Alumni Voices: Prof. Angie Maxwell (University of Arkansas) on the South and Donald Trump

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Prof. Angie Maxwell, Diane D. Blair Professor of Southern Studies and Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Arkansas, has penned a new piece exploring southern identity, whiteness, and Donald Trump’s rise for Virginia Quarterly Review. We’ve reproduced an excerpt below, but for the full article, click here.

Southern whiteness is not just about race. Yes, that is how it started. But as Southern whites faced the changing twentieth century, they became the “other” or foil to American identity. Each time the criticism poured in, they defined themselves in opposition to a growing pantheon of enemies. Southern whiteness expands beyond racial identity and supremacy, encapsulating rigid stances on religion, education, the role of government, the view of art, an opposition to science and expertise and immigrants and feminism, and any other topic that comes under attack. This ideological web of inseparable strands envelops a community and covers everything, and it is easily (and intentionally by Donald Trump) snagged.

Alumni Voices: Jeannette Vaught and Jenny Kelly presenting at “Envisioning American Studies” conference

If you’ll be in Ann Arbor in March, we highly recommend you check out the University of Michigan’s “Envisioning American Studies” conference, a part of their 80th anniversary celebration of their American Culture program. Ph.D. alumni Drs. Jeannette Vaught and Jenny Kelly have both been selected to present research relating to their dissertations – now manuscripts – in this discussion of the vanguard of American cultural analysis. Congratulations to both of them!

For more information, see the 80th anniversary website here.

Alumni Voices: Angie Maxwell Wins V.O. Key Award

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Congratulations to UT AMS graduate Dr. Angie Maxwell, whose 2014 book The Indicted South: Public Criticism, Southern Inferiority, and the Politics of Whiteness was just awarded the V.O. Key Award, given by the Southern Political Science Association for the best book on Southern politics. If you’d like to know more about Dr. Maxwell and her book, we spoke to her in this space last year.

Alumni Voices: Ph.D. alumna Dr. Carly Kocurek named Nayar Prize finalist

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Hearty congratulations to Dr. Carly Kocurek, who was named a finalist for the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Nayar Prize, an award “established to encourage and challenge Illinois Tech faculty, staff, and students to develop breakthrough, innovative projects that will, within three years, produce meaningful results with a societal impact.”

Dr. Kocurek, along with fellow IIT faculty members Jennifer Miller, Cynthia Hood, and Matt Bauer, proposed to create a videogame designed to foster language development among young children. They were awarded $100,000 to develop their project, a description of which we’ve pasted below:

Inequalities in early childhood language have a lasting impact on individual success, both in academics and careers. These inequalities inflate social welfare costs and slow economic growth. Our goal is to increase language skills necessary for academic success and subsequent economic success. Our innovation would leverage serious game design to produce a research-driven, high-impact interactive game for children aged 24–36 months. Children who use the interactive game will learn more words and be better prepared to succeed in school.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently revised guidelines on screen use and suggests that media can be used constructively in children after the age of 2. Our game will combine community-based participatory research and cutting-edge understanding of language acquisition and learning. This project draws on perspectives from developmental psychology, linguistics, game design, and computer science, and our team is uniquely poised to combine insights and breakthroughs from a diversity of disciplines. Team members bring with them experience in language learning, serious game development, assessment, and other key areas.

The game will engage both caregivers and children through a playful learning experience that encourages high-quality interaction and engagement. The initial goal is to develop an individual game, but in the long run this will spark widespread development and rigorous testing toward optimizing educational experiences for young children.

Alumni Voices: Robin O’Sullivan’s American Organic

Robin head shot 2015UT AMS grad Robin O’Sullivan recently published American Organic: A Cultural History of Farming, Gardening, Shopping and Eating, about the history of the organic movement in the United States. AMS grad student Kerry Knerr spoke to her last week.

Can you tell us a little bit about your book American Organic, and how you came to the project?

It’s a cultural history of the organic food and farming movement, which first elicited my interest after I happened to visit the homestead of Helen and Scott Nearing in Harborside, Maine (when I was living up there in Portland). As I began to research the history of homesteading, I learned more about the organic movement, which was related but also distinct.

 
What projects or people have inspired your work?

The Nearings, certainly; and the major player in the organic farming movement was J.I. Rodale, who began farming in Pennsylvania in the 1940s and subsequently developed a media empire that publicized the organic movement.

 
How do you see your work fitting in with broader conversations in academia and beyond?

It’s relevant to work in environmental and agricultural history, consumer studies, food studies, and, of course, American Studies.

 
How is this work you’re doing now, as a scholar, teacher or both, informed by the work you did as an American Studies student at UT?

At UT-Austin, four talented professors served on my dissertation committee: Jeff Meikle, Janet Davis, Steve Hoelscher, and Elizabeth Engelhardt. All four have written books that served as models for mine, and all four were delightful to work with.

 
Do you have any advice for students in our department about how to get the most out of their experience at UT?

I’m sure the students already know how fortunate they are to be surrounded by such stellar faculty members!

 
What projects are you excited to work on in the future?

My next project will be an analysis of “techno-natural” phenomena, with a particular focus on its manifestations in 19th century literature.

Alumni Voices: Recent Ph.D. Ellen Cunningham-Kruppa named Associate Director and Head of the Preservation and Conservation Division of the Harry Ransom Center

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Huge, huge, huge congratulations are in order for Dr. Ellen Cunningham-Kruppa, who was named Associate Director and Head of the Preservation and Conservation Division of the Harry Ransom Center. Ellen received her Ph.D. from the department in Spring 2015.

An excerpt of the announcement on the Ransom Center’s blog, which can be read in full here:

The Ransom Center announces the appointment of Ellen Cunningham-Kruppa as Associate Director and Head of the Preservation and Conservation Division. Cunningham-Kruppa, who begins her service on October 1, will oversee the preservation, care and protection of the Ransom Center’s collections and will provide strategic direction for future preservation and conservation initiatives.

Since its inception in 1980 the Ransom Center’s conservation department has been charged with the care of the Center’s collections including maintaining an optimum preservation environment, overseeing preservation housings, conservation treatment and educating and training more than 80 future conservators.

“I am honored and humbled to be entrusted with the care of the Ransom Center’s spectacular collections,” said Cunningham-Kruppa. “It is a dream to have the opportunity to work with the Center’s conservators and curators to envision an exciting agenda of projects and initiatives for the coming months and years.”

We’re so proud of you and happy for you, Ellen!

Alumni Research: Siva Vaidhyanathan on Higher Education as a Consumer Good

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“Siva Vaidhyanathan PDF 2011” by Esty Stein for Personal Democracy Forum – http://www.flickr.com/photos/57152978@N08/5804650852/in/set-72157626898963796/. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Congratulations to Siva Vaidhyanathan, a UT AMS alum and professor at the University of Virginia, who has written a critical and thought provoking essay for The Baffler about the cultural and political roots of the rising cost of higher education. We’ve excerpted a section below, and you can find the whole post here.

Elite higher education in America has long been a Veblen good—a commodity that obeys few, if any, conventional laws of economic activity. In some cases (chiefly among the children of the serene professional elders perusing the Sunday New York Times), the higher the sticker price of a particular college or university, the more attractive it is. Raise the price and then offer a “discount,” and applications will fly in and better students will enroll. Private colleges and universities figured out this marketing strategy about twenty years ago. That’s a major reason that private college tuition has skyrocketed over the same time span, often at more than double the rate of inflation. Because university administrators know they have an essentially captive client base, they can mark up their sticker prices with impunity.

Economists call things “Veblen goods” when they violate standard models of supply and demand—mainly in cases when an ongoing spike in price works, perversely, to increase demand. Veblen goods are usually luxuries, or at least luxury versions of goods that might be considered necessities in general. Higher education seems to comport with the trend: as the prospects dim for earning a decent wage and forging a comfortable life without a bachelor’s degree, we are told we must increase the number of bachelor’s degrees floating around the economy. And as that number increases, some versions of the degree have become even more valuable in the eyes of tastemakers and nervous wealthy people.

Thorstein Veblen described the cultural and economic effects of the irony of prestige in his best-known, bestselling book, The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899). But Veblen did not call Veblen goods “me goods” or define the phenomenon himself. In a 1950 paper, economist Harvey Leibenstein coined the term “Veblen effect” to explain why people pay more money for goods of no discernably higher quality. Over time, economists began to refer to such goods as “Veblen goods,” a legacy designation that would doubtless exasperate its namesake.