Grad Research: Eric Covey’s Intro AMS course creates photography Tumblr


It should come as no surprise that our department takes digital and new media very seriously. Many of our professors and instructors have integrated online tools into their research and in their teaching with fascinating and wonderful results. So, needless to say, we’re thrilled to share with you a photography project that emerged out of recent Ph.D. graduate Eric Covey’s summer introductory American Studies course, which centered on foodways in America.

Here’s what Eric had to say about the project in a blog post, the full text of which is available here:

This time around I decided to slightly refocus the course—engaging more closely with the field of American studies that has been my intellectual home for a decade now— but to still maintain an emphasis on US foodways. I would draw from many of my previous lectures, but each day’s class (this was a small lecture with about 40 students) would begin with a discussion of a selected keyword from  editors Bruce Burgett and Glenn Hendler’s collection of Keywords for American Cultural Studies (2007). The resulting course would be dubbed “Introduction to American Studies: Keywords and Key Foods.”

In practical terms, what this meant was that when I lectured about rice in West Africa and the Stono Uprising in South Carolina, students came to class having read African (Kevin Gaines). And when I lectured on barbecue and cotton culture in Central Texas, they read Region (Sandra A. Zagarell). Since this was a summer course, additional reading beyond keywords was light. Students read William Cronon’s “Seasons of Want and Plenty” from Changes in the Land alongside Colonial (David Kazanjian) the day I lectured on maize. My lecture on bananas was prefaced by Cynthia Enloe’s “Carmen Miranda on My Mind” from Bananas, Beaches and Bases and Empire (Shelley Streeby). I explained to students on the first day of class that what I expected was for them to develop a vocabulary that they could use in a variety of settings.

Of course I also expected them to demonstrate some mastery of this vocabulary in their coursework. Three exams asked students to identify material from the class and explain its significance using the language ofKeywords. I also assigned a photo project that required them to take a photo of a local food site and write a brief caption (450-900 words, also drawing on Keywords) to accompany the photo. These photos and captions were posted to a collective Tumblr at http://amskeywordskeyfoods.tumblr.com. When I initially described the project to my students, I suggested two approaches they might take: first, they could show how their photo illustrated a particular keyword; Or, second, they might use one of the keywords to analyze the photo. On the due date, students e-mailed me their photo and caption. Because Tumblr is mostly user friendly, it only took me a few hours to upload all the images and uniformly-formatted text.

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