Lists: 2013 SXSW Film Picks

Film Screening

Every March, Austin plays host to South by Southwest, a gargantuan festival of new media, film, music, comedy, and everything in between. Although much of the week is closed to the chosen few badge holders, non-badged visitors can purchase single-admission tickets to film screenings, space permitting. With that in mind, we’ve curated a quick list of films that may be of particular interest to those attendees who study or are generally fans of American Studies.

Click each title for screening times and locations.

Our Nixon

Recently discovered Super 8 home movies filmed by three of Richard Nixon’s closest aides – and fellow Watergate conspirators – offer an intimate and complex new glimpse into his presidency in this all-archival documentary.

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5 Takes on Women and Bicycles

Back in 2004, inspired by my friend Emily Wismer, I traded my car for a bicycle, and eight years, six cities, and thousands of miles later, I think it’s safe to say that I think riding a bike is pretty sweet.  I’m rarely stuck in a traffic jam, I get front-row parking pretty much wherever I go, and hey, I get me some exercise and a little daily sunshine, too, especially here in Austin.  In these enlightened times, it’s generally pretty awesome to be a lady cyclist, too, especially with more and more shops hiring female mechanics (thank you, Ozone and The Peddler!), more companies making women-specific gear, and folks like Mia Birk, Georgena Terry, and Shelley Jackson leading the charge in making cycling more accessible to everyone, including women.

Annie Londonderry, the first woman to bike around the world

But gender and bicycles can easily become complicated, too, and not just in a turn-of-the-century dress reform kind of way.  Back in the 1980s and 90s, technophiles like Donna Haraway argued that technology was going to be the great equalizer, as though somehow the right combination of wheels and gears and metal tubing could erase centuries of gender inequality.  As far as bikes go, that hasn’t happened – not yet, anyway.  But, with more and more lady cyclists moving into what has so far been a male-dominated technological domain, the bicycle is beginning to raise some questions about gender, female sexuality, and what it means to be a lady on two wheels.  Below, five very interesting answers to these questions.

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List: 7 Films from 2011 that American Studies Scholars Should See

Somehow, it’s already December, and you know what that means: a million year-end lists of the best (and worst) 2011 had to offer. So we’re throwing our collective hat in the ring with this list of the best movies from 2011 that are of particular interest to American Studies scholars of all stripes. We can’t vouch for the  quality of all these, of course, but they at least provide some fodder for folks to potentially research and write about.

Quick note: there are a ton of worthwhile documentary films that were released this year that are worth a look, but this list only highlights fictional films. Have fun!


Ryan Gosling stars in this intense homage to a very gritty Los Angeles. He plays a Hollywood stuntman who moonlights as a getaway driver, but a botched heist leaves him with a contract on his head. Though the film’s storyline is predominantly a tale of the unnamed driver dealing with a variety of folks who try to kill him, Drive also offers a fascinating and dark portrayal of the city. Visually and musically, it’s 1980s-style noir at its best (but caveat emptor: the violence is sporadic but incredibly graphic).

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List: Top Picks at the Texas Book Festival

Writers and readers of all stripes and flocking to Austin this weekend for the annual Texas Book Festival. The schedule is always a bit daunting for the two day event, so here is a selection of notable events (with descriptions from the festival schedule)  featuring some familiar AMS faces (Elizabeth Engelhardt and Robert Abzug, to name two) as well as a few others worth seeking out amidst the flurry of activity.


A Mess of Greens: Southern Gender & Southern Food

with Dr. Elizabeth Engelhardt

Date: Saturday, October 22, 2011
Time: 11:15 – 12:00
Location: Capitol Extension Room E2.030

While staples of Southern foodways are often portrayed as stable and unchanging – the stories of their origins generally focused on elite whites or poor blacks – Elizabeth S.D. Engelhardt uses methods of food culture and gender studies to reveal their troubling complexities. An associate professor of American Studies at The University of Texas at Austin, Engelhardt was lead author of Republic of Barbecue: Stories Beyond the Brisket.

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5 Maps for the Visually Inclined

I spend an inordinate amount of time looking at, reading about, and – lately – making maps. No, this obsession with maps is not a new thing for me: I was totally the kid who pored over the AAA map on family vacations, the college student who lugged that same dog-eared AAA map on numerous cross-country treks, and the trucking dispatcher who tacked xeroxed, highlighted maps of Iowa and Michigan and Wisconsin over my desk.  When Google Maps finally unveiled their Bike Routes feature – well hey, there was at least one GPS-less bike hipster in Austin who took a victory lap around the neighborhood to celebrate.

One of the many things I love about maps is their ability to tell a story in a way that is somehow both totally objective and entirely personal. Certain elements of a landscape – the length of a road, maybe, or the location of a county line – are relatively fixed, but other elements – whether a road is safe to bike on, where the best barbecue is located, where the boundaries of a neighborhood are, how best to get from North Austin to the East side – are products of individual perspectives and ways of filtering and evaluating data. A really good map is one that visualizes the relationship between the objective and the personal in interesting ways; an awesome one makes a good argument or raises some good questions and has fun doing it. Here are five of my faves.

1. John Snow’s 1854 Cholera map

As Pete Warden points out, Snow’s map is the poster child for effective visualization of information, mostly because Tufte wrote so convincingly about it in The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. Snow, who had been trying to convince NYC officials for some time that cholera was not just water-born but related to a particular pump, created this map to show the correlation between high numbers of cholera-related deaths and proximity to a contaminated well in SoHo. The details of the story might be the stuff of legend, but I still love this map: it is simple, clear, direct, and uses spatial information to make a compelling argument for the cause of a deadly disease.

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12 Twitterers American Studies Folks Should Follow

I’ve become known as a Twitter evangelist around these parts, which is not an entirely inaccurate assessment. I’ve been a user for about three and a half years now, and continually find new, helpful uses for it, thanks largely to other Twitterers’ innovations in the ways that they use the site.

One area that’s seen a lot of innovation has been in education. If you do a Google search for “twitter and academia” or “twitter and classroom,” you’ll find thousands of sites devoted to exploring how the academic world can engage with Twitter to enhance student learning, bridge gaps across disciplines, and otherwise enable communication and sharing in new ways.

If you’re an internet or social media neophyte, though, the Twitterverse can seem more than a little daunting, even for the most illustrious and tech-savvy academic. With millions of users, jumping in at this point takes some mettle – or at least some guidance.

So, dear reader, we’ve curated a list of users you might consider following, especially if you are lucky enough to study American Studies. Besides us, of course.

Granted, this list is by no means any kind of comprehensive! There are hundreds of accounts that would probably be helpful to you and your scholarship, thanks to the big tent quality of the field, but our hope is that these will help you get your feet wet in the Twitterverse.

Check it out below the fold!

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6 TV Shows American Studies Scholars Should Watch

One of the best things about the American Studies field is that popular songs, TV shows, movies – what many folks might see as simple diversions – don’t need to be treated apart from more traditional artifacts that merit scholarly analysis. In other words, they offer representations of America worth considering, dissecting, and debating.

And, thanks to entities like Hulu and Netflix, exploring media in depth has become quicker and easier – especially where television is concerned. Entire seasons of shows have been digitized and made readily available to the viewing public; it’s a golden age of access to representations of American life! And, of course, what better means of tapping into our cultural zeitgeist than through TV?

So, without further ado, a few shows you should watch if you’re in the wonderful field of American Studies – or simply aspire to be – along with a few clips to whet your appetites.

1. Deadwood – HBO – 2004 – 2006 (RIP)

I started watching Deadwood thanks to some recommendations by a few professors and colleagues. And the show doesn’t disappoint. Based on a post-Civil War South Dakota town, and featuring actual historical figures like Calamity Jane and Wyatt Earp, Deadwood provides what seems like a faithful representation of the lawless 19th century frontier. Authentic history notwithstanding, it’s an intense show, and that intensity starts right at the beginning. If you have a squeamish stomach or cringe when you hear coarse language, perhaps steer clear of this one. Bottom line: this is a hardcore western show. Watch it. It means business.

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