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


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 🙂

Religions Texas: Mapping Religious Diversity, A Consultation

billieholidayflier170125This week, there will be a “consultation” on campus called Religions Texas: Mapping Diversity. The program features both a talk and a keynote by Arizona State University professor of Religious Studies Tracy Fessenden. The talk (poster above), which is to be 7:30 PM Wednesday night at the Historic Victory Grill on East 11th, will feature Fessenden discussing work from her new book “Religions Around Billie Holiday” and performances of Holiday’s music by Austin musician Pam Hart. The keynote (poster below), Thursday night at 6 PM in the Glickman Center, CLA 1.302E, is called “Mapping Religion in Post-Secular Landscape.”

Finally, on Friday will be the “consultation,” a series of panels beginning at 8:00 AM, in SAC 2.120, on such topics as “The Study of Religions in Texas,” “Mapping Religion and Digital Humanities,” and “Religious Literacy, Pedagogy, and Public Humanities.”

We hope to see you there.


Julia Mickenberg Interviewed For “Life of the Mind” Podcast

jmickenberg1Welcome back, everyone. We hope you had a productive break. We get to start the year off with a treat: at the very beginning of January, The Humanities Media Project released a new episode of its podcast Life of the Mind (developed by UT AMS grad student Duncan Moench), featuring an interview with UT AMS faculty member Julia Mickenberg conducted by UT AMS grad student Caroline Pinkston. You can listen to the podcast here.

Congratulations to all involved!

“75 Years of American Studies at UT Austin” Symposium Begins Thursday!


The UT Austin Department of American Studies is proud to present a two-day long symposium to mark the 75th Anniversary of American Studies at UT!  The event will comprise two days of speeches and panels featuring faculty, former faculty, current students, and alumni of the graduate program discussing the various ways that they have brought their training in American Studies into the world–as scholars, educators, activists, journalists, artists, and administrators.

The event kicks off on Thursday afternoon at 4 P.M. at the Prothro Theatre in the Harry Ransom Center.  Dr. Maurie McInnis, the provost and executive vice president of the University of Texas, will present the Keynote Address for the symposium:  “The Shadow of Slavery in American Public Life.”  Dr. Stephen Enniss, Director of the Ransom Center, will open the evening with introductory remarks.

The remainder of the panels and speeches will occur throughout the day on Friday, November 4th, from 9 A.M. through 5 P.M. in the Harry Ransom Center.  You can find a full schedule of events, as well as detailed descriptions and biographies of each panelist and speaker, here.  Stay tuned for more posts about the symposium right here at AMS : ATX, and follow us on Twitter @AmStudies and on facebook. You can also follow live tweeting from the event using the hashtag: #amsatx75.

5 Questions with First-Years: This Week, Gaila Sims


In this second installment of AMS : ATX’s 2016 “5 Questions with First-Years” series, doctoral student Gaila Sims answers five variations on the same confounding, existential question:  why are you doing this?  

Sims, a graduate of Oberlin College who has worked as an educator in Austin for the past five years, discusses her time working at Austin’s George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center, her academic and professional goals, and her interests in African American history, black feminism, museums, and California, among other subjects.

What is your background, and how does it motivate your teaching and research?
I went to Oberlin College for Undergraduate, where I studied History and African American Studies. After graduating, I moved to Austin, where I did an AmeriCorps program for two years, tutoring kids in low-income elementary schools. For the last three years, I worked at the Carver Museum, the black history museum and cultural center here in Austin, on the education staff.
Why did you decide to come to AMS at UT for your graduate work? 
I have loved living in Austin for the last five years, and so I wanted to see if UT might be the best place for my graduate work. I visited the campus and the American Studies Department and was really impressed by the students and faculty I met.

What projects or people have inspired your work?
I am currently obsessed with Lonnie Bunch, the founding director of the newly opened National Museum of African American History and Culture in DC. He has had such an amazing career and since I would love to continue working at black history museums during and after graduate school, I definitely look to him as inspiration.
What projects do you see yourself working on at UT?
I am interested in mixed race identity, black feminism, and African American history, specifically in California. I would like to learn more about Afro-pessimism, black women’s contributions to community building during slavery, and black women’s conceptions of enslavement in contemporary fiction.

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

I just want to learn a lot and figure out how I can contribute to American Studies and discussions of African American history. I would like to continue working in museums in the Austin area, and gain experience in a variety of spaces dedicated to American and African American history and culture.
We asked Gaila to define the field of American Studies.  Quite wisely, she decided to ignore that question.  Stay tuned for the next installment of “5 Questions with First-Years,” coming at you in the coming weeks!

Thursday: Dr. Doug Rossinow on Austin in the 60s

We hope you’ll join us this Thursday, October 13th in Painter Hall 3.02 for a talk by Dr. Doug Rossinow, about Austin in the 1960s. Dr. Rossinow’s book, The Politics of Authenticity, is commonly taught in UT AMS. We’ve included an image of the poster and a description of Dr. Rossinow’s talk, below.


Austin was a major center of youth protest and dissident culture in the 1960s — a radical center with a distinctive Texas identity. Civil rights agitation, dissident religion, peace mobilization, leftist radicalism, women’s liberation, and a unique underground culture: it all happened here, and most of all at UT. Soon it will be fifty years since the world-shaking year 1968. Looking back with the benefit of a half-century’s perspective, Professor Rossinow will reflect on the significance of the 1960s for today, and on what Austin’s Sixties tells us about that era.

5 Questions, First-Year PhD Student Edition! This Week: Zoya Brumberg


This month, AMS : ATX brings you a twist on our world-famous “5 Questions” series.  Rather than interviewing the established professors and scholars of UT’s American Studies department or the graduates of the AMS PhD program, we have decided to focus on those brave souls at the beginning of their American Studies scholarly journey:  the first-year graduate students in UT’s AMS doctoral program.  Why do people pick up from steady jobs and loving communities across the country and move to sweltering Austin, Texas, for a chance to read hundreds of books, write thousands of words, and teach undergraduates about…American Studies?  How do these folks define “American Studies,” and why is this the field for them?  

We posed these questions, among others, to Zoya Brumberg, who has come to UT from Providence, RI by way of Chicago, IL.  In this first installment of “5 Questions with First-Years,” Brumberg discusses her academic and personal background, her scholarly interest in the human curation of natural landscapes, folklore, the American West, and her conviction that personal hobbies are a site of profound creative, scholarly possibility.

1) What is your background, academic or otherwise, and how does it motivate your teaching and research?
I grew up in Providence, RI, got my BA in Russian and Art Studio from Mount Holyoke College, and received my MA in the interdisciplinary program Visual and Critical Studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I moved around a lot between schools, trying different things. I was living and working in Chicago before I began at UT; I worked at two different high end lingerie stores until I got an editing job, all while trying to continue working on my writing, traveling, reading, and adventuring.
One of the best things about receiving my MA from an art school is that it gave me the chance to teach and collaborate with really creative people and explore new ways of thinking, learning, and communicating. My main goal with research is to try to marry the theoretical and historical content of my work with artful forms of writing and presentation that capture the spirit of what I’m trying to say with my research and the ideas that go into it. I try to use creative writing, sensual experiences, performance, and curatorial projects while teaching and in my own written work.
2) Why did you decide to come to AMS at UT for your graduate work?

I am interested in the literature, history, and landscapes of the West and was immediately attracted to the way that the American Studies program at UT is very much tied to local history and resources. My work deals with museological viewing rituals and the curation of natural landscapes in the context of state and national parks and wilderness preserves and human-made landscapes within wilderness areas. The interdisciplinary nature of American Studies, the academic environment and faculty at UT’s American Studies program, and the American- and Texas-historical resources available on campus and beyond are extremely conducive to the projects I want to pursue.

3) What projects or people have inspired these interests?
I’m really drawn to the sorts of literature and exhibitions that come from people’s personal projects and hobbies, and I try to apply these more creative methodologies to my work. Traveling, collecting, photographing, and hand-mapping are more difficult to grasp than analytically laid-out concepts in books, but they are just as integral to my research as traditional texts. Driving up Route 1 on the California coast through Big Sur, visiting the City Museum in St. Louis and the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Los Angeles, road-tripping and hiking and exploring have been major sensual inspirations to my work.

The person who got me going on my current project is Perry Eberhart, a social worker and journalist who was also a Colorado history enthusiast, anthropologist, environmental activist, and outdoorsman who wrote a number of guides to Colorado ghost and mining towns, folklore, and landscapes from the 1950s–’80s. His work blurs the lines between how-tos and history and has been influential to both Colorado history-writing and outdoor adventure guides. His books helped me to experience wild-like spaces through historical and folkloric knowledge, as well as learn history by exploring it physically.

Recently I have been reading a lot of Wallace Stegner and Rebecca Solnit and am really inspired by the way that they combine the art of writing with history-telling. Additionally, my thesis advisors from SAIC, Shawn Michelle Smith and Joseph Grigely, really encouraged me to explore a multitude of avenues for collecting research and articulating what I found and inspired me to continue on that path.

4) What projects do you see yourself working on at UT?
I don’t want to fence myself in too much with this one…I am really excited to explore Texas/Western history and folklore through the landscapes surrounding me here and the resources available in the Briscoe and Ransom collections. I’m hoping to take some trips out to West Texas to explore the ways that the region’s largest parks are “curated,” how their histories are articulated, and what is left of the human structures and influences on the landscape that shaped and defined it before the parks were set aside as “wilderness.”

5) What are your goals for graduate school, and–if you dare– for after you graduate?
Obviously, I am going to get a tenure-track position at a well-respected university located in a very cool, not-too-expensive small city. But really I just want to write, and explore, and write some more, and hope that the work I do reaches people in an enjoyable, or at least palatable, way. Looking at the history of parks, of the articulation of natural history, forces the people engaging with those histories to question the dichotomy between human and natural spaces. I want my work to help people see nature not as something in a specially reserved park but as a part of human (and other living thing) experiences, to question land and water as property, to look critically at their own consumption, to enjoy “wilderness areas” as human spaces and human spaces as part of a global nature. If the whole academia thing doesn’t work out, I would love to confuse and depress children by doing educational programming for the National Park Service or something.

Bonus: How would you define American Studies?
Stay tuned for more interviews with first-years in the weeks to come!