TONIGHT: Siva Vaidhyanathan Speaks on “Antisocial Media”: BMC 2.106, 7 PM

Dr. Siva Vaidhyanathan will deliver a talk this evening at the Belo Center for New Media entitled “Antisocial Media: How Facebook Disconnects People and Undermines Democracy.” A full description of the event, including a longer biography of Dr. Vaidhyanathan, can be found here.

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Dr. Vaidhyanathan is the Robertson Professor of Media Studies and director of the Center for Media and Citizenship at the University of Virginia. He is an acclaimed journalist, scholar, and speaker, and a graduate of the UT-Austin American Studies doctoral program. His research and writing has focused on the relationship between legal notions of intellectual property and the development of the digital sphere, and his books include Intellectual Property: A Very Short Introduction (2017 OUP) and The Googlization of Everything–and Why We Should Worry about It (2011 UCP), among others. Dr. Vaidhyanathan has written for journalistic publications such as The New York Times, Dissent, and The Nation, and has appeared as an analyst on BBC, CNN, and ABC, among other networks.

Below is the abstract for Dr. Vaidhyanathan’s talk; please stop by if you can!

“If you wanted to build a machine that would distribute propaganda to millions of people, distract them from important issues, energize hatred and bigotry, erode social trust, undermine respectable journalism, foster doubts about science, and engage in massive surveillance all at once, you would make something a lot like Facebook. Facebook grew out of an ideological commitment to data-driven decision making and logical thinking. Its culture is explicitly cosmopolitan and tolerant of difference and dissent. Both its market orientation and its labor force are global. Facebook also indulges a strong missionary bent, one that preaches the power of connectivity and the spread of knowledge to empower people to change their lives for the better. No company better represents the dream of a fully connected planet “sharing” words, ideas, images, and plans. No company has better leveraged those ideas into wealth and influence. No company has contributed more to the global collapse of basic tenets of deliberation and democracy. How did the mission go so wrong? Facebook’s leaders believed that good intentions were enough, and that blind faith in technology could generate a better world.”

“Heart of the Mission”: An Interview with Dr. Cary Cordova

This past year, Dr. Cary Cordova, Associate Professor of American Studies at UT-Austin, published her first book, The Heart of the Mission: Latino Art and Politics in San Francisco with University of Pennsylvania Press. To celebrate the release of Heart of the Mission, Sarah Carlson, a doctoral student in UT-Austin’s American Studies program, sat down with Dr. Cordova to discuss the genesis of the project as a dissertation; the various pools of inspiration from which Dr. Cordova drew her research questions; the writing process and its relationship to teaching and community engagement; and much, much more. Please read on!

Cordova book cover

SC: Can you tell us generally just a little about the book, the project, and how you came to it initially?

CC: I’m originally from San Francisco, and I had come to graduate school here at the University of Texas at Austin in American Studies. It was around the time for me to figure out what my dissertation was going to be about and I was struggling. I knew that I had come here specifically to work in Latino Studies, but I had somewhat initially thought that my interests were going to be literary. But, because I had a background in art history and because a lot of things were happening in the Mission District in San Francisco at that time in terms of gentrification, I suddenly started thinking about the possibility of writing about where I came from. I had travelled a lot and I had seen the ways in which there is the influence of geography and economic demographics on how people understand Mexican Americans or Chicanos or Latinos. And I had never seen work that represented San Francisco in that conversation in a meaningful way.  So that became the project.

SC: So it started as your dissertation. All projects inevitably change, so how did this change from when it started as a dissertation and also, when did you know it was time to shift gears. How do you know when you just have to say, “this is different from what I started with?”

CC: Okay, so there are a couple of gears in there, because there are a couple ways in which it finally became a dissertation, and then it finally became a book. In terms of a dissertation and the process of it coming alive, I had help and support from archives and fellowships that made it possible to write. That’s important. But also I think that I had gotten to a point where I just needed to be done. And I think that it’s a really important, transformative moment, mentally for a scholar, when you are so committed to being done. That was incredibly helpful for putting words on a page.

In terms of how the project changed: I think the project was always perhaps overly ambitious. I sometimes counsel students now to bring it down a notch. I learned that there were some things I just wasn’t going to be able to do. Those things are on shelves in my mind. And so there was some level of acceptance for that.

The hardest part about transforming the project into the book was that I had to both expand it and cut it a lot.

SC: Okay, can you talk about that? Simultaneously writing for expansion and concision?

CC: Basically, I had to cut probably 20,000 words or something. Like a lot of words. Thousands of words. And probably more than that because there were also spaces that needed clarification. In terms of a transition from the dissertation to the book, there were at least three new chapters that were added.

So there were more chapters but less space. Which was maybe a good thing for me, because it made every word excruciatingly important. I think it’s really helpful in a way in a book that you realize that you don’t have to be as repetitive or redundant as you do in a dissertation. There’s some way in a dissertation in which you have to constantly affirm your argument. In a book you have some level of fluidity and maybe also hope that people have been reading along with you and that these things you’re pointing out are not necessarily coming out of the blue. You can focus on the really necessary parts.

I think there’s a huge learning curve to writing a dissertation. None of us has ever done it before. Some of us have maybe seen it done by others, but that’s quite different from trying to figure out:  “How do I structure things? Am I going to be chronological? Am I going to be thematic? How do I integrate my sources? How do i have an argument? What is my argument?” And so for the dissertation, those are just basic fundamentals, and then for a book its important to reach out much more to other scholars and hopefully other people in the community in the world that have an interest in the topic. Trying to make it legible and accessible and teachable are some of the things that go into transforming a dissertation into a book.

SC: You mention that no one has done a dissertation before they do one, and that you have to confront all these daunting questions. But of course, other people have done it, just not the way you do it. So who are people or what are other projects that, during your dissertation, you looked to or were inspired by? And then during your book, what or who informed the way you did things?

CC: I think when I was initially processing what I wanted to do I was really inspired by by the work on the Harlem Renaissance, and I loved how a variety of scholars had pinpointed this moment in time when a lot of artists and writers and intellectuals were communicating with each other and forming an intellectual community. I couldn’t help but think about the ways in which that registered for me in terms of thinking about the artists and the activists that I knew from San Francisco, especially in the Mission District. So I think that scholarship was an inspiration and ambition.

SC: Where do you see this fitting in academic conversations, but also in a broader conversation beyond strictly scholarly writing?

CC: In terms of where the work fits, I have always thought of my work as some sort of an intersection between American Studies and Latino Studies, and I’ve gradually learned that I’m very historical. I always approach my work as an interdisciplinary scholar but I have come to realize and accept that there are a lot of ways in which my work has been deeply informed by historians and the techniques of historians.

I would also hope that it is readable. I did want it to be accessible to the people I was writing about. I think that that was a really important component for me.

SC: Speaking of the relationship between scholarly work and communicating with audiences besides scholars: how does your research affect how you teach? And how does your teaching inform what you’re doing as a scholar?

CC: A lot. I think one thing that I learned as a teacher was to try to simplify, to try to really find my priorities in terms of what I was going to lecture about or what I was going to focus on in classroom. And I started to think about the applicability of that as a writer and the ways in which I really needed to prioritize what was most important in my argument and allow for the fact that maybe not everything else was going to fit in perfectly, maybe it was okay to lose some information for the sake of streamlining and making something more cohesive.

That was really important. I think also teaching helped me think about chapters in a more helpful way, because I started to think about the relationship between lectures and chapters. Approaching chapters as lectures can allow you to think of a chapter as its own contained way of reaching people–still part of the book, but also including its own argument and its own life. I felt like that was helpful for me in terms of structuring my ideas.

SC: Related to teaching and writing, I have one last big question. What advice do you have for students, whether they are working on their undergraduate term papers, working toward a dissertation, or turning a dissertation into a book?

CC: So, if its about writing, then I think part of writing is allowing yourself to do research, enjoying the process of research, but writing as you go. You can build an endless archive of research, but if you’re not transforming it into your words, then you’re just creating a harder and harder situation for yourself to finally bring your words to the page. Do a little bit of research, a little bit of writing, a little bit of research, a little bit of writing.

Kimberly Hamlin Gives Talk TODAY at Noon: “Finding Sex and Gender in the (History of Science) Archive”

Dr. Kimberly Hamilin, Associate Professor of American Studies at Miami University of Ohio, will give a talk today at noon in Garrison 1.102. Hamilin’s lecture, entitled “Finding Sex and Gender in the (History of Science) Archive,” will consider the relationship between scientific study, gender, and the women’s rights movements of the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries.

Hamlin is the author of From Eve to Evolution: Darwin, Science, and Women’s Rights in Gilded Age America (2014, University of Chicago Press). She received her PhD from the University of Texas at Austin.

Hamlin talk poster

Leif Fredrickson to Give Pubic Lecture this Monday (2/19) morning: “The Age of Lead: How Suburbanization Poisoned the Inner City”

Dr. Leif Fredrickson, Ambrose Monell Fellow in Technology and Democracy at the Miller Center of Public Affairs, University of Virginia, will give a public lecture this Monday, February 19th at 9 AM. The lecture will be held in Burdine (BUR) 214, and will feature a question and answer period following the lecture.

Fredrickson will lecture on a key aspect of his research: the link between mid-century processes of suburbanization and the environmental degradation of inner cities. Specifically, Fredrickson’s talk will examine the history of lead poisoning in Baltimore and the nation, exploring how metropolitan development – especially suburbanization – produced or exacerbated unequal lead exposure to across racial, spatial, and class lines. Suburbanites and suburban development benefited from lead-related technologies, such as lead piping, lead-solder, lead-acid batteries and leaded gasoline. These benefits were often not shared by those in the inner city, however. Moreover, many of the pollution externalities of these technologies were foisted onto the residents of the inner city. This was particularly true of leaded gasoline used by suburban commuters. But the production and recycling of other lead products, such as lead-acid batteries, was also concentrated in the inner city, and so was the pollution from these products. In addition, suburbanization increased lead hazards in the inner city by accelerating housing deterioration, which exacerbated lead paint hazards. Some suburbanites even benefited more directly from this housing deterioration through their profitable ownership of slum housing in the inner city. Suburbanites, meanwhile, were able to carve out healthier, and wealthier, environments on the metropolitan periphery.

Dr. Christina Sharpe, author of In the Wake, to give Lorde-Robinson Lecture, 2/15 at 3 PM

Dr. Christina Sharpe, Professor of English at Tuft’s University, will deliver the Audre Lorde-Cedric Robinson Distinguished Lecture in Black Studies this Thursday, February 15th at 3 P.M.  The lecture will take place at the Glickman Conference Center, CLA 1.302B. Sharpe will lecture on her 2016 book In the Wake: On Blackness and Being. 

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From Duke University Press: “In this original and trenchant work, Christina Sharpe interrogates literary, visual, cinematic, and quotidian representations of Black life that comprise what she calls the “orthography of the wake.” Activating multiple registers of “wake”—the path behind a ship, keeping watch with the dead, coming to consciousness—Sharpe illustrates how Black lives are swept up and animated by the afterlives of slavery, and she delineates what survives despite such insistent violence and negation. Initiating and describing a theory and method of reading the metaphors and materiality of “the wake,” “the ship,” “the hold,” and “the weather,” Sharpe shows how the sign of the slave ship marks and haunts contemporary Black life in the diaspora and how the specter of the hold produces conditions of containment, regulation, and punishment, but also something in excess of them. In the weather, Sharpe situates anti-Blackness and white supremacy as the total climate that produces premature Black death as normative. Formulating the wake and “wake work” as sites of artistic production, resistance, consciousness, and possibility for living in diaspora, In the Wake offers a way forward.”



Dr. Betsy Beasley to Give Lecture on Houston’s Historical Development as a Service Empire

This Monday, January 29th from 9 – 10:30 A.M. Dr. Betsy Beasley, Member at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University, will give a lecture entitled “Expert Capital: Houston and the Making of a Service Empire.”  The talk will be held at Burdine 214, and will feature a Q & A period at the end of the event. Dr. Beasley’s lecture is based on her forthcoming project of the same name, under contract with Harvard University Press.  Dr. Beasley has provided a short description of her lecture, which you can read below. We hope to see you there!

“What are the environmental, political, and cultural implications of an economy dominated by companies that profit from fossil fuels without actually getting their hands dirty producing them? During the second half of the twentieth century, U.S.-based oil companies faced both domestic and international threats. At home, easily BeasleyTalkaccessible oil reserves sputtered, their supplies in decline, while refinery workers organizing across racial lines challenged corporate power, and new social movements demanded greater environmental responsibility from fossil fuel producers. Abroad, anti-colonial campaigns decades in the making transformed oil-rich colonies into new nations skeptical of the U.S. and committed to nationalizing natural resources. The traditional model of the U.S. oil company–in which a company’s value and profits stemmed from the crude reserves it controlled and the refined fuel it marketed and sold–was in jeopardy. As the oil giants faced uncertainty, oil executives, engineers, and logisticians invented a business strategy to adapt to a new economic, environmental, and political climate. Rather than profit from their direct ownership of oil reserves, they built oilfield services companies that sold their management, engineering, and logistical expertise to oil producers around the world. This talk shows how these white-collar experts created a new market that commodified their self-proclaimed oilfield experience and knowledge. In the process, they diffused the threat of oil industry unionization at home, staved off responsibility for environmental destruction, and made U.S. economic power palatable in a postcolonial world.”

Dr. Randolph Lewis Interviewed in National Geographic Cover Story, “They Are Watching You..”


Dr. Randolph Lewis, Professor of American Studies at UT Austin and author of the recently published book Under Surveillance: Being Watched in America, was interviewed for the most recent cover story in National Geographic magazine, entitled “They Are Watching You–and Everything Else in America.”  The article is about the expansion of surveillance technologies and practices over the past few decades, and Dr. Lewis specifically discusses the detrimental effects of surveillance’s “constant badgering” of the American populace–especially for those “who really feel its undertow.”  Give it a read!