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


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!

Undergraduate Research: Andrea Gustavson on teaching undergraduates at the Harry Ransom Center

We love it when we can draw your attention to the awesome teaching our grad students do and the exciting research our undergraduates do. Today, we’d like to point you toward the Harry Ransom Center’s newsletter, Ransom Edition, where our very own Andrea Gustavson talks about her work teaching undergraduates in the archive. 


Teacher Andrea Gustavson shares photography materials with undergraduate students in her class “American Images: Photography, Literature, Archive.” Photo by Robert V. Reichle.


Undergraduate in the class “American Images: Photography, Literature, Archive.” Photo by Robert V. Reichle.

Here’s a taste of Gustavson’s article:

In the fall, I taught a class called “American Images: Photography, Literature, Archive” that made extensive use of the collections at the Ransom Center. Each week, the students and I explored the intersections between photography, literature, and archival theory using the Center’s primary materials as the foundation for our discussions. On Mondays and Wednesdays we met to discuss the week’s reading, closely reading passages or images and making connections to contemporary events. On Fridays the students had the opportunity to view rare manuscripts and photographs that illustrated, extended, and even challenged many of the concepts we had discussed earlier in the week. Over the course of the semester, the students worked within a variety of written genres as they built toward a final project for which they conducted their own original research.

Check out the full article here.

Gustavson is a PhD candidate in American Studies here at UT and she worked as a graduate intern in Public Services and as a Graduate Research Assistant at the Ransom Center in 2010–2014.

Faculty and Grad Research: Dr. Steve Hoelscher and Andi Gustavson on the Magnum Archive

Malcolm X during his visit to enterprises owned by Black Muslims. Chicago, IL, 1962, ©Eve Arnold/Magnum Photos.

Today we bring you a lovely piece hosted on the UT History Department’s Not Even Past website: Dr. Steve Hoelscher and Ph.D. candidate Andi Gustavson have teamed up to bring you this piece on the Magnum archive of photography. We’ve reprinted an excerpt below; take a look at the full article here.

Like the print itself, the collection of photographs to which it belongs is now also retired—at least from its previous occupation of carrying the image it bears to publishing venues. Davidson’s print came out of retirement in the summer of 2010—or, more accurately, it took on a new life—when the Magnum Photo New York Print Library was opened for research at the Harry Ransom Center, a research library and museum at the University of Texas at Austin. The Magnum Photos collection, as it is now known, is comprised of some 1,300 boxes containing more than 200,000 press prints and exhibition photographs by some of the twentieth century’s most famous photographers. Once Magnum began using digital distribution methods for its photographs, the function of press prints as vehicles for conveying the image became obsolete and these photographs became significant solely as objects for both monetary and historic value.

Magnum’s visual archive is a vast, living chronicle of the people, places, and events of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Images of cultural icons, from James Dean and Marilyn Monroe,to Gandhi and Castro, coexist in the Magnum Photos collection with depictions of international conflicts, political unrest, and cultural life. Included are famous war photos from the Spanish Civil War and D-Day landings to wars in Central America, Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as unforgettable scenes of historic events: the rise of democracy in India, the Chinese military suppression of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, the U.S. Civil Rights movement, the Iranian revolution, and the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Grad Research: MA student Ashlyn Davis releases book of photography of the American West


We’re pleased to announce that one of our MA students, Ashlyn Davis, has edited and published a book of photography with Bryan Schutmaat. Here’s what Ashlyn has to say about the book:

The 44 images in Islands of the Blest depict various places in the American West and were taken over a one hundred year period, from the 1870s to the 1970s. The photographers included range from the completely unknown to some of the most distinguished practitioners of the medium–Timothy O’Sullivan, Dorothea Lange, and Russell Lee for instance. We scoured free public archives state by state for a year, pulling thousands of photographs and spent the summer editing them down to the version presented here. While there are some of the grand landscapes one expects to find in a text about the West, there are also images of its destruction and containment. The book is clothbound, printed on a thick newsprint, and includes a poem by Michael McGriff, a former Michener fellow.

For more information about the book or to purchase a copy, see the publisher’s website here.

Undergrad Research: “Exhibiting Austin” Presentations This Tuesday


The amazing undergraduate research just keeps coming! Earlier this week we featured a project by Dr. Steve Hoelscher’s Intro to American Studies class, Postcards from Texas, a photo blog that considers the themes of the American Dream and mobility. Today we would like to invite you to attend a series of presentations by students in Dr. Cary Cordova’s “Exhibiting Austin” class that ruminate on Austin’s diverse history. The presentations will take place at the Austin History Center photo gallery (810 Guadalupe St.) on Tuesday, May 13, from 3:00 – 5:00pm.

Here is a description of the project from Dr. Cordova:

Students have spent the semester studying not just the history of Austin, but the collections of the Austin History Center.  Studying our local archive has inspired diverse and unique research projects: students have gathered oral histories, composed photo essays, generated economic studies, composed resource guides, and launched fundraiser projects.  Their research topics vary widely, but feature examinations in education, the arts, activism, food, transportation, and human trafficking, and include meaningful contributions to Mexican American history, Asian American history, Native American history, Czech history, and LGBTQ history.

Please join us to celebrate the hard work of these students and to share in their excavations of Austin histories.

Undergrad Research: Postcards from Texas

We love to feature student work here on AMS :: ATX, and today we are pleased to direct your attention to a project by Dr. Steve Hoelscher’s Spring 2014 Intro to American Studies class, Postcards from Texas. We mentioned this project previously here on the blog, and we’re thrilled to show you its latest iteration. The Postcards project is a blog that features photographs and text created by students that reflect on various concepts–previously the American Dream, and this time around, mobility–and what they might mean today.


Here is a description of the project from the Postcards website:

Over the past couple of years, undergraduate students in Prof. Steven Hoelscher’s Introduction to American Studies class at the University of Texas at Austin researched competing notions of American identity in a two-step project. Beginning with the inspirational model of Magnum Photos ongoing Postcards from America series, students were asked to explore one segment of the U.S. visually, through photography. First, each student considered a complex cultural phenomenon—“the American Dream” in 2012 and “Mobility” in 2014. Second, students then recorded their thoughts in the form of a photographic image in Texas. In these original photographs—and in the detailed, unedited captions that accompany them—the extraordinary range of how American cultural life is envisioned comes into full view.

What follows are visual documents of the hope and confidence that often come naturally to college students, but also, in many cases, an equal recognition of life’s injustices and uncertainties. A composite, multifaceted picture of modern America emerges from these photographs: of idealism and pragmatism, the political left and political right, acquisitiveness and a rejection of materialism, arguments for traditional family values and LGBT rights, conformity and insurgency.  Together, these postcards from Texas—of cotton fields and strip malls, millionaires and homeless men, junkyards and mansions—complicate glib calls for an unproblematically unified America. They also demonstrate the creative energy and thoughtfulness that has always been central to “the American dream”—whatever it means – and to American mobility.

Undergrad Research: Interview with Alyse Camus and Taj Bruno

We are so pleased today to feature an interview with Alyse Camus and Taj Bruno, two American Studies undergraduates who were recently awarded an honorable mention for the 2014 Dean’s Distinguished Graduates award. We sat down with Alyse and Taj last week to chat about their thesis research, their time in AMS, and their future plans.

In addition, Alyse and Taj will be presenting at the American Studies Undergraduate Honors Symposium this Thursday, April 17 at 5:30 in Burdine 214. Come by to hear about their theses, as well as those of another three stellar undergraduates. Details here.


Alyse and Taj on a research trip to the New York Public Library

Tell us a little about your thesis project.

Taj: My thesis explores the relationship between the American Jewish community and the celebration of Christmas, particularly in the 19th and 20th centuries. What I’m really focusing on is the internal debate that emerged in the Jewish community regarding the permissibility of Jews taking part in Christmas celebrations and the controversy over that. I’ve looked at an article that was published in the Christian Century in 1939 by a Reformed rabbi who declared that it was absolutely wonderful for Jews to partake in Christmas and it was even a way to bolster the Jewish faith by Jews taking part in a religious practice that was in part derived from the Jewish faith. Another archive I’ve consulted is the Center for Jewish History in New York City and the New York Public Library.

Alyse: My thesis moves between two different departments, American Studies and Slavic Studies. I’m looking at Vladimir Mayakovsky, who was essentially the poet of the early Soviet Union but he also happened to be absolutely fascinated by America. In 1925 he came to America, really to New York and Chicago, did a cycle of poetry, and wrote a travelogue called, in translation, My Discovery of America. In scholarship this is essentially treated as a Soviet criticizing America as this terrible place simply because he was a Soviet and writing from the perspective of the Soviet Union. I’m trying to look at it more as Mayakovsky having valid critiques of America that were valid and identified by American and foreign observers around the same time. So I’m really trying to explore the unique relationship that Mayakovsky had with America before, during, and after his visit, and how his views shaped the Soviet Union’s early impressions of America. There aren’t a whole lot of Mayakovsky archives in America, so I’ve pulled mostly from the texts that he published and from a couple American newspapers–The Daily Worker was kind of responsible for promoting lectures he did while here, and Russkii Golos, a Russian language paper out of New Yorkpublished something about Mayakovsky almost every day of his trip, so it’s been really great to look back through those archives.

What has been a favorite class or assignment in American Studies that led you toward this project?

Taj: There was an American Studies class I took on amusement and understanding specific populations and amusement in America. We had a lot of liberty to choose the topics we wrote about, and I remember writing a paper on the Jewish American population and the relationship between Israel and America. I remember becoming inspired by the fascinating relationship that is ongoing between American and Israel and this helped me focus in on the Jewish American population in America and understand their history, their position, and the different things that they’ve gone through. My paper looked at Jewish American identity through the lens of advertising. It focused on the representation of Israel in American advertising regarding tourist culture.

Alyse: One of the earliest classes I took in American Studies was Intro to American Studies with Elizabeth Engelhardt and it was focused on masculinity and femininity in American culture. I had never really explored masculinity before and I had never heard American History explored from that perspective. I thought it was interesting to look at changing gender roles as not necessarily an explanation of cultural shifts, but just one of the many lenses you could look through. At the time it was just an exceptionally new concept for me. During her class I became really drawn to this time period of 1900 to World War II because there is just so much going on and it feels like almost everything is in a constant state of flux. Her class made me realize that there was so much going on at this time that I hadn’t ever considered and to me that was very eye opening.

What’s next? Where are you headed after graduating this spring?

Taj: For the past year or so I have been working at my parents’ medical device company in quality assurance, and while that sounds dry, it is actually pretty fascinating work. I make sure the company stays within the guidelines of both international and domestic standards. What that means in layman’s terms is that when foreign or domestic governments set out new or revised standards for selling the medical device in those countries, I make sure that the company complies with those regulations. It’s fascinating work and I’m able to readily apply my research skills to international business.

Alyse: Well, after I graduate I’m going to take some time off before pursuing a graduate program. I’ve been looking at everything from History to Comparative Literature and I’m just not quite sure yet which direction I want to take. So, I figure that taking a step back from everything will give me some much needed perspective and let me flesh out my options a little better. To do that, I’m going to move to Los Angeles with one of my friends while she works on her Master’s. To be honest, I’m not yet sure what I’m going to do once I’m there, but I’ve always been the kind of person who just figures it out as I go along. I have a lot of different interests and options so I’ll see where they happen to lead me. In all of the free time that I’ll have because I won’t have a thesis to write, I’m actually hoping to work on translating the poems Mayakovsky wrote while in America. Most of them have never been translated to English and there are 22 of them, so it’ll keep me busy!