Five Questions with First-Years Returns…with Caroline Johnson!

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We roll into a new semester with another addition of “Five Questions with First-Years!” Today, we bring you Caroline Johnson, hailing from the the great Buckeye state of Ohio. Expert and enthusiast in the field of visual culture and media, Caroline talks with us about her academic origins, her research goals, and her love of travel, public intellectual work, and dogs.  Enjoy!

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

I received BAs in History and Anthropology, as well as my MA in History from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. In my Master’s program I worked primarily as a TA in the History Department and as a graduate assistant in the Miami University Archives. I enjoy perusing boxes of handwritten letters and miscellaneous artifacts, yet I also relish the opportunity to bring history to life in a classroom. Both, I believe, are necessary components for public scholarship. For me, the solitude necessary for deep inquiry combined with vast opportunity for intellectual engagement is part of the magic of academia.

In addition to my time in an archive or classroom, I have traveled a great deal (both personally and professionally). Such experiences have drastically shaped the way I approach teaching and research. Whether encountering sites of memory standing in Flanders Fields, living as a pilgrim on el Camino de Santiago, or simply meeting new friends at a hostel in London, travel has taught me to be aware of my cultural biases, to keep an open mind, and to allow people and places to inspire you. I find the ability to remain firm in one’s convictions while engaging with new ideas and perspectives is invaluable in this field. The passion for historical and cultural understanding infused by travel is something that cannot be taught. It has made me a better communicator and creative thinker, and those are learned skills I strive to bring into the classroom and my written work.

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

When looking to apply to graduate programs, I realized I needed a space where I could bring together my love for both History and Anthropology. At the time, my MA advisor, Dr. Kimberly Hamlin (an alumna of the AMS program at UT) suggested I look into the program. Research-wise, I am interested in the relationship between language and visual sources, so the Harry Ransom Center and Briscoe Center for American History were extremely appealing, as they are known for housing some of the widest variety of photography and photojournalism collections in the world. Teaching-wise, I sought a university and program with faculty known for their teaching, and the AMS faculty at UT is second-to- none. The interdisciplinary nature of the program with its dedication to both the production of knowledge and quality teaching is truly what drew me to UT. I already know I will continue to hone the skills necessary to be a professional researcher, writer, and public scholar as a result of my time here.

3) What projects or people have inspired your work?

Where do I even begin? I have been lucky enough to work under brilliant professors who value not only producing strong, ethical work, but also quality pedagogy, and for that I will be forever grateful. Recently, I have been inspired by research of the Magnum Photo collection by Dr. Steven Hoelscher and the continuing conversations brought about by photography critics such as Susan Sontag, Susie Linfield, Robert Hariman, and John Lucaites. As I made the move from comics and visual art to photography and photojournalism, I owe a large credit to my conversations with Mr. Louis Palu during his fellowship with the Harry Ransom Center. It’s one thing to have an idea- it’s another for someone to encourage that idea and insist it’s a necessary area for research and discussion.

4) What projects do you see yourself working on at UT?

Seeing as I’m in the beginning stages of the doctoral program, it’s tough to say with any clear intention what shape future projects will take in the next several years. With that being said, I am currently interested in the ethics of captioning in photojournalism and the power relationships between photojournalists, the media, and American citizens. Who has the authority to make meaning of the visual past?

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

Naturally I’ll be either a) living the dream with a tenure track position at the university of my choice or b) working full time in a museum or cultural center, either in the archives or in an educational outreach position. Either  scenario includes a lab or a puggle, name to-be-determined.

In all reality, I am passionate about both research and teaching, all while remaining realistic regarding the job market and the many directions life can take you while in pursuit of a doctoral degree. Regardless, I want my work to bridge the gap between the archive and public. I wish to share the excitement that comes with being able to hold history in your hands and to be transparent about the way in which knowledge is produced. Whether I do this through teaching or on staff at a museum is up in the air. I look forward to searching for this interview in four to six years and see how accurate it is.

Bonus: How would you define American Studies? 

Rain check 🙂

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