Announcement: AMS Graduate Conference this week: “Home/Sick”

Join the graduate students of the Department of American Studies at UT as they put on a conference that takes on the theme “Home/Sick” this Thursday and Friday, April 2 and 3. The keynote address will be delivered by Dr. Kim Tallbear (Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, UT Austin) on Thursday, April 2nd at 6pm in NOA 1.124. Dr. Tallbear will give a talk called, “Molecular Death and Redface Reincarnation: Indigenous Appropriations in the U.S.” Panels will take place Thursday and Friday in the Texas Union. See below for a full schedule, or click here.

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The following is a description of the conference theme from the organizers:

The death of eighteen-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri this August, the immigration crisis centering around the influx of children from Central America to the United States, and the recent panic over the spread of the ebola virus can all be read as the newest manifestations of a long-running pattern throughout American history and culture: the relationship between constructions of “healthy” communities, the fear that these communities will be violated, invaded, or contaminated, and the mobilization of these fears as justification for action in the name of community preservation. The history of the United States is littered with rhetorical constructions of safety and security, purity and contamination—as well as with the results of very real processes of violence, displacement, and exclusion. The 2015 AMS Graduate Student Conference considers constructions of home and health, and explores how these concepts have been and continue to be mobilized in the construction and erasure of American communities, families, and selves.

Schedule for Panels

Thursday, April 2

Registration 1pm- 5pm
Sinclair Suite (UNB 3.128), Texas Union

2:00pm – 3:30pm – Panel 1: Surveillance at Home
Texas Governors’ Room (UNB 3.116), Texas Union

3:45pm – 5:15pm – Panel 2: Sick: Bodies and Affect
Texas Governors’ Room (UNB 3.116), Texas Union

Friday, April 3

Registration 8:30am – 5:00pm
Eastwoods Room (UNB 2.102), Texas Union

9:00am – 10:30am – Panel 3: Race and Reconfiguring the Home
Chicano Culture Room (4.206), Texas Union

10:45 – 12:15 –  Panel 4: Home in Digital Life
Chicano Culture Room (4.206), Texas Union

1:45 – 3:15 – Panel 5: Leisure, Labor, and Contested Homes
Chicano Culture Room (4.206), Texas Union

3:30 – 5:00 – Panel 6: Gulf Coast Oil and the Labor of Self, Loss, and the South
Chicano Culture Room (4.206), Texas Union

Announcement: ‘Mapping the Afro-Imaginative’ symposium this week

This Thursday and Friday, the Black Queer Diaspora Collective at UT will present a symposium that convenes activists, artists and scholars from throughout the African Diaspora to discuss “creative strategies for black queer world-making.” The symposium kicks off with a keynote lecture from Nalo Hopkinton tonight, Thursday, March 5 at 6:30 in BLS 2.206. On Friday, March 6, there will be a series of panels in the same room. The symposium features panels with E. Patrick Johnson, Alexis Deveaux, Ana Maurine Lara, and more – find the full schedule at the Fabebook event here.




Grad Research: Graduate presentations abound this semester


We recently highlighted some of the folks presenting at the American Studies Association Annual Meeting in Los Angeles November 6-9. But our students and faculty present all over the place. Here are just a few examples of the exciting new research UT AMS grad students are sharing around the country this semester:

Andrew Gansky

Graduate student Andrew Gansky recently attended the Society for the History of Technology Annual Conference in Dearborn, Michigan, and took part in the SIGCIS Workshop. His presentation was titled, “The Meaning of Life in the Automated Office.” Here’s what Andrew had to say about his paper:

Many previous studies have looked at computer automation, or the displacement of human workers with computerized processes, through the lenses of labor and economics. However, the effects of automation extend far beyond the workplace. I examine automation as a fundamentally social technology, which helps engineer human relationships as technological feedback loops. In this paper, I focus on Control Data Corporation’s proposals to computerize and automate the American Indian national education system during the 1970s, and critique the application of teaching machines as the displacement of human care and responsibility for maintaining a functioning educational system.

Josh Kopin

Graduate student Josh Kopin presented his paper, “A Cosmonaut in Palomar: Seeing, Showing, and Imagining In Gilbert Hernandez’s Heartbreak Soup” at the the International Comic Arts Forum. Josh sent us the following snapshot of his paper, and he has a longer description of the event here:

Although the Palomar of Gilbert Hernandez’s Heartbreak Soup comics is something of a backwater, a small town where news always seems to come late, Hernandez populates it with characters who have dreams that go beyond the town’s limitations, even as he centers their lives there. Although they could easily be trite or descend into kitsch, the stories set in Palomar are involved in defending the dignity of those characters and the legitimacy of what they want, both in the context of the small town and outside of it. Perhaps the most instructive of the many ways that Hernandez mounts this defense is the way he relates his characters’ imaginations to visual culture external to Palomar; this talk will discuss the ambivalent relationship that Palomar has with outside visual influence, beginning specifically with the moment in the 1985 story “Space Case” when Luba’s daughter Guadalupe, recently introduced to the mysteries of the cosmos, looks out her window and finds the churning sky of Van Gogh’s Starry Night. In order to illuminate the relationship between seeing and imagination, in order to figure out of if Guadalupe sees the same thing we see, I will approach questions of seeing, showing, and imagination in Hernandez’s work by further investigating the music teacher Heraclio’s relationship with and attempted dissemination of high art, and the presence, in “An American in Palomar,” of American photographer Howard Miller, who embodies Palomar’s conflicted relationship with seeing and showing as he looks at the town and the town looks book at him. These investigations will show both that, for Hernandez, ambivalence, perhaps even doubt, is the key to dignity and legitimacy, and that in his supposedly beleaguered backwater we can find a metaphor for comics’ relationship to other kinds of art.

Jeannette Vaught

PhD candidate Jeannette Vaught organized the panel “Beyond the Laboratory: Animals and the Culture of Scientific Knowledge” for the annual meeting of the History of Science Society in Chicago. The following description of the panel and her contribution to it comes to us from Jeannette:

This panel looks at places where animals and science intersect beyond a strict research setting. Investigating material from across the globe, spanning the sixteenth century to the present, the panelists show how the use of animals in the production of scientific knowledge gets at larger questions about how scientific knowledge is used, what cultural anxieties it informs, and how animals continually shape the definition of science. Jeannette will join the panel, made up of scholars from a range of institutions, home disciplines, and career stages, to present her talk “Envisioning Living Tissue: Race, Animality, and Conflicts Over Vivisection in 1920s America.” This paper considers the battle over vivisection in 1920s America, showing how arguments for and against the practice depended on problematic conceptions of race and animality.


Grad and Faculty Research: UT AMS at ASA!

It’s that time of year again–time for the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, which will be held from November 6-9 in Los Angeles. This year’s theme is “The Fun and the Fury: New Dialectics of Pleasure and Pain in the Post-American Century,” and the program features a number of UT AMS folks. Here’s a snapshot of what grad students and faculty from UT American Studies will be presenting at this year’s conference:

THURSDAY, November 6

Anne Gessler, “Second Lines, Creative Economies, and Gentrification: Music Cooperatives in Post-Katrina New Orleans” (Thu. Nov. 6, 4:00-5:45pm, San Pedro). Part of a panel called, “Alternative Economies of Pleasure in Contemporary Southern Working-Class Cultures.” Gessler’s paper examines the ways in which New Orleans’ black, working-class participatory culture uses music and performance as tools of social critique: second lines parades, for example, have become forums for protesting gentrification of black residents’ communities. Specifically, she will argue that contemporary cooperatives have used their city’s long tradition of innovative, egalitarian cultural production to empower working-class New Orleans citizens to alleviate the effects of structural inequality and poverty.

FRIDAY, November 7

Julia Mickenberg, “Child Savers and Child Saviors: Horror, Hope, and the Russian Famine of 1921” (Fri. Nov. 7, 8:00-9:45am, Santa Anita). Part of a panel called, “Other World(s): Childhood, Nation, and the Price of Feeling Good.” Dr. Mickenberg’s paper considers the way in which the Russian child became a focal point for humanitarian relief efforts (typically gendered as feminine) and thus offered a socially acceptable vehicle for American women to enter Soviet Russia, through agencies like the American Friends Service Committee. Alongside widely disseminated images of starving Russian children were tales of rosy-cheeked, self-governing, artistic, and socially engaged children to whom the Soviet Union’s bright future belonged; “child savers” in Russia were thus, in part, motivated by the notion that the Russian child rescued from starvation might go on to become a child savior.

Jennifer Kelly, “Blueprinting Post-Return: Tourism, Pedagogy, and the Work of Imagination in Palestine” (Fri. Nov. 7, 2:00-3:45pm, San Anita). Part of a panel called, “Political Imaginings of Palestine Beyond the Here and Now.” Kelly will explore the collaboration between the Israeli organization Zochrot and the Badil Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights, a Palestinian organization in the West Bank, as they respectively and collectively use tourism to expose Israel’s displacement of Palestinians and imagine futures of decolonized space in Israel/Palestine.

Andrew Hamsher, “Controlling Fantasyland: Surveilance and Freedom in Transmedia Storyworlds” (Fri. Nov. 7, 4:00-5:45pm, Santa Monica B). Part of a panel called “We’re Listening: Surveillance Technologies and Non-Private Publics.” Hamsher’s paper explores how entertainment conglomerates are seeking to exploit the proliferation of branded storyworlds to dramatically expand and normalize datavalliance practices.  He focuses on Disney World’s new billion-dollar MyMagic+ initiative.

SATURDAY, November 8

Elizabeth Engelhardt, “Appalachian Food Studies: A Tale of Belgian Waffles and Cast Iron Fried Chicken” (Sat. Nov. 8, 8:00-9:45am, San Gabriel). Part of a panel called, “The Invention of Authenticity: Troubling Narratives of the “Real” Southern Foodways.” Dr. Engelhardt will discuss the impossibility of “Appalachian Chicken and Waffles” as well as the usefulness of such an impossible term.

Kerry Knerr, “Institutionalizing the Bon Vivant: Reading Empire through Jerry Thomas’s Cocktails” (Sat. Nov. 8, 10:00-11:45am, San Gabriel). Part of a panel called, “Commerce of Pleasure.” Knerr will consider early cocktails, mainly punch, as a form that moves through various European colonial contexts. In her paper, she offers a close reading of a particular punch from Jerry Thomas’s How To Mix Drinks: Or, The Bon Vivant’s Companion (1862) to demonstrate its imperial inheritance through to the American context.

Elissa Underwood, “Food” (Sat. Nov. 8, 2:00-3:45pm, Beaudry A). Part of a Critical Prison Studies Caucus panel called “Keywords in Critical Prison Studies I.” Using a lively format of words and visuals, the panelists will explore sixteen terms – some ordinary, some unexpected – related to critical prison studies.

Announcement: Ethnic and Third World Literatures Sequels Symposium This Week!

This Thursday and Friday at UT, Ethnic and Third World Literatures (E3W) and the Department of English will be hosting the 13th Annual Sequels Symposium. Sequels is an annual event that features E3W alumni and their recently published books. The symposium also includes graduate student panels, highlighting research that intersects with the work of our featured keynote speakers. This year’s guests are Dr.  Eve Dunbar and Dr. Kenneth Kidd. The symposium will feature keynote addresses by Dr. Dunbar and Dr. Kidd on Thursday evening at 7pm in the Eastwoods Room of the Texas Union. Panels will be held Friday from 8:30 to 3:30 in the Eastwoods Room.


Eve Dunbar graduated from UT in 2004.  She is currently Associate Dean of the Faculty and Associate Professor in the Department of English at Vassar College, where she is also an active contributor to the Africana Studies, Women’s Studies, and American Culture programs.  Her areas of specialization include African American literature and cultural expression, black feminism, and theories of black diaspora. Kenneth Kidd graduated from UT in 1994.  He is currently a Professor and Chair of the Department of English at the University of Florida. His areas of specialization include children’s literature studies, nineteenth- and twentieth century American literature, psychoanalysis, queer theory, and cultural studies.

Check out the full schedule here.


Kids and Conferences Do Not Mix

As a follow-up to our post of reflections on the American Studies Association annual meeting, we’d like to feature AMS assistant professor Dr. Cary Cordova’s reflection on attending conferences, including ASA, as a mother, and the professional challenges this creates. For more great words from Dr. Cordova, check out our interview with her a few weeks back right here on AMS::ATX.


Kids and Conferences Do Not Mix

Starting with the American Studies Association annual meeting in 2009, it got complicated.  I organized two panels for that year, one for myself and one for the Minority Scholars Committee, but then learned I was pregnant and that my due date practically coincided with the conference.  I hear the panels went well, but I was not in attendance.  In fact, the meeting convened within a day or two of my leaving the hospital with my newborn son.  I have no regrets about having a child, but I do admit the professional challenges have been profound.  I knew life would change, but I did not foresee the specificity of these changes, including how difficult attending conferences would be.

Most conferences do not offer childcare.  The organizers anticipate that participants will be adept at setting up childcare in cities where they do not live.  If one is lucky, the conference takes place in a city inhabited by a family member, or a friend, whom I can ask to take time off of work to help, or who knows someone that I can trust to babysit.  On more than one occasion, I have helped friends in return who are coming into my city and who need help locating a babysitter they can trust.  But if you do not have a contact in that city, exactly how do you vet care for your child?  Perhaps you turn to the various childcare websites, though these sites and the subsequent virtual interviews of babysitters may not instill a parent with the greatest confidence.

The predominant expectation is that you leave your kid at home, but with whom, and for how long?  Thanks to my specialized training, I live far from my family and cannot call on just anyone to watch my son for days at a time.  I have felt more than a twinge of jealously when I see colleagues who live near their families drop their kids with the grandparents for days at a time, free of charge.  For one conference, I opted to fly in my mother to meet me and help me watch my son.  For this, she had to take multiple days off work, and I had to buy three plane tickets to attend a single conference.

Most obviously, the expectation is that I turn to my partner to watch my child.  The presumption that I have a partner to turn to is enormous here, much less that my partner might be free from his own professional commitments.  But yes, I do have a partner, and our relationship makes conferences both easier and more complex, since I am partnered with an academic who works in similar intellectual terrain.  I appreciate that my partner and I like similar conferences and can trade-off childcare when we attend together, but this guarantees that at best, each of us will have a fifty percent chance of participating in the conference.  In the last few years, I think my conference participation has been most visible via the frequent image of me chasing after my son through the halls of meeting rooms and around the lobby of the conference hotel.  This, of course, is not the professional image that one strives for, but it is a reality of my life in academia.

Since my partner and I like to attend the same conferences and engage together with our academic friends, we struggle over who gets to go to which conference, much less which panel.  Often, we try to bring our son to something that is clearly not playing to his interest, which at the moment is everything that does not correspond to Superheroes and Legos.  One year, my partner wanted to hear my talk, so he tried to come and sit in the back row with our son.  The visit lasted all of five-minutes, as our son kept calling out for “mommy” to step away from the podium and come play with him.

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Faculty, Grad, and Alumni Research: Reflections on the American Studies Association Annual Meeting

Fall is conference time, and this year we asked our faculty, grad students, and alumni to share a few words on their experience at the annual meeting of the ASA. We asked folks to reflect on any portion of the event–their panel, other panels they found inspiring, the presidential address–and today we feature some of these reflections on the conference back in November in Washington, D.C. For those of you unable to attend and who didn’t follow the chatter on Twitter, here’s a taste of what ASA had to offer this year. Some of the reflections address the ASA National Council’s endorsement of an academic boycott of Israel. The views expressed here are those of individuals; they do not reflect those of the department as a whole.


The American Studies Association annual meeting took place this year in Washington, D.C.

Ellen Cunningham-Kruppa

I confess to typically staying within a certain comfort zone at conferences, going to panels and talks on topics related to my work. This year’s ASA conference (a first for me) began in much the usual way, though once I got my feet wet I ended up attending three sessions on topics I knew absolutely nothing about! The first session I attended, “Photographing War, Picturing Dissent: Visualizing the Vietnam Conflict,” chaired by Robert Hariman, was sponsored by the Visual Culture Caucus. Andi Gustavson, Franny Nudelman, Sara Blair, and Liam Kennedy presented work that interrogated the aesthetics of dissent, describing some of the ways that photographers contributed to the critique of the Vietnam war and, in the process, further developed photography as a documentary and artistic medium. Andi Gustavon’s talk, the first of the morning’s panel, focused on snapshots soldiers took in Vietnam and circulated to family, friends, and each other. She suggested that soldiers used these snapshots of their every day lives in the war zone to mediate emotional responses to the war.

These snapshots and the poignant images that punctuated the other presentations drew me back to my childhood. The images of young men going off to war, and of those returning aged and oftentimes physically and psychically wounded called me to reflect on what it must have meant to a child to see a war unfolding in black and white on a living room television every evening. I don’t think I registered any particular war. Nor would I have have understood the concept of war. The visual and aural nearness of guns and helicopters likely served as part of the visual and aural backdrop to every evening, arriving just before dinner and at the end of a day of playing and attending elementary school.

While I did not know it at the time, my brother’s “number” was called in 1967. It was not long ago that I learned from my mom the details of his “call to report.” Not long before the war lottery drew his number, my brother had what was then major surgery for torn knee cartilage. Sustained playing college basketball on scholarship, the injuries prevented him from being enlisted. It’s strange—I recall vividly visiting my brother in the hospital, making a trip to a restaurant with him on crutches, and being repelled by the odor of the yellow substance the hospital used to clean his leg. But I can’t fully remember the war images and associated words and sounds emanating from the television. Little did I know that, while the images and sounds may have registered as the usual backdrop to my childhood evenings, families across the nation watched the news nervously, waiting the longest wait for a child to return home.

Elizabeth Engelhardt

My ASA moment this year happened at a Saturday morning food studies session. Two of the presenters had workshopped their pieces at our Food Studies Writers Salon earlier in the fall, so it was fascinating to see how Lindsey Swindell of Sam Houston State and Jennifer Jensen Wallach of the University of North Texas had modified and deepened their thinking. It was also intellectually provocative to see their work in conversation with the other panelists. The conversation ranged from Mexico to Alabama to the Blackfoot Tribal Lands and from 1870s’ progressivism to the past month’s media coverage of the Obamas. More than that, though, I attended the session with my friend Psyche Williams-Forson, and we ended up passing notes, hatching an idea for an anthology project inspired by the moment.

Caryl Kocurek

American Studies is a sprawling discipline, and that is something that is often on display at the annual meeting of the ASA. What is, perhaps, less obvious from outside the field is how the same meeting that showcases the diversity of interests within the field shows how these diverse interests intersect in meaningful, productive ways. For me, the best part of ASA is not necessarily presenting my own work or even seeing others’ work presented — although both are valuable — but instead the host of opportunities for meeting peers at caucus and committee meetings and events and less formal receptions and social gatherings. For the past two years, I’ve participated as a member of the Digital Humanities Caucus, and this year, I’ve also signed on as a member of the ASA Women’s Committee. Conferences are vital as opportunities for connection, and in a large organization like the ASA, finding smaller groups within the whole can be an important means of forging meaningful ties. My work with the Digital Humanities caucus has yielded opportunities for collaboration that I would not have had otherwise. While I am sure working with the Women’s Committee could yield the same, I am also excited to give back to the organization through service and facilitate opportunities for other women in the organization. I’m always excited to go to ASA, even at moments when I feel my research is straying afield from the discipline, because I can rely on the meeting as a kind of homecoming and an important reminder that I am, always, an American Studies scholar at heart.

Julia Mickenberg

The recent ASA meeting was stimulating but very emotional one for me, mainly because of the Israel boycott resolution being debated throughout much of the conference. I spent a great deal of the time discussing the pros and cons of an academic boycott with various colleagues who embraced a range of different positions, from strongly opposed, to strongly in favor. Many people were simply concerned that the American Studies Association was devoting its energies to this issue more than many other worthy issues (global warming, nuclear proliferation, etc.), or wondered if a scholarly organization should be in the business of making political statements. Many were concerned about the capacity of the boycott resolution to create enduring rifts in the organization.

I had intended to attend a forum on the boycott Friday night but several social events—that is, the chance to see old friends, colleagues, and former students who I would not otherwise see—prevented me from going. However, at dinner that night I wound up hearing about that meeting from two professors at other institutions who strongly support the boycott but had concerns about the level of discourse at the meeting. At dinner the next night another friend expressed fear that the ASA was tending toward overemphasizing “social justice” oriented work to the point that there was no longer space for scholars who are more oriented toward academics than politics—“Isn’t there still room in our organization for the folks who just want to study Emerson and Hawthorne?” he asked, not because he’s a political reactionary, but because he would like our organization to welcome everyone interested in American culture. He said that for the majority of awards announced at the awards ceremony (which I did not attend), people were commended on how their work would further social justice (which we both agreed is important), but hardly anyone was commended simply for the outstanding quality of their scholarship.

All of this was swirling in my head after the open forum on the boycott on Saturday night, and I wound up feeling compelled to write a statement to the ASA Council, especially given the fact that I had at the last minute added a slip of paper to the box containing names of people who wished to speak at the forum, and my name was not called. Below, verbatim, is the letter that I sent to the ASA Council; I like to think that maybe it had something to do with the statement in the final resolution condemning anti-Semitism.

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