions that often guide a lot of my studies are: how are beliefs about race, class, gender, or sexuality made “true” by American narratives? And what concrete outcomes do these beliefs and the rejection of them produce? It has always fascinated me to try to understand why we know the things we know in the exact way that we know them. I think American Studies has the ability to answer a lot of those questions.

6. How do you think American Studies might influence your career after you graduate? How has your time in American Studies influenced your career goals?

Veronica: American Studies has taught me the importance of bringing different perspectives into a conversation and to question what we understand as objective. My other major is Economics, and it would be a career dream of mine to merge research in both fields and bridge a gap I see in Economics regarding thoughtful research of historical context as well as the measured data. I will always want to bring an American Studies interpretation to any economic research I might conduct in the future. I am also determined to keep writing in whatever job I take so that I don’t lose the skills I’ve learned in American Studies!

7. What advice do you have for other students considering majoring in American Studies? 

Veronica: Do it! It’s one of the best things I’ve done at UT. But don’t only just do the major—do the readings (as much as possible!) [ editor’s note: yes, do the readings!], come to class, and speak when you feel like you have something to say. The field is so varied and interdisciplinary, so if you think your opinion is too specific or you think some thought is unrelated, just follow it and see what connections you find. Your professors will want to hear your perspective and help you become a better researcher, writer, and historian. You’ll be surprised at how much hard work you’ll do when you’re interested in what you’re studying!

AMS Distinguished Graduates: Kerri Cavanaugh

We are very pleased to announce that two American Studies Students were named as honorable mentions to the Dean’s Distinguished Graduates list. Over the next two days, Kerri Cavanaughwe’ll profile both students. Today, we’re featuring Kerri Cavanaugh.

1. When you came to UT, what did you think you would major in?  

Kerri: When I came to UT I wanted to pursue a general Liberal Arts degree. My advisor then informed me that getting a general degree was not an option and that I had about 2-3 weeks to pick a major. I decided on AMS without knowing anything about it or having taken any AMS classes. It just sounded like fun so I took a leap of faith.

2. What was the first American Studies course you took at UT?  Why did you decide to take the course, and what do you remember about it?

Kerri: I took AMS 310 (Intro to American Studies) and AMS 356 (Main Currents since 1865) at the same time and they were my first AMS classes. I took these classes because I thought they would be a good way to get to know my new major. I remember thinking how different they were from other history classes I had taken and how I was learning about things I had never heard of before. I loved that they taught me about pieces of American history and culture that are often forgotten or pushed away. I also remember that they were my favorite classes that semester and that I couldn’t wait to get to class each day.

3. Why did you decide to major in American Studies?

Kerri: I decided to major in AMS because it seemed like the most interesting major offered by the College, but I decided to stay in AMS because I love the ways it challenges me. I love that AMS makes me look at things I have always taken for granted and break them apart to see a whole new aspect that I had never considered before.

4. What have been some of your favorite courses in the American Studies department and why?

Kerri: This is a hard question, but if I had to pick my favorite AMS courses, I would probably pick Cultural History of Drugs and Alcohol (AMS 370), Reality TV in America (AMS 311S) and Main Currents since 1865 (AMS 356). Drugs and Alcohol and Reality TV were some of the first seminar classes I took in the major. They were classes that taught me a lot, but they were also so much fun (I also loved making people jealous by telling them those were the classes I was taking). I liked AMS 356 because of the sheer amount of information I learned. I finished the class feeling a lot more knowledgeable.

5. What are some of the most important questions you’ve considered during your time in American Studies?

Kerri: Probably the most important question I have considered during my time in American Studies is, “how do I take the information I have learned in class and apply it outside the classroom?” For me the answer was my thesis, a study on how factory farming affects the self-identification of marginalized groups in American society. I had been interested in factory farming and the ethical treatment of animals for a long time and the more I learned about them in classes (like AMS 370 -Environment/Justice/Media), the more I wanted to find a way to increase awareness of the problems. My supervisor, Dr. Smith, encouraged my to write my thesis and really explore these topics more fully. Engaging in my honors thesis has helped me develop my skills as a researcher, shape my job experiences, and strengthen my relationships in the department.

6. How do you think American Studies might influence your career after you graduate? How has your time in American Studies influenced your career goals?

Kerri: One of the best things about having AMS as a major is that it’s as broad or specific as you want it to be. When I didn’t know what I wanted to do for a career, I was able to take classes, like the Main Currents classes and seminars, that seemed interesting or cool. Then, as I started to realize I want to work in nonprofits, preferably with either food or animals, I was able to start taking classes that focused on exactly those things (AMS 370 – Animals/American Culture and AMS 370 – American Food). Now when I am applying for jobs, I am able to talk about the critical thinking skills I gained from AMS, my ability to look at things from multiple points of view, and my specific knowledge of the industries I want to work with.

7. What advice do you have for other students considering majoring in American Studies?

Kerri: Don’t be discouraged by the fact that there are probably not job postings out there saying “American Studies degree needed,” the same way there are jobs out there saying “Accounting degree needed.” Unless there is something very specific that you want to do after school that requires a very specific degree, like accounting or engineering, chances are you will be able to tailor your AMS degree towards your career goals. In AMS classes you learn to think critically, write well, and have difficult discussions, which are things every company will value. And if you are not sure what your career goals are, try what I did and take the required classes while you figure it out! Also, definitely get to know your professors. My professors in AMS have consistently gone above and beyond to challenge and support me, and I know they will do the same for other students!

WHOSE STREETS? Screening and Talkback with Director Damon Davis

When unarmed teenager Michael Brown was killed by police and left lying in the street for hours, it marked a breaking point for the residents of St. Louis County. Grief, long-standing tension, and renewed anger brought residents together to hold vigil and protest. In the days that followed, artists, musicians, teachers, and parents turned into freedom fighters, standing on the front lines to demand justice.
Whose Streets?, an award-winning 2017 documentary film, tells the story of this uprising, from the vantage point of the activists themselves.  Next Monday, April 16th at 5:30 PM there will be a screening of Whose Streets?  followed by a director talkback with co-director Damon Davis.
Davis, co-director and producer of Whose Streets, is an award-winning interdisciplinary artist who works and resides in St. Louis, MO. Davis has work in multiple major US art museums, including the permanent collection at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. Filmmaker Magazine selected him and fellow Whose Streets? director Sabaah Foloyan for their “25 New Faces of Independent Film 2016.”
The talkback will be moderated by Dr. Stephen Marshall, Associate Professor of American Studies and African and African Diaspora Studies.
Whose Streets Event Poster

Nate DiMeo, Creator of “Memory Palace” Podcast, to Give AMS Lecture

Nate DiMeo, the  creator of the historical story-telling podcast The Memory Palace and the 2016-2017 Artist in Residence at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, will speak at  the American Studies Spring Symposium next Tuesday, April 10th at 6 PM at the HarryRansom Center. DiMeo will be in conversation with UT AMS PhD candidate and public historian Kerry Knerr.  DiMeo will discuss his methods of research, the production of his podcast, and the role of public scholarship in the American media landscape.



On view at the Bullock Texas State History Museum from 4/14/18 through 01/02/19, Comanche Motion: The Art of Eric Teppeconnic is an exhibition of thirty-four works by contemporary Comanche artist Eric Teppeconnic, paired with historical Comanche artifacts.


Eric Tippeconnic, “The Chairman.” Acrylic on Canvas, Bullock Texas State History Museum.



Per the Bullock Museum’s description of the exhibition:

“Filled with symbolism and meaning, Tippeconnic’s paintings highlight the strength, beauty, and grace of the Comanche past and present. The paintings are rich with history and the unbroken connection the Comanche people have with their roots, but they are not romanticized or stagnant expressions of a bygone era. Rather, Tippeconnic’s art is full of movement, color, and life — a bold statement that Comanche culture is vibrantly alive in the modern world.”

More information about the exhibition can be found here.

Eric Tippeconnic is a visual artist whose father is Comanche, and whose mother is a first generation immigrant from Copenhagen. You can learn more about his work and biography here.

Steve Hoelscher, Shirley Thompson to Discuss late-19th C. “Visual Representations of Race and Ethnicity” at HRC

In conjunction with the exhibition “Vaudeville!,” Chair of the American Studies Department and Ransom Center Faculty Curator Steven Hoelscher will lead a conversation about visual representations of race and ethnicity from the late nineteenthvaudvillecentury to the present. The panel conversation will take place Tuesday, April 17th at 4:30 PM at the Harry Ransom Center.

Panelists will include Jacqueline Jones, Professor and Chair, Department of History; Leonard N. Moore, Professor, Department of History and Vice President of the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement (Interim); and Shirley E. Thompson, Associate Professor, Department of American Studies and Department of African and African Diaspora Studies.

You can RSVP for the event on Facebook.

Rapoport Center Hosts Event, 3/29: “The Role of Law in the Production of Inequality.” Shirley E. Thompson (UT AMS), Walter Johnson Among Speakers

The Bernard and Audre Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice will host a major event entitled “The Role of Law in the Production of Inequality:  Anthropological and Historical Perspectives” this Thursday, March 29th from 4 – 7 PM in the Edelman Courtroom (CCJ 2.306) at the University of Texas Law School. Two guest speakers willdeliver lectures, followed by responses from members of the UT-Austin, New York University, and Harvard Law School faculties, including Dr. Shirley E. Thompson,johnson eventAssociate Professor of American Studies at UT-Austin.

Dr. Thompson will deliver one of the responses to Dr. Walter Johnson’s lecture, “‘No Rights Which the White Man is Bound to Respect’: The Removalist Strain in American Anti-Blackness.”  Dr. Johnson is the Winthrop Professor of History and Professor of African and African American Studies at Harvard University.  He is the author of Soul By Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Trade Market (2008, Harvard UP) and River of Dark Dreams: Slavery and Empire in the Cotton Kingdom (2013 Harvard UP).  Dr. Vasuki Nesiah (NYU) will deliver the other response to Dr. Johnson’s lecture.

Dr. James Ferguson is the Susan S. and William H. Hindle Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences, Department of Anthropology, Stanford University. He will deliver the other keynote lecture, entitled “Rightful Shares and the Claims of Presence: Distributive Politics beyond Labor and Citizenship.” Dr. Sharmila Rudrappa (UT-Austin), and Dr. Lucie E. White (Harvard Law School), will deliver the two responses to Dr. Ferguson’s lecture.