Adam Golub defended his dissertation at UT Austin in 2004. He is currently an Assistant Professor of American Studies at California State University, Fullerton. Before that, he taught for three years as an Assistant Professor of Education Studies at Guilford College in North Carolina. He is a former high school English teacher.
How is the work that you’re doing right now informed by the work that you did as a student in American Studies at UT?
The UT American Studies program significantly shaped my approach to writing, teaching, and conducting research. First, writing. My first semester in Austin, I took courses with Bill Stott, Bob Crunden, and Shelley Fisher Fishkin. From the three of them, I learned to simplify my prose and write more clearly. Bob Crunden rid me of my habit of parentheses abuse and taught me how to use footnotes effectively. Shelley Fishkin taught me to get to the point sooner in my papers—I used to spend pages “clearing my throat” before I articulated my argument and focus. I remember Bill Stott telling us that because American Studies was a multidisciplinary field, we had to be able to communicate our ideas across disciplines in our writing. Incidentally, I still have a copy of Bill Stott’s Write to the Point on my shelf, and I look at it often. I recommend it highly.
Second, teaching. One of the best things I did at UT was sit in on Mark Smith’s “Main Currents” course while I was reading for orals. I confess that in my first few years of university teaching, I borrowed heavily from Mark’s course content and pedagogical style. The way he tells engaging stories in class and supplements them with art, architecture, and primary source quotations has unquestionably inspired my teaching method. Along similar lines, when I put together lectures and syllabi, I still refer to the notes I took while reading for orals—I made one large notecard for each book I read, and they all still sit prominently in a file on my desk. Another example comes to mind: when I teach my theories and methods course, I often imitate something Janet Davis did in her popular culture course. She would start each class with a brief lecture to put the dense theoretical reading(s) of the day in historical context, and then cite scholars who had incorporated these theoretical approaches in their work; as a new Ph.D. student trying to figure out what American Studies was all about, I always found this incredibly helpful. Finally, by way of another book recommendation, I will say that I still borrow material for my courses from Bob Crunden’s A Brief History of American Culture, which grew out of years of lectures and invited talks he delivered.
Third, research. The most important thing I learned in my six years at UT was that theory comes out of your research, and not the other way around. I had come to UT with a bit of a French theory fetish after taking graduate English courses at Boston College; for one of my M.A.T. courses there, I actually wrote a “Lacanian interpretation of Shakespeare’s Henry IV,” a paper that today I find illegible (something about mouths and tongues and honor). At UT, I learned to put theory aside, dive into archives and primary sources, and apply theory only when it was helpful to interpreting my evidence. The second most important thing I learned was something Bob Crunden told us in my first semester, which made it clear to me how to approach the question you want to answer in your research: either you find a new archive no one has looked at before, or you synthesize existing sources in a way no one has yet done. Perhaps this sounds obvious, but at the time it was immensely clarifying. Overall, UT trained me to be a cultural historian, something that has proven invaluable in my research as well as in the job search—Cal State Fullerton places a heavy emphasis on teaching cultural history, and I was able to hit the ground running when I arrived here.
Do you have any words of wisdom or advice for students in our department about how to get the most out of their time here?
One of the biggest regrets I have about the time I spent at UT was that I did not engage in more dialogue about my doctoral research with my peers. I never joined a writing group and I barely spoke to anyone about what I was trying to do in my dissertation. I was too insecure about my own project and abilities, without realizing that I was not alone. So my advice is, don’t do this. Talk, talk, and talk some more about your ideas. Over beer or over coffee or over breakfast tacos at Juan in a Million. Hash it out. Scholarship is a dialogue, not a monologue, and I realized this too late. I was surrounded by brilliant peers, and I didn’t make use of that resource.
Second bit of advice: don’t get distracted by projects that are not related to your dissertation. I wrote a few encyclopedia entries and book reviews while I was a graduate student; these tasks took way longer than they should have and they took away from my research and writing. Such publications do not help you on the job market, and the editors who solicit them often depend on graduate student labor. In my view, they are an unwelcome distraction. Perhaps the same could be said for blogging, which was something that was not as prevalent when I was a student at Texas. However, when I started on the tenure track at Cal State Fullerton, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that in the two years I spent writing for two blogs, I published no scholarship whatsoever. I concede this may be a controversial point, and I admit I was too much of a perfectionist when it came to blogging, but I will make this point nonetheless. In short, the dissertation is the thing. Conference papers and article publications supplement it nicely, and they do more for you in the long run.
Finally, I recommend spending some time thinking about a way to articulate your view of what interdisciplinarity actually means. Whether you pursue an academic or nonacademic career, it is helpful to be able to explain the benefits of your training in interdisciplinary thinking and its applicability to various job situations. My first job after I graduated was in a teacher education program, and in my interview, I talked a great deal about how—specifically—I could teach future teachers interdisciplinary approaches to teaching and learning. In other words, I think it’s important for UT graduate students to own interdisciplinarity, not just American Studies. To make “interdisciplinary” more than the buzzword it has become into something that is both practical and vital in today’s world, across academic departments and nonacademic workplaces.
Thank you for inviting me to share my thoughts. I want to end by saying that I am always happy to talk to UT students about teaching, research, and the job market. You can find me at email@example.com, or on Twitter @adamgolub.