Undergrad Research: A Post-Grad Post from David Juarez

One of our favorite aspects of American Studies as a broad, interdisciplinary field is that it enables students to pursue any number of interests and activities both during school and after graduation. We’ve asked our graduating seniors to write a quick reflection on their time in the American Studies department and to share what amazing things they’ll be up to next. We begin this series with some words from David Juarez.

Being an American Studies major at UT over the past three years has been many things: incredible, eye-opening, thought-provoking, intellectually stimulating, challenging, and phenomenal. I’ve had the opportunity to take classes that still impact how I think about and analyze the texts, art, people, and the world around me. I’ve also been fortunate to work with some of the most intelligent teachers, professors, and students I’ve ever met. To say I’ve changed my ways of living, creating, thinking, and working since I came to UT would be a gross understatement.

I’ve wanted to be an American Studies professor since my junior year of high school and my time spent at UT has not deteriorated that pursuit in the least. In fact, it’s made it stronger than ever. To me, American Studies has become a field so entrenched in my personality and character I can’t imagine being anywhere else in the world right now than in this area and in this department.

After graduation, I will be returning to UT in the fall as an American Studies graduate student. This means I will have the opportunity to forge deeper relationships with the amazing people I’ve met so far in the department, as well as new ones with my own incoming cohort. I don’t think it’s time for me to leave this institution. There’s still so much to learn and so much to do here that to leave it now would be preposterous. I’m just glad that the university, and most importantly, the department, wants me back just as much as I’d like to return.

Here’s to the department that’s treated me so well during these three wonderful years, and to the many more years to come! Cheers!

Undergrad Research: Review of AMS Senior Kelli Schultz’s Play, “Our TEKS”

Texas Capitol.

Last Monday night, senior Kelli Schultz premiered her American Studies/Plan II honors thesis play titled, “Our TEKS,” to an eager and curious audience. The play was the culmination of a year’s worth of diligent and passionate research into the Texas textbook controversies in 2010 when the Texas State Board of Education drafted a list of over 100 amendments to the Social Studies curriculum for the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). Taking a critical and creative look into the historical hoopla and media coverage of the new standards, Kelli referred to her play as “Our Town meets Barnum & Bailey meets The Colbert Report.” As a form of documentary theater, it combined true accounts and reenactments from board room transcripts, interviews, video and audio clips, and even a surreal recreation of a Colbert Report segment with Alexandra Reynolds as the ever-vigilant Stephen Colbert.

Kelli began by providing a brief overview of what this is all about—policy, history, and memory—before introducing us to the 15 elected “experts” on the Texas State Board of Education. Each member was represented as a circus performer in silhouette, dazzling and dismaying the audience with their rhetoric and apparent expertise in the matters of K-12 standards for education in the departments of Language Arts, Science, Math, and Social Studies. There was the “strong man” Bob Craig; Barbara Cargill, unfurling a long cloth from her mouth as she spoke to the crowd; skilled-balancer Pat Hardy; Siamese twins, a cannon-ball man, a mime, a few clowns, and more. It was an ingenious way to represent the so-called “experts” administering these standards, only one of whom actually holds a degree in history and has experience teaching this information in the classroom. Two are ministers, four are professors, one is a dentist, and another holds no college degree at all.

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Undergrad Research: A Trip to the Archives in NYC, Part 2

Note: this is the second of two installments about David’s archival research trip. The first can be found here.

New York City at night
I landed at La Guardia, took a taxi to the apartment building on W 71st street, unloaded my bags, and finally sat down in New York City, contemplating everything I would see over the next few days. The Berg Collection wouldn’t open until Tuesday—it was Saturday when I flew in—so I had two full days of sight-seeing available to me and I took advantage of it. I visited Times Square, the Empire State Building, Liberty Island, Ellis Island, NYU campus and Washington Square Park, Radio City Music Hall, Rockefeller Center, Grand Central Station, the site of the World Trade center, The Strand, and up, down, and around Central Park on a tour-bus. By mid-week, I was used to catching the subway and disembarking near Bryant Park, a brief walk away from the ice skating rink and, most importantly, the Stephen A. Schwarzmann building, the iconic section of the New York Public Library. After two full days of exploring Manhattan from top to bottom, I was ready to begin the research that brought me to New York in the first place.

There is always a difference between what we expect to happen and what actually happens. I expected the Berg reading room to be an unsettlingly quiet room, observed by predatory librarians making sure that the timid, silent researchers at the tables didn’t destroy the priceless artifacts in their hands. But in reality, the room’s acoustics reminded me of the sixth floor of the PCL where occasional conversations and the jostle of books and pencils on the desks aren’t followed by an agitated, “Shh!” It was also staffed with helpful, caring, and most importantly, smiling, librarians ready to assist me however they could.

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Undergrad Research: A Trip to the Archives in NYC

Note: this is the first of two installments about David’s archival research trip. The second will be published tomorrow.

This January I was fortunate enough to take a trip to New York City and conduct research at the New York Public Library for my honors thesis, “Making the Team: The Real and Fantastical Sporting Life of Jack Kerouac.”

Before the trip was even conceivable, though, I was in the midst of applying to graduate schools for the fall 2012 term. Graduate school has been an aspiration of mine since high school, and now, nearly five years later, I was finally applying and taking my first steps into a new tier of my academic career.

It was hard to convey to other people how terrified I felt in approaching such a critical moment in my life. As I completed each application, I grew anxious about submitting them. This was the first time that I was really taking a stand for myself and my future. Graduate school was part of the plan, but that plan was never set in stone. It was only what I had imagined for myself thus far. For the first time, I started to imagine different paths for my future that didn’t involve graduate school.

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Undergrad Research: On Jack Kerouac and Sports

Kerouac, Kerouac

I have a confession to make: I am addicted to Jack Kerouac, and I’m pretty damn happy about that fact.

Since my junior year of high school, when I first picked up a copy of On the Road (leant to me by one of my favorite teachers, Amelia Bligh), I have been obsessed with his life and works, and those of his associates—Ginsberg, Burroughs, Corso, Cassady, Snyder, etc. I think my extensive collection of over seventy Beat-related books can attest to that fact, not to mention the posters, the albums, and the films.

What always amuses me is that I didn’t react to On the Road the same way that most people do. I’ve heard stories of people reading it and suddenly wanting to pick up a rucksack and hit the road. I respect anyone who can just get up and go like that, but that’s not really my style. I hate driving.

No, when I first read that book, I wanted to hit the road in a different way; I wanted to explore it mentally, psychologically. I was passionate for the movement of Kerouac’s prose as it hurtled down the page. There’s nothing like being on the road, but there’s also nothing like hearing people talk about it as sincerely, as hauntingly, and as mythically as he did. The road I wanted to experience was literary, not literal.

It’s been five years and I’m still on the road with Kerouac. I’ve read nearly all of his novels, most of his poetry, and chunks of his short stories, correspondence, and journals. I’ve also read several biographies, watched documentaries, and explored analytical studies and interpretations of his works. It hasn’t always been a pleasant ride: the more time you spend with a person, the more you discover their faults and weaknesses. Kerouac was a troubled man, not unlike the other writers and artists he encountered. There were times when I had to step back and reevaluate my appreciation of him, my adoration. Even now, reading and hearing about his dismissal of his only daughter, his hate-filled rants about his wives and his friends, and, of course, his alcoholism, I wonder if I should stop the car and find a bus station somewhere.

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