New Episode of Dr. Lauren Gutterman’s “Sexing History” Podcast: “Let’s Dance!”

Screenshot+2019-10-10+15.02.26The Sexing History podcast, co-written and co-hosted by UT AMS Assistant Professor Dr. Lauren Gutterman, as well as Dr. Gillian Frank, has a new episode: “Let’s Dance!” You can listen to the episode here.

In the 1960s and 1970s, a belly dancing craze swept the United States. Audiences could enjoy live belly dancing performances in Middle Eastern restaurants and clubs. Viewers could watch belly dancers in hit movies and on popular television shows. At first glance, the history of belly dancing appears to be a story of white middle-class women appropriating Middle Eastern culture and styles to make themselves more exotic. But the story of belly dancing is much more complex: it is a story in which Middle Eastern and American artists and audiences shaped and reshaped artistic expressions, sexual performances, and cultural identities.

American Indian and Indigenous Education in Texas: A 2019 “Indigenous Peoples’ Day” Forum (Monday, 10/14)

On Monday, October 14th, join the UT American Indian and Indigenous Studies Program for “American Indian and Indigenous Education in Texas: A 2019 Indigenous Peoples’ Day Forum.” The event will start at 4 pm in RLP 1.302B. 

Guest speakers include Peggy Larney (Choctaw Educator, founder of “Indian Citizens Against Racial Exploitation” and the American Indian Heritage Day in Texas) and María Rocha (Miakan-Garza Band; Executive Director of the Indigenous Cultures Institute, San Marcos). The discussion will be moderated by Aaron Pyle (Choctaw; Graduate Student) with the participation of UT Professors, Luis Urrieta (P’urhépecha; Curriculum and Instruction) and Angela Valenzuela (Educational Leadership and Policy).

The event is open to the public with a ceremony and reception to follow.

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AMS 356 Students “Meme” Cultural History

Today in “Stories from the Classroom,” Dr. Alex Beasley shares student-created memes from his AMS 356. Read on to learn more about this awesome assignment!

This semester in Main Currents in American Culture Since 1865, I had students create an original meme that emphasized some theme or concept we’d discussed in class. Students were tasked with taking an existing image that circulates as a meme and changing the text to communicate some broader point about U.S. cultural history between 1865 and 1900.

This assignment has a hidden intention: it asks students to engage critically and creatively with the material, with the hope that doing so will make historical material feel more immediate in the present. Moreover, it tasks them with considering how memes communicate as a medium, and to think big about what points they can make about history that resonate in the present.

Below are some of my favorites.

Dunning Savana

By Savana Dunning

 

Griego Tyhannie

By Tyhannie Griego

 

Martin Brian

By Brian Martin

 

Nus Bradley

By Bradley Nus

 

Paulet Clement

By Clement Paulet

 

Rodriguez Iilana

By Illana Rodriguez

 

Sandoval Anthony

By Anthony Sandoval

 

Widmann Katrina

By Katrina Widmann

 

LeachLindsay

By Lindsay Leach

 

A Conversation with Angie Maxwell (PhD 2008), author of “The Long Southern Strategy” (2019)

41ckcG3HnbLDr. Angie Maxwell (UT AMS PhD, 2008) recently published her second academic monograph, The Long Southern Strategy: How Chasing White Voters in the South Changed American Politics (Oxford, 2019). AMS :: ATX spoke with Maxwell about the new project, interdisciplinary research on Southern politics, and the importance of paying attention to white women voters in the South. 

Dr. Maxwell is Director for the Diane D. Blair Center for Southern Politics & Society, Associate Professor of Political Science, and Diane D. Blair Professor of Southern Studies at the University of Arkansas. 

 

Can you tell us about your book, The Long Southern Strategy, and how you came to the project? 

I started this book long before “nasty women” and “bad hombres” became part of our political vernacular. But as I watched the events of those elections unfold, I realized that the central question of this book—how did we get here?—was more important to answer than ever. Political scientists will tell you that the realignment of the South from solidly Democrat to Republican is the single greatest partisan transformation in all of American history. Yet the explanation that we give—the explanation that we accept—seemed too simple to me, especially now. I wanted to figure out what we had missed? What dots had we not connected? To that end, rather than shining a spotlight on a single election, this book is a panned-out, mixed-methods, backward glance at the Republican Party’s decision, in the post-Civil Rights era, to court southern white voters. It turns out it wasn’t a decision, but a series of decisions—not just on the federal government’s role in ensuring racial equality, but also on equality for women and on the separation of church and state. It took a Long Southern Strategy to flip the South from blue to red, the result of which changed out national politics across the board.

What projects or people have inspired your work?

Lillian Smith’s writing has influenced me profoundly. Her book, Killers of the Dream, published in 1949, set me on this research path. She was able to critique the social constructions that she lived in all of their complexity—how white supremacy and patriarchy and authoritarian religion were intimately and deliberately intertwined, mutually reinforcing each other until they became a gravitational-like force that held everything and everyone in their place.

How does your background in American Studies impact your writing, teaching, and your career in general?

There has been very little research on the gendered aspects of political realignment, and even less on the political behavior of southern white women. Those dynamics play a critical role in the GOP’s efforts to win southern white voters and cut a new path to an Electoral College victory. The GOP’s decision to drop the ERA from its platform in 1980 is a lynchpin in the political realignment of the region, winning the South back after Democrat Jimmy Carter turns it blue again in 1976. And the anti-ERA movement gave the GOP its “family values” mantra that catalyzed the party’s campaign to convert religious evangelical and fundamentalist Christian voters. In order to understand why anti-feminism played so well in the white South, I had to pull from literary criticism, archival material, and scholarship in sociology, legal studies, gender studies, cultural anthropology, etc., and merge it with the quantitative polling data that underscores the book’s major arguments. I could not have done that without my training in American Studies.

What advice do you have for students in our department about getting the most out of their experience at UT?

Read across disciplines. Take classes across disciplines, even across colleges. There is so much rich ground to till in the overlap between the humanities and social sciences. Quantitative methods can enrich American Studies scholarship, and American Studies scholars can help, for example, political scientists ask better polling questions.

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

I’m definitely planning to write more about the politics of southern white women—how they defy the national Gender Gap. For example, though journalists and pundits often report that Hillary Clinton lost white women in the 2016 election, they do not disaggregate the vote by region. Hillary Clinton won white women living outside of the South, 52 to 48. However, in the South, Trump wins the southern white female vote by almost 30 points. I’m also pursuing a project on the history of anti-feminism in America, particularly among women. But right now, I’m co-editing an edition of James Agee’s short fiction. I wrote my master’s thesis in American Studies on James Agee, and I’m thrilled to return to one of the first subjects that sparked my intellectual curiosity.

What I Did On My Summer Vacation: Josh Kopin on Talking Le Guin in Paris

In this third installment of “What I Did on My Summer Vacation,” UT AMS Doctoral candidate Josh Kopin takes us to Paris through the writing of Ursula K. Le Guin. Read on for Josh’s take on conferencing abroad and the pleasures of traveling with your favorite writer.

The second best thing to do in Paris is to buy books. I don’t read French, but even buying English language books in Paris is a joy. All bookstores are jewels, but Parisian bookstores are especially striking by decree: the famous stalls that line the Seine, where I regret not picking up a poster of the 1953 Tour de France route; the big corporate ones a few blocks into the Latin Quarter, where I bought the first two novels by Northern Irish writer Anna Burns, whose recent dense and beautiful and dystopian novel of the Troubles, Milkman, flows like a river with rapids and dams; to the tourist trap at Shakespeare and Co, where I couldn’t resist a stout edition of Chinese science fiction and a Murakami-lite novel from Taiwan about a missing bicycle. But the bookstore that’s bookmarked in my memory is the big, airy one with the tall windows and the red panes across from the Jardin du Luxembourg, where a satire in translation, a hip award-winner, and one of the most beautiful book-objects I’ve ever seen, from a British press that publishes neglected twentieth century women writers, somehow found their way into my bag. We chatted with the owner, who mentioned she was looking for partners and we counted up our euros and our pocket lint and we told her we would have to think about it.

We’re still thinking about it.

Holding books in Parisian bookstores is a joy; American paperbacks almost never fulfill the primary function of a softcover book, which is to fit into your back pocket. In my two weeks in France, I didn’t ride in a car even once. Having a book at hand at on the train, in the park, walking down the street, having so many small, satisfying treasures to choose from, felt just about utopian.

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I was in Paris this summer to talk about books, specifically about one book, Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed, at a conference dedicated to her life and work. When Le Guin died at the beginning of 2019, I was devastated; I turn to her for wisdom and guidance; she is my heart. The opportunity to celebrate her with others was a kind of homecoming; of the many extraordinarily talented and dedicated scholars I was on the schedule, I’m proud that I can now call a few my friends.

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The Dispossessed, published in 1974, is a novel from Le Guin’s Hainish cycle, a group of experiments in political thinking that proceed from the premise that there are genetically modified humans living on planets arrayed across the stars. In The Left Hand of Darkness, perhaps her most famous novel, the inhabitants of the ice planet Winter are without gender or even differentiated biological sex; the humans of The Dispossessed are covered in short, fine hair, but they are otherwise similar to Earth-humans. The novel is set on the planet Urras, a planet fighting a thinly veiled analogue of the Cold War, and its moon, Anarres, where a colony of anarchists were allowed to settle a century and a half before the events of the novel. On Anarres, individuals are nominally free to do as they please, supported by and supported their society. Guided by the works of a philosopher named Odo, the moon lacks what we would call government; it uses a central computer for planning purposes and the opinions of an individual’s neighbors, rather than laws, as a means of social control. Both planet and moon have recently been shaken by the arrival of representatives from interstellar humanity, including an ambassador from Earth.

The dual stories of the plot center around the youth of the Anerresti physicist Shevek, the way that the stifling social conditions of the moon drive him to rebellion as he completes his great theory of simultaneity (an apparently extraordinary development in theoretical physics that leads to the ansible, a piece of speculative technology that allows individuals to communicate across the vast distances of space in real time), and his eventual fool’s errand to Urras, where he hopes to reconcile the two societies.

My paper focused on an unusual feature of the anarchist philosophy presented in the book, its emphasis on what Le Guin calls “fidelity.” I can say without hesitation or self-consciousness that the passage where I first remember encountering her use of that word changed my life; she writes:

…the variety seeking of the spectator, the thrill hunter, the sexually promiscuous, always ends in the same place. It has an end. It comes to the end and has to start over. It is not a journey and return, but a closed cycle, a locked room, a cell.

Outside the room is the landscape of time, in which the spirit may, with luck and courage, construct the fragile, makeshift, improbable roads and cities of fidelity: a landscape inhabitable by human beings.

I was awed by Le Guin’s fragile, makeshift, improbable roads and cities of fidelity, one of the utopias put forward for consideration in The Dispossessed (subtitled “An Ambiguous Utopia”). Modeled on a just relationship between individuals premised on their mutual support for each other’s flourishing rooted in the individual’s moral obligation to promote their own, Le Guin’s fragile, makeshift, improbable utopia is striking because it appears as a fractal, the same pattern repeating over and over at increasingly smaller scales, from the level of the society all the way down to individual relationships. Some of these are premised on the sexual monogamy we usually mean when we use the word fidelity, but the vast majority aren’t, both because most human relationships aren’t sexual and because monogamy is not the default on Anarres.

I gave my talk on Friday morning; Friday afternoon’s sessions were all in French, so my partner and I slipped out, ate some cheese for lunch and drank small sugary espressos after, went shopping for books, and then into the Jardin du Luxembourg.

In the middle of the park, between the small restaurants and the bocce courts, there’s a grand fountain. In the plaza around the fountain sits a little stall that rents tiny toy sail boats and bamboo poles; you put the boat in the fountain, poke it with the stick, watch it sail around until it hits the wall, at which point you get it moving again by giving it another poke with a stick.

This is the best thing to do in Paris.

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My partner stayed for a few more days, and after she left I traveled to Angoulême, a small city in the southwest. Every year, the city holds the world’s most important comics festival, and it is the home to a comics museum, open year round. I traveled there to give a paper on the role of the Ranger (a UT-Austin humor magazine that was also responsible for producing a significant number of important American media personalities over several decades in the middle of the twentieth century) in the prehistory of the US underground comix movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Although the Underground was a national phenomenon, it is generally thought of as having been founded in San Francisco; recovering the Ranger and other campus humor rags in the movement’s coalescence serves a broader project of reconceptualizing the Underground that was the focus of an issue of INKS, put out this summer and co-edited by my friends Margaret Galvan and Leah Misemer, that featured my first published academic article.

While I was in Angoulême, the temperature, already hotter than temperate France is used to, exploded. It exploded all over Europe. The Paris I returned to for a day and a half at the end of my trip was still bustling, but it was clearly under a good deal of strain. I went back to the Jardin du Luxembourg to see the boats one last time, but they weren’t there; it was simply too hot.

Although many of Le Guin’s novels are early examples of the increasingly important genre of speculative environmental fiction we now call cli-fi, The Dispossessed is not usually counted among these. Critics instead (and perhaps rightfully) tend to focus on its experiment in anarchist living. But the novel pays clear attention to environmental conditions: its plot turns on a major ecological catastrophe on Anarres, a drought that causes many deaths and shakes Shevek’s faith in the way the moon’s people govern themselves; the beauty of Urras, meanwhile, emerges from its vegetation, its large animals, its wide open wild spaces, all absent from the harsh ecology of the moon. Even the one character from Earth, an ambassador, describes our planet’s future state in environmental terms; ecological catastrophe from climate change has rendered much of the planet uninhabitable, leaving its population at a sparse half a billion.

It’s not clear exactly who Le Guin believes are the dispossessed of her novel’s title. Is it the anarchists of Anarres, scratching by on a barren world? Is it the poor of Urras, rendered abject by capitalist excess? As Paris boiled, as I tried to read my book and watched a fountain emptied of its happy boats, I began to wonder if, instead, she meant us.

Five Questions with First-Years Returns! An Interview with Coyote Shook

It’s October, which means 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 Coyote Shook. Coyote comes to UT with a background in Gender Studies and research interests in comics, the American Spiritualist movement, and death/dying (but Coyote promises that they’re an “otherwise normal person.”) Read on to learn more about Coyote and their plans as a doctoral student UT!2AAAABE0-9EE4-4EED-9216-BEE473E90920

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

I did most of my undergraduate research in American Studies (particularly looking at death and dying in Civil War culture). I went to Wisconsin for an MA in Gender Studies where I researched prosthetic limb fundraisers after the Schoolhouse Blizzard of 1888. It was during this time that I started to experiment with comics as a medium for presenting research. It stuck. Outside of the academic world, I was a high school English teacher for three years and completed a Fulbright in Poland in 2014-2015.

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

The department offered me the one thing I can’t resist: funding. In all seriousness, I appreciated the supportive tone from faculty during the application process. They seemed genuinely curious and engaged with the concept of comics as research in a way that no other department quite matched. I felt this was a space where I could be challenged as a student, but also grow as a scholar who uses nontraditional mediums for research purposes. Plus I was drawn to Austin’s alluring margarita culture.

What projects or people have inspired your work?

I draw very heavily from queer/crip historians and scholars. Alison Kafer, Eli Clare, Ellen Samuels, Jasbir Puar, and Lee Edelman have all been really influential on my work. I also draw a lot from Marxist feminists and labor theorists such as Heidi Hartmaan, Lauren Berlant, and Sylvia Federici.

In terms of projects, I’m really drawn to cartoonists who have used creative nonfiction. Cartoonists who inspire my work include Lynda Barry, Isabel Greenberg, Allison Bechdel, David Small, Edward Gorey, Art Spiegelman, Tove Jansson, and Joe Sacco.

What projects do you see yourself working on at UT?

I’m currently focusing on the American Spiritualist movement and its intersections with disability and dark tourism. I’m currently working on research about diet and food in spiritualist culture and seances. I’m also working on a paper about Mary Todd Lincoln’s relationship with spiritualism and her transgressions in Victorian grief culture that contributed to the sexist and ableist caricature we are left with in modern representations. Honestly, my research since I was in undergrad has focused on sickness and death, so I’d be surprised if it deviates from that. However, I’d like to emphasize that I’m an otherwise normal person who just happens to have macabre research tastes.

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

I plan on marrying a very, very rich man and not worrying about future employment.

Also, if that doesn’t work, probably museum work around public history education and history curriculum design for public schools. But I really, really need option A to pan out.

Bonus Question: In your own words, what is American Studies?

American Studies is an interdisciplinary field that examines history and culture in the United States and/or the impact of American empire on global events…y’know what? I’m gonna just stop myself there. I fail.