“75 Years of American Studies at UT Austin” Symposium Begins Thursday!


The UT Austin Department of American Studies is proud to present a two-day long symposium to mark the 75th Anniversary of American Studies at UT!  The event will comprise two days of speeches and panels featuring faculty, former faculty, current students, and alumni of the graduate program discussing the various ways that they have brought their training in American Studies into the world–as scholars, educators, activists, journalists, artists, and administrators.

The event kicks off on Thursday afternoon at 4 P.M. at the Prothro Theatre in the Harry Ransom Center.  Dr. Maurie McInnis, the provost and executive vice president of the University of Texas, will present the Keynote Address for the symposium:  “The Shadow of Slavery in American Public Life.”  Dr. Stephen Enniss, Director of the Ransom Center, will open the evening with introductory remarks.

The remainder of the panels and speeches will occur throughout the day on Friday, November 4th, from 9 A.M. through 5 P.M. in the Harry Ransom Center.  You can find a full schedule of events, as well as detailed descriptions and biographies of each panelist and speaker, here.  Stay tuned for more posts about the symposium right here at AMS : ATX, and follow us on Twitter @AmStudies and on facebook. You can also follow live tweeting from the event using the hashtag: #amsatx75.

5 Questions with First-Years: This Week, Gaila Sims


In this second installment of AMS : ATX’s 2016 “5 Questions with First-Years” series, doctoral student Gaila Sims answers five variations on the same confounding, existential question:  why are you doing this?  

Sims, a graduate of Oberlin College who has worked as an educator in Austin for the past five years, discusses her time working at Austin’s George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center, her academic and professional goals, and her interests in African American history, black feminism, museums, and California, among other subjects.

What is your background, and how does it motivate your teaching and research?
I went to Oberlin College for Undergraduate, where I studied History and African American Studies. After graduating, I moved to Austin, where I did an AmeriCorps program for two years, tutoring kids in low-income elementary schools. For the last three years, I worked at the Carver Museum, the black history museum and cultural center here in Austin, on the education staff.
Why did you decide to come to AMS at UT for your graduate work? 
I have loved living in Austin for the last five years, and so I wanted to see if UT might be the best place for my graduate work. I visited the campus and the American Studies Department and was really impressed by the students and faculty I met.

What projects or people have inspired your work?
I am currently obsessed with Lonnie Bunch, the founding director of the newly opened National Museum of African American History and Culture in DC. He has had such an amazing career and since I would love to continue working at black history museums during and after graduate school, I definitely look to him as inspiration.
What projects do you see yourself working on at UT?
I am interested in mixed race identity, black feminism, and African American history, specifically in California. I would like to learn more about Afro-pessimism, black women’s contributions to community building during slavery, and black women’s conceptions of enslavement in contemporary fiction.

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

I just want to learn a lot and figure out how I can contribute to American Studies and discussions of African American history. I would like to continue working in museums in the Austin area, and gain experience in a variety of spaces dedicated to American and African American history and culture.
We asked Gaila to define the field of American Studies.  Quite wisely, she decided to ignore that question.  Stay tuned for the next installment of “5 Questions with First-Years,” coming at you in the coming weeks!

Thursday: Dr. Doug Rossinow on Austin in the 60s

We hope you’ll join us this Thursday, October 13th in Painter Hall 3.02 for a talk by Dr. Doug Rossinow, about Austin in the 1960s. Dr. Rossinow’s book, The Politics of Authenticity, is commonly taught in UT AMS. We’ve included an image of the poster and a description of Dr. Rossinow’s talk, below.


Austin was a major center of youth protest and dissident culture in the 1960s — a radical center with a distinctive Texas identity. Civil rights agitation, dissident religion, peace mobilization, leftist radicalism, women’s liberation, and a unique underground culture: it all happened here, and most of all at UT. Soon it will be fifty years since the world-shaking year 1968. Looking back with the benefit of a half-century’s perspective, Professor Rossinow will reflect on the significance of the 1960s for today, and on what Austin’s Sixties tells us about that era.

5 Questions, First-Year PhD Student Edition! This Week: Zoya Brumberg


This month, AMS : ATX brings you a twist on our world-famous “5 Questions” series.  Rather than interviewing the established professors and scholars of UT’s American Studies department or the graduates of the AMS PhD program, we have decided to focus on those brave souls at the beginning of their American Studies scholarly journey:  the first-year graduate students in UT’s AMS doctoral program.  Why do people pick up from steady jobs and loving communities across the country and move to sweltering Austin, Texas, for a chance to read hundreds of books, write thousands of words, and teach undergraduates about…American Studies?  How do these folks define “American Studies,” and why is this the field for them?  

We posed these questions, among others, to Zoya Brumberg, who has come to UT from Providence, RI by way of Chicago, IL.  In this first installment of “5 Questions with First-Years,” Brumberg discusses her academic and personal background, her scholarly interest in the human curation of natural landscapes, folklore, the American West, and her conviction that personal hobbies are a site of profound creative, scholarly possibility.

1) What is your background, academic or otherwise, and how does it motivate your teaching and research?
I grew up in Providence, RI, got my BA in Russian and Art Studio from Mount Holyoke College, and received my MA in the interdisciplinary program Visual and Critical Studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I moved around a lot between schools, trying different things. I was living and working in Chicago before I began at UT; I worked at two different high end lingerie stores until I got an editing job, all while trying to continue working on my writing, traveling, reading, and adventuring.
One of the best things about receiving my MA from an art school is that it gave me the chance to teach and collaborate with really creative people and explore new ways of thinking, learning, and communicating. My main goal with research is to try to marry the theoretical and historical content of my work with artful forms of writing and presentation that capture the spirit of what I’m trying to say with my research and the ideas that go into it. I try to use creative writing, sensual experiences, performance, and curatorial projects while teaching and in my own written work.
2) Why did you decide to come to AMS at UT for your graduate work?

I am interested in the literature, history, and landscapes of the West and was immediately attracted to the way that the American Studies program at UT is very much tied to local history and resources. My work deals with museological viewing rituals and the curation of natural landscapes in the context of state and national parks and wilderness preserves and human-made landscapes within wilderness areas. The interdisciplinary nature of American Studies, the academic environment and faculty at UT’s American Studies program, and the American- and Texas-historical resources available on campus and beyond are extremely conducive to the projects I want to pursue.

3) What projects or people have inspired these interests?
I’m really drawn to the sorts of literature and exhibitions that come from people’s personal projects and hobbies, and I try to apply these more creative methodologies to my work. Traveling, collecting, photographing, and hand-mapping are more difficult to grasp than analytically laid-out concepts in books, but they are just as integral to my research as traditional texts. Driving up Route 1 on the California coast through Big Sur, visiting the City Museum in St. Louis and the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Los Angeles, road-tripping and hiking and exploring have been major sensual inspirations to my work.

The person who got me going on my current project is Perry Eberhart, a social worker and journalist who was also a Colorado history enthusiast, anthropologist, environmental activist, and outdoorsman who wrote a number of guides to Colorado ghost and mining towns, folklore, and landscapes from the 1950s–’80s. His work blurs the lines between how-tos and history and has been influential to both Colorado history-writing and outdoor adventure guides. His books helped me to experience wild-like spaces through historical and folkloric knowledge, as well as learn history by exploring it physically.

Recently I have been reading a lot of Wallace Stegner and Rebecca Solnit and am really inspired by the way that they combine the art of writing with history-telling. Additionally, my thesis advisors from SAIC, Shawn Michelle Smith and Joseph Grigely, really encouraged me to explore a multitude of avenues for collecting research and articulating what I found and inspired me to continue on that path.

4) What projects do you see yourself working on at UT?
I don’t want to fence myself in too much with this one…I am really excited to explore Texas/Western history and folklore through the landscapes surrounding me here and the resources available in the Briscoe and Ransom collections. I’m hoping to take some trips out to West Texas to explore the ways that the region’s largest parks are “curated,” how their histories are articulated, and what is left of the human structures and influences on the landscape that shaped and defined it before the parks were set aside as “wilderness.”

5) What are your goals for graduate school, and–if you dare– for after you graduate?
Obviously, I am going to get a tenure-track position at a well-respected university located in a very cool, not-too-expensive small city. But really I just want to write, and explore, and write some more, and hope that the work I do reaches people in an enjoyable, or at least palatable, way. Looking at the history of parks, of the articulation of natural history, forces the people engaging with those histories to question the dichotomy between human and natural spaces. I want my work to help people see nature not as something in a specially reserved park but as a part of human (and other living thing) experiences, to question land and water as property, to look critically at their own consumption, to enjoy “wilderness areas” as human spaces and human spaces as part of a global nature. If the whole academia thing doesn’t work out, I would love to confuse and depress children by doing educational programming for the National Park Service or something.

Bonus: How would you define American Studies?
Stay tuned for more interviews with first-years in the weeks to come!

Jason Bivins Book Talk Tomorrow

9780190230913Tomorrow, Thursday, October 6 from noon to 1pm in Burdine 554 is a book talk by Dr. Jason Bivins, a prominent historian of American religions from North Carolina State University. A description of Dr. Bivins’s new book, Spirits Rejoice, is below. We hope to see you there.

In Spirits Rejoice! Jason Bivins explores the relationship between American religion and American music, and the places where religion and jazz have overlapped.

Much writing about jazz tends toward glorified discographies or impressionistic descriptions of the actual sounds. Rather than providing a history, or series of biographical entries, Spirits Rejoice! takes to heart a central characteristic of jazz itself and improvises, generating a collection of themes, pursuits, reoccurring foci, and interpretations. Bivins riffs on interviews, liner notes, journals, audience reception, and critical commentary, producing a work that argues for the centrality of religious experiences to any legitimate understanding of jazz, while also suggesting that jazz opens up new interpretations of American religious history. Bivins examines themes such as musical creativity as related to specific religious traditions, jazz as a form of ritual and healing, and jazz cosmologies and metaphysics. Spirits Rejoice!connects Religious Studies to Jazz Studies through thematic portraits, and a vast number of interviews to propose a new, improvisationally fluid archive for thinking about religion, race, and sound in the United States. Bivins’s conclusions explore how the sound of spirits rejoicing challenges not only prevailing understandings of race and music, but also the way we think about religion.

UT AMS Grad Dr. Jennifer Kelly Publishes Article in AQ

2Congratulations to Dr. Jennifer Kelly (PhD, 2015), whose article “Asymmetrical Itineraries: Militarism, Tourism, and Solidarity in Occupied Palestine” has been published in the most recent issue of American Quarterly. We’ve got an excerpt for you, below, and you can read the rest here:

I begin with Bousac’s map because it asks us to consider the fragmented archipelago that the West Bank has become. Like Bousac’s map, I too want to chart out the post-Oslo fragmentation of the West Bank and ask when and how those landmasses in between seas of checkpoints and military roads become navigable, and for whom. In this essay, I explore what happens when subjects under occupation attempt to circumvent the archipelagic logic that divides them. What possibilities are both made available and made impossible when tourism, militarism, and anti-occupation activism occupy the same space? In what follows, I show how, in the context of ever-shrinking Palestinian access to their land, Palestinian tour guides and organizers are using tourism, despite its limitations, to expose the fragmented terrain they have inherited and to attempt to stay anchored to the land they still have. I trace how the Oslo I and II Accords, and the attendant establishment of the Palestinian Authority and its Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, both changed the parameters of what was possible in terms of Palestinian-led tourism in the West Bank and also fragmented Palestinian land, ushered in a period of expanding settlements, and entrenched an aid-based Palestinian economy. Drawing from interviews with Palestinian tour guides, many of whom have been organizing tours of occupied Palestine since the first intifada, I detail how what began as informal, impromptu tours of the West Bank to supporters of the Palestinian struggle has mushroomed into an income-generating, if somewhat provisional, enterprise. I also focus on the deeply and, I argue, deliberately asymmetrical nature of solidarity tourism in Palestine: Palestinian tour guides are guiding tourists through spaces that, often, they themselves cannot go in an attempt to use tourist mobility to highlight their own immobility under military occupation. These guides and organizers have chosen to dedicate their energy to solidarity tourism, even when its role in movement building is difficult to delineate and its effects are shot through with contradictions, because they value its role in helping Palestinians, from shop owners to farmers, stay on their land in the face of forced exile. In this way, this essay focuses on the fragmentation of Palestinian land and the fraught ways in which Palestinian guides and organizers have sought to demonstrate, negotiate, and work against this fragmentation through the unlikely vehicle of tourism.