“Five Questions” Returns with First-Year PhD Student Sarah Carlson!

It’s a new academic year, and it’s a new round of “Five Questions” interviews with the VIPs of the UT American Studies department!  Since our interviews with last year’s first-year PhD cohort were such a success, we’ve decided to make it a tradition.  So, first up in the 2017-18 “Five Questions” series is Sarah Carlson, who traveled all the way down I-35 from the Twin Cities, Minnesota to study here at UT, and also to see how it felt to walk into a grocery store in January and not see a single snow shovel.  Here, Sarah details her experience working as an archival project manager for the Umbra Search African American History project, and her plans for her doctoral work here at UT.  Read on!
Sarah Carleson Image Blog
1) What is your background, academic or otherwise, and how does it motivate your teaching and research?

Until now, I was a lifelong midwesterner. I spent my childhood in Wisconsin and then earned my BA in English at the University of Minnesota. I stayed in the Twin Cities for two more years after graduation working in the University of Minnesota Libraries’ Archives and Special Collections as the project manager for Umbra Search African American History (umbrasearch.org). Umbra Search is a digital aggregation of African American history materials from libraries, archives, and cultural history institutions across the country.

2) Why did you decide to come to AMS at UT for your graduate work?
No snow! But in all seriousness, I was totally energized by the engagement of this department. I don’t think I’d ever encountered an entire department so earnest and joyous in their work, and the work of their colleagues and students. The diversity of specialities was another major draw. There is a great camaraderie here that is built on a variety of interests. Everyone is learning from each other! That sealed the deal.

3) What projects or people have inspired your work?

Naturally, a lot of inspiration comes from Umbra Search: the project itself, the project team, and the countless partners at libraries. Folks from projects such as the Colored Conventions Project, AADHum at University of Maryland, Diversifying the Digital Historical Record, and Mukurtu have shaped how I want to approach engaging scholarship and archival projects.

It’s an understatement to say I’m inspired by Paula Rabinowitz, an incredible writer and captivating teacher. Paula has the ability to bring the entire world into a single piece of scholarship. It’s beautiful and a little intimidating! She supervised my thesis project and is the reason I ended up in grad school.

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

I’d like to expand on what I was doing on Umbra Search while I’m here. I want to keep thinking about silence and absence in archival collections, something that is fundamental to African American collections, and how digital projects might not just fill in the gaps, but also call attention to them. I’ve also been interested in copyright: how it’s used and abused in the name of access. The conundrum of copyright is particularly thorny, again, for African American collections; collections often filled with materials that were stolen or their authors denied copyright. Ultimately, these two questions — copyright and absence in African American collections —  are also wrapped up in the infrastructure and administration of cultural heritage institutions. I’d like to think about how these all (copyright, collections, and infrastructure) intersect and try to identify a more responsible and sustainable approach to collection development and access.

So — I certainly hope I’ll find ample opportunity to work in collections at the Harry Ransom Center. After attending Humanities Intensive Learning and Teaching on campus this summer, I’m also eager to get involved in DH projects. I’m eager to take advantage of the interdisciplinary opportunities on campus.


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

My primary goal is to become more sophisticated in my scholarship: honing my research skills, improving my writing, and learning to think broadly while probing deep in one particular niche. I’m considering an alt-ac track, so it’s a real mystery what I’ll be doing after graduate school. Ideally, I’ll be working in the realm of cultural heritage and public scholarship (whether that’s in an archive/library, academic publishing, or funding institution for the former).
Bonus Question:  In your own words–what is American Studies?
This was my other goal for graduate school: get through it without having to answer this question! This question is why I’m here. I like to think about American Studies as a source of real talk and self-reflection, a place out of which understanding and empathy flourish. It’s idealistic, but American Studies provides an opportunity to see how the pieces fit together, and if they don’t fit nicely, ask why.

One comment on ““Five Questions” Returns with First-Year PhD Student Sarah Carlson!

  1. Patrice Weber says:

    Greetings: Do you have any post-master’s programs in American studies? If so, what is the tuition, and how long does it take to complete the program? Thank you for your assistance.

    Best Wishes, Patrice Weber

    Sent from Mail for Windows 10

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