Dr. Janet Davis Named To Academy of Distinguished Teachers

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Please join us in congratulating Dr. Janet Davis, who this week was named to the Academy of Distinguished Teachers at UT Austin. The Academy membership makes up approximately 5% of the tenured teachers at the University, and as a body it “provides leadership in improving the quality and depth of the undergraduate experience.” You can read more about this year’s class of inductees here, and more about the award in general here. Congratulations again to Dr. Davis!

Dr. Shirley Thompson Named One of the “Texas Ten” By Alcalde

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The Alcalde, the University of Texas at Austin’s Texas Exes alumni organization’s magazine, has named UT AMS Associate Professor and department Associate Chair Dr. Shirley Thompson as part of their 2017 Texas Ten group of distinguished educators at UT. We’ve included part of their profile of Dr. Thompson below, and you can read the rest here. Please join us in congratulating Dr. Thompson!

Shirley Thompson came to teaching through research. “I’m the kind of person who is a natural researcher,” says the soft-spoken professor. “I had to work on teaching.” Thompson, who describes herself as an introvert, says it was through her students’ questions that she fell in love with standing at the front of the classroom.

“What really drew me into it,” she says, her face lighting up, “was listening to students engage with the material and come to me with a question I’d never thought of before, or a new perspective.”

Now, in addition to her own research interests — currently, she is working on a book titled No More Auction Block for Me: African Americans and the Problem of Property — Thompson brings her natural inquisitiveness to the classroom, where she tries to find fresh ways to talk about historical events that will make them resonate with her students.

Announcement: All Things Bakelite!

AllThingsBakelite-AustinRevision_40x27-Poster.jpgPlease joins us tomorrow, Tuesday, April 25th, for one-hour documentary film entitled All Things Bakelite at 4 pm, in ART 1.120, followed by a panel discussion with the filmmakers (executive producer Hugh Karraker and director John Maher) and UT faculty members (historian of science Bruce Hunt, designer Kate Catterall, design historian Carma Gorman, and historian of technology Jeff Meikle). All Things Bakelite employs historical footage, still photographs, dramatic reenactment, and expert interviews (as well as a cameo by Austin’s cabaret troupe Esther’s Follies) to explore the invention, marketing, and subsequent history of the world’s first synthetic plastic.

Bakelite was the first totally artificial material with molecules previously unknown in nature. Invented in 1907 by Leo Baekeland, a Belgian émigré chemist, the new material immediately became indispensable for hidden electrical components of such new technologies as the automobile and radio. More to the point, as the first of many new synthetic plastics and polymers, Bakelite contributed to the expanding consumer culture of the 20th century by placing an infinite range of inexpensive, easily molded goods within economic range of ordinary citizens. By 1967, the cultural significance of synthetics such as Bakelite had become so powerful that movie audiences exploded when Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate was told, “Plastics… just one word… there’s a great future in plastics.”

This event is sponsored by the Department of American Studies, the McKetta Department of Chemical Engineering, the Design Division of the Department of Art and Art History, and the History and Philosophy of Science Colloquium.

Please address any questions to Jeff Meikle <meikle@mail.utexas.edu>.

Dr. Janet Davis in the Washington Post and at the Smithsonian

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Congratulations to Dr. Janet Davis, who recently had a short history of the Ringiing Brothers and Barnum and Bailey circus published by Zócalo Public Square, which was then picked up by the Smithsonian. We’ve included an excerpt, below.

When Barnum and Bailey’s ‘Greatest Show on Earth’ rolled into American towns in the 1880s, daily life abruptly stopped. Months before the show arrived, an advance team saturated the surrounding region with brilliantly colored lithographs of the extraordinary: elephants, bearded ladies, clowns, tigers, acrobats and trick riders.

On ‘Circus Day,’ huge crowds gathered to observe the predawn arrival of “herds and droves” of camels, zebras, and other exotic animals—the spoils of European colonialism. Families witnessed the raising of a tented city across nine acres, and a morning parade that made its way down Main Street, advertising the circus as a wondrous array of captivating performers and beasts from around the world.

For isolated American audiences, the sprawling circus collapsed the entire globe into a pungent, thrilling, educational sensorium of sound, smell and color, right outside their doorsteps. What townspeople couldn’t have recognized, however, was that their beloved Big Top was also fast becoming a projection of American culture and power. The American three-ring circus came of age at precisely the same historical moment as the U.S. itself.

Three-ring circuses like Barnum and Bailey’s were a product of the same Gilded Age historical forces that transformed a fledgling new republic into a modern industrial society and rising world power. The extraordinary success of the giant three-ring circus gave rise to other forms of exportable American giantism, such as amusement parks, department stores, and shopping malls.”

Dr. Davis followed that up last week with a second op-ed, published at the Washington Post. We have another excerpt, below:

Since Ringling Bros. announced its closure in January and the Big Apple Circus filed for bankruptcy last year, cultural observers have issued grim prognostications about the death of the American circus. “Without sugarcoating it, let’s accept the fact that the circus will not survive our generation unless the state comes to its rescue,” journalist Preetam Kaushik wrote for the Huffington Post. Author Naomi Schaefer Riley opined on “what the death of the circus means for today’s kids.”

The advance postmortem is nothing new. On July 16, 1956, Ringling Bros. performed its last show under a canvas tent, deciding to move to indoor arenas to reduce its labor force and transportation costs. The New York Times observed, “The big top, furled forever, started its funeral ride today.”

But the impending death of the circus has been greatly exaggerated. Although the biggest productions have had trouble attracting the large audiences they need to support themselves, smaller circuses are flourishing. Cirque du Soleil, the highly profitable Montreal-based one-ring show, is expanding in the United States. Other one-ring shows, such as Circus Flora and the Culpepper & Merriweather Circus, are still going strong. As a bellwether of the future, youth circuses are booming. According to the American Youth Circus Organization, there are 250 circus education programs nationwide, with growth projected at 10 new programs per year.

 

It’s been a busy few months for Dr. Davis, who earlier this year published an op-ed on CNN.com. You can read it here.

Faculty Research: Dr. Randy Lewis on Surveillance and Emotion

A few years ago, Dr. Randy Lewis received a Humanities Research Award from the College of Liberal Arts in support of research for his upcoming book, currently titled Surveillance of the Heart: Fear and Loathing in Fortress America. In this video, Dr. Lewis describes the specific research that this award supported, from visits to Walden Pond to churches in Colorado. Take a look!

Faculty Research: Dr. Mark Smith writes on the Pledge of Allegiance for the Austin American-Statesman

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Have you read today’s Austin American-Statesman? If not, check it out for a new op-ed piece by Dr. Mark Smith about the history of the Pledge of Allegiance – a history that extends back to the late 19th century.

We’ve printed an excerpt below and the full piece is available here.

The Pledge of Allegiance is thus our pledges of allegiance. It has always symbolized, as Bellamy intended, the union of a nation of different nationalities, religions and regions into one strong and cohesive whole. It stood for the vision of Bellamy’s hero, Abraham Lincoln, of one nation indivisible with liberty and justice for all.

But, as time has passed and we face continuing crises, we have defined the nation in increasingly narrow political terms and have used the pledge to symbolize these political views. Today, there are two movements from the right and left to amend the pledge: the first, which ends “liberty and justice for all, born and unborn”; and the other, which inserts Bellamy’s original “equality, liberty and justice for all.”

Faculty Research: Dr. Lauren Gutterman writes on Christmas and queerness

With Christmas a mere 11 days away, we’re very pleased to bring you such a timely piece from Dr. Lauren Gutterman. Dr. Gutterman has penned a thoughtful, fascinating discussion for Notches about how historic periodicals conveyed how “Christmas felt different for queers,” drawing upon publications like ONEThe Mattachine Review, and The Ladder.

The whole piece can be found here; we’ve printed an excerpt below:

As many scholars have pointed out, with the emergence of gay liberation such expressions of sadness and loss faded from view, replaced, at least publicly, with more politically “useful” feelings of righteous anger and pride. But the queer holiday blues have persisted, and they have even been a source of theorizing about sexuality. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick wrote in Tendencies, “The depressing thing about the Christmas season—isn’t it?—is that it’s the time when all the institutions are speaking with one voice…They all—religion, state, capital, ideology, domesticity, the discourses of power and legitimacy—line up with each other so neatly once a year.”  During the holidays “Christmas” and “the family” become one and the same; they are constituted in and through each other. Writing from the margins as queer identified and as Jewish, Sedgwick held that the fascinating—and exciting—thing about sexuality is the extent to which individuals’ bodies, appearances, identities, experiences, and fantasies fail to align so easily. It is precisely this messiness, this inconsistency, Sedgwick argues, that the concept “queer” aims to bring into focus. In other words, Christmas is queerness’s opposite.