AMS Distinguished Graduates: Elizabeth Patten

We are very pleased to announce that two American Studies Students were named as honorable mentions to the Dean’s Distinguished Graduates list. Over this week and next, we’ll profile both students. Today, we’re featuring Elizabeth Patten.
DDG history pic(1)
AMS:ATX: When you came to UT, what did you think you would major in? 
Elizatbeth Patten: I think I was sort of unusual in that I came into college knowing exactly what I wanted to study. In high school I thought I had it all figured out and was sure that I wanted to major in American Studies and minor in Philosophy. The path I ended up taking was a little less straightforward—I ended up abandoning both Philosophy and French as minors but added a History major and joined the LAH program—but my conviction that American Studies was the right discipline for me never faltered.

What was the first American Studies course you took at UT?  What compelled you to take the course, and what do you remember about it?

The first AMS course I took at UT was Intro to American Studies (AMS 310) with Dr. Davis. I think I picked it because it fit best with my schedule and because it was the intro class, but I like to think it was by a little bit of magic that I ended up in that class. It was everything I thought—and wanted—American Studies to be. I remember being a big fan of the way the class focused on WW2 as a watershed moment, and the way we explored post-war culture and society in relation to that. Apart from the material, I think the most memorable parts of that class were when Dr. Davis sang and when she wore the Wisconsin cheesehead hat to class, as only a great professor would do!

How did you come to the decision to major in American Studies?

My dad was also an American Studies major at UT in the 80s, so the idea of AMS was always in the back of my mind. He is the smartest, funniest, coolest person I know, so I liked the idea of following in his footsteps! Beyond that, my favorite classes in school were the U.S. History classes I took in 8th and 11th grade, and I am also a big fan of pop culture. I liked the idea of a major that examined things like Beatlemania or the rise of the shopping mall to understand society rather than just military and legislative history.

What have been some of the stand-out courses for you in the American Studies department?
This is a hard question because I can honestly say that I have loved every AMS course I’ve taken, and also because I am super indecisive. American Literature and Culture of the Late 1960s with Professor Gorges was one of my favorites because I am a huge nerd for the 1960s and because of the ways we really delved into 60s culture—we watched famous 60s movies every month, spent two weeks listening to popular 60s music, went to an Arlo Guthrie concert, and even had our own Digger Dinner at Threadgills. I also thought Professor Smith’s Cultural History of Alcohol and Drugs 370 seminar was fascinating, and I will sign up for any class that Dr. Davis teaches because she is a fantastic professor and her classes are always really interesting.

What are some of the most important intellectual questions that you’ve pursued during your time as an American Studies major?
Most of my AMS classes have, among other things, grappled with the “so what” question—why is the thing we’re studying significant, and what does it say about the wants/needs/fears/values/ideals of a group of people or society at large. It’s a fundamental question that has come up time and again in my classes, and I think it’s a really important if simple one. It applies to both the most familiar and the strangest things, revealing a broader significance and importance to things as ordinary as the food we eat or as random as the paradoxical experience of simultaneous gender division and community within a mosh pit.

Many people, I’m sure, have asked you, “what do you plan to do with this degree?”  So:  how do you plan to bring your training in American Studies out into the world?  You could talk about career choices, but also the ways that American Studies has influenced other ways that you interact with US society and culture, and perhaps other, non-professional goals of yours going forward.
I plan to take some time off from the world of academia but after a few years I would like to go to law school.  I think my degree has given me a skill set and sense of curiosity that will benefit me outside the bubble of collegiate life. I find myself already bringing my AMS background into the “real world.” My AMS training has taught me to read critically, to write carefully, to be aware of who is being excluded from narratives, and to question the familiar—to find meaning in the things that might seem trivial or quotidian and to understand how, for example, facts society more interested in experience and spectacle than truth.

You majored in a second discipline besides American Studies.  Given the “interdisciplinary” nature of American Studies, was this an easy fit, or was balancing two majors a big challenge?
It was a really easy fit! I hadn’t initially planned on majoring in History, but I found myself really drawn to the classes my twin sister, Claire (who is a History major 😊), was taking. There is obviously a lot of overlap between American Studies and History, so I don’t think it’s really that surprising that my academic interests also drew me towards a History degree. Because American Studies is interdisciplinary, my AMS skill set was perfectly suited to my History classes. But even beyond my two majors, I think that the interdisciplinary nature of American Studies made it easy for me to incorporate that background in my other classes. Whenever I had to write a research paper in one of my classes, I always looked for a way I could incorporate popular culture.

Besides studying America and winning honors, what other activities have you gotten involved in at UT?  Does studying culture academically shape the way that you participate in and understand other aspects of UT culture?
I’ve participated in several campus orgs, most significantly Alpha Phi Omega and Students Expanding Austin Literacy (SEAL). Studying culture academically has necessarily shaped the way that I’ve participated in the cultures of both Austin and UT. For example, my experience in SEAL was more than just getting to have fun and read with some little kids; rather I saw it as a way to understand the cultural perspectives of those with less privilege than me and to understand the significance of their position in society. In regards to understanding UT culture, my training in American Studies encouraged me to see the ways in which the university milieu is a unique culture unto itself but also a microcosm of larger American culture, fragmented into discrete and diverse niches like that of greek life, football, and, indeed, even AMS nerds like me.

Finally, since you’re the one with the honors degree in American Studies: what’s the deal with America right now?  In less than thirty words.
To borrow from the accidental eloquence of George W. Bush, America is going through “some weird sh*t.” But it’s sh*t I’m optimistic we can overcome.

The World in American Studies Today Keynote: Dr. Anita Mannur

 

UTAmStudiesConfLogo_TOTE_black copy

We are pleased to announce that the keynote lecture for our biennial graduate conference, The World in American Studies Today, will be given by Dr. Anita Mannur at 6 PM on Thursday, March 20th in CLA 1.302B. Dr. Mannur is Associate Professor of English and Asian/Asian American Studies and Director, Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Miami University. She is the author of Culinary Fictions: Food in South Asian Diasporic Culture and the co-editor of Eating Asian America: A Reader and Theorizing Diaspora: A Reader.

In this talk, Dr. Mannur explores how the figure of the “enemy” is constructed in public culinary sites by examining social media, cook books and food trucks that are devoted to the dissemination of culinary knowledge. The spaces she examines are Michael Rakowitz’s performance art installation “Enemy Kitchen” and Conflict Kitchen, a take-out restaurant in Pittsburgh, PA. In juxtaposing these sites and exploring the performative politics deployed within each context, Dr. Mannur explores what it means to turn to the tactile, olfactory and consumptive to reflect on questions of US diplomacy and foreign policy that have taken on particular forms of cultural xenophobia, directed at the Islamic
subject, in the wake of the war on terror and 9/11. By focusing in particular on the use of “radical hospitality,” Dr. Mannur asks how meals are staged as spaces to provide a counternarrative to xenophobia and the discourse of the
enemy combatant.

Announcement: The World In American Studies Today Graduate Conference Hosted By UT AMS

UTAmStudiesConference_LogoPoster_RM2

We are very excited to announce this year’s iteration of the biannual graduate conference in American Studies, entitled: The World in American Studies Today: Nationalism in American Studies, to be held Thursday and Friday March 30th and 31st at The University of Texas at Austin. There will be a keynote, given by Dr. Anita Mannur, on Thursday the 30th at 6 PM. We hope to see you there.

More information on the keynote, and the conference schedule, to follow.

Announcement: Congratulations to our newly minted Ph.D.s!

UT tower lit entirely in orange

Enormous congratulations to the following graduate students who are now, as of this weekend’s commencement festivities, official Ph.D. recipients. We are so proud of them!

Sean Cashbaugh
“A Cultural History Beneath the Left: Politics, Art, and the Emergence of the Underground During the Cold War”
Supervisor: Randolph Lewis

Brendan Gaughen
“Practices of Place: Ordinary Mobilities and Everyday Technology”
Supervisor: Jeff Meikle

Josh Holland
“Kurt Hahn, the United World Colleges, and the Un-Making of Nation”
Supervisor: Julia Mickenberg

Lily Laux
“Teaching Texas: Race, Disability and the History of the School-to-Prison Pipeline”
Supervisor: Shirley Thompson

Susan Quesal
“Dismantling the Master’s House: The Afterlife of Slavery in the Twentieth-Century Representations of Home”
Supervisors: Shirley Thompson and Stephen Marshall

Kirsten Ronald
“Dancing the Local: Two-Step and the Formation of Local Cultures, Local Places, and Local Identities in Austin, TX”
Supervisor: Steve Hoelsher

Jackie Smith
“Black Princess Housewive and Single Ladies: Renee Cox’s Housewife Enactments and The Politics of Twenty-First Century Wealthy Black Womanhood”
Supervisor: Shirley Thompson

Announcement: Stephanie Kaufman receives University of Texas at Austin 2016 President’s Outstanding Staff Award

stephanie

Congratulations to UT AMS Executive Assistant Stephanie Kaufman, who has received the  University of Texas at Austin 2016 President’s Outstanding Staff Award. As President Fenves writes in his award letter, Stephanie “was chosen for this award from 225 nominees in recognition of the positive effect [she] has had on campus, [her] commitment to excellence, and [her] consistent, high-level performance.”

President Fenves got it exactly right; as anyone in American Studies can tell you, the Department would not run without Stephanie. What isn’t clear from the letter however, what couldn’t be clear unless you have the privilege of working with Stephanie Kaufman on a day to day basis, is that she cares deeply for everyone in American Studies and for their success, and she does everything she can to ensure it. We are very lucky that we have her in our community, and we’re extraordinarily happy that the University has recognized her extraordinary contributions. Congratulations, Stephanie!

Announcement: Dr. Heather A. Williams, “The Emotional Violence of Slavery”

We would love to draw your attention to a series of events transpiring on campus TODAY (Tuesday, March 29) at 4:00pm and tomorrow (Wednesday, March 30). Dr. Heather A. Williams (The University of Pennsylvania) will be delivering two Littlefield Lectures: today’s is entitled “The Emotional Violence of Slavery” and tomorrow’s is “Murder on the Plantation.”

The events will take place in the Glickman Conference Room in the College of Liberal Arts (CLA) Building, and they are sponsored by the UT History Department.

For more information about Dr. Williams, see her faculty page here.

Announcements: A Take on Dr. Lisa Duggan’s “Normativity and Its Discontents”

In case you missed Dr. Lisa Duggan‘s recent talk at UT, you’re in luck: undergraduate Cole Wilson has provided this wonderful write-up of the event with a few of its takeaways. Enjoy!

Lisa Duggan was invited by the American Studies Department, in conjunction with UT’s English Department, Anthropology Department, and a whole host of other offices and programs as the AMS Department’s bi-annual Spring Speaker. Her presentation centered on the role of diagnosis in the American security state and the rewriting of neoliberalism.

Duggan opened with a discussion of her coming to this project as a sexologist and theorist interested in Disabilities Studies, namely, diagnosis in post-9/11 America. She looked to the Showtime program Homeland for one case study in order to understand how diagnosis figures into post-empire US culture and the security state, and the ways that the ways we interpret diagnoses are embedded in our understandings of empire. For an overview of the show, click here.

She chose this program due to the show’s focus on its protagonists’ mental illnesses. Carrie Mathison suffers from bipolar disorder, but often abandons her medication in order to summon stunning detective work, ultimately at the cost of her sanity. As Duggan put it, she “flies off the rails” in exchange for fits of brilliance. But, Duggan argues, this is justified by her diagnosis. The same goes for Nicolas Brodie, a CIA agent who suffers from PTSD after his years of being a POW. In a crescendo, Brodie attempts to assassinate the Vice President with a suicide vest. Despite this attempted terrorist attack, in a cliché mode no less, Duggan argues that the viewers sympathizes with Brodie due to his diagnosis. He exhibits what Duggan calls “humanized terrorism.”

This is all juxtaposed with Abu Nazir, a grossly ambiguous terrorist figure whose race, location, and affiliation are all skewed in order to present a vague villain that preys on both racial and dogmatic stereotypes of Arab men. He is American islamophobia incarnate. His lack of a diagnosis, argues Duggan, produces a character that is villainized on all fronts because he is simply a “terrorist.”

Beginning her second case study on Ayn Rand, Duggan opened with a few videos in order to set the tone for those of us who haven’t read Atlas Shrugged. The 2011 movie trailer, the GOP’s embrace of Ayn Rand, and a Simpson’s rendition of the classic novel, all illustrated Rand’s continued cultural prevalence.

Duggan began with an observation of Rand’s justification of cruelty. Coined “optimistic cruelty,” a play on Lauren Berlant’s “cruel optimism,” she states that Atlas Shrugged illustrates the desirability of selfishness through its protagonists’ embrace of capitalism. This again is an example of American neoliberalism being rewritten in contemporary America: her fantasies mobilize consent of neoliberalism.

But, how does Atlas Shrugged represent contemporary America, being decades old? According to Duggan the Great Recession of 2008 brought about record sales of the novel. Moreover, as an audience member asserted, high schoolers and middle schoolers are still being prescribed novels and essays by Rand. The word “indoctrinated” was readily thrown around after this statement.

Duggan wrapped up her presentation by noting how Rand “solicits anti-government fantasy in industry” and how she makes neoliberalism attractive, even with its innate cruelty. She goes on to discuss how this attractiveness and fantasy produce a sense of rebelliousness, pointing to Steve Jobs and Donald Trump, who both played, or play, the role of the rebel in a neoliberal America.

Her argument was compelling, insightful, and engaging. If you missed her talk, you can read up on this subject in her book The Twilight of Equality?: Neoliberalism, Cultural Politics, and the Attack on Democracy or follow here on Twitter to catch her the next time she’s in town.