Announcement: Lauren Gutterman gives talk on lesbian sexuality in postwar America this Monday

This coming Monday, February 23Lauren Gutterman will give a lecture here in the Department of American Studies at UT. Gutterman is a Postdoctoral Scholar in the Society of Fellows and an Assistant Professor of Women’s Studies at the University of Michigan. Her talk is titled, “Her Neighbor’s Wife: Lesbian Sexuality, Marriage, and the Household in Postwar America,” and it will take place at 4:30pm in Burdine 436A.


Here’s what Gutterman has to say about her upcoming talk:

Most scholarship on lesbian history in the postwar United States has focused on unmarried women and portrayed the urban gay bar as the center of lesbian life. While there is ample evidence that married men were able to engage in homosexual sex in this period, historians have tended to assume that married women had little opportunity to act on their same-sex desires. This presentation will demonstrate that wives could and did engage in lesbian affairs at midcentury by making use of the seemingly straight spaces within which their lives were circumscribed, and by negotiating unconventional arrangements with their husbands. Ultimately, this talk argues that the spaces, routines, and structures of heterosexual normalcy enabled married women’s same-sex affairs. In the broadest terms, it demonstrates the potential for queerness within the very heart of the normal.

Announcement: Ramzi Fawaz gives lecture on queer artistic responses to the AIDS crisis

This coming Monday, Ramzi Fawaz will give a talk called, “The Visceral States of America: Queer Cultural Production and the Digestive Life of AIDS.” Fawaz visited UT last year and we sat down and interviewed him right here on AMS::ATX. Fawaz is Assistant Professor in the Department of English at The University of Wisconsin in Madison. The talk will take place at 4:30pm on Monday, February 16, in Burdine 436A.


Fawaz sent us the following description of his talk:

This talk explores how queer cultural producers in the late 1980s deployed viscerally charged language around the digestive dysfunctions of AIDS to galvanize a political response to the disease and its social effects. I coin the phrase “the digestive politics and poetics of AIDS” to describe writers’ and artists’ use of metaphors that linked the digestive dysfunctions associated with HIV/AIDS to a political aversion, or disgust, for the state of American politics at the height of the AIDS epidemic. Specifically, I develop a close reading of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America that examines how the play’s linguistic and performative engagement with alimentary processes (ingestion, defecation, and excretion) worked to rearticulate public culture’s disgust with the dying bodies of AIDS victims to a disgust with government neglect. I argue that the play’s affective investment in the gut as a site for intuiting one’s response to American political life helped imagine a new form of liberal politics attuned to bodily vulnerability, disease, and disability as the wellspring for new kinds of ethical responses to both the biomedical and social consequences of AIDS. Ultimately, I show how this project resonated with an array of contemporaneous queer literary, artistic, and visual responses to the AIDS crisis that collectively forged a powerful visceral rhetoric intended to have political results.

“I cherish my bile duct almost as much as any other organ. I take good care of it. I make sure it gets its daily vitamins and antioxidants and invigorating exposure to news of … everyone working for the Bush family.”

– Tony Kushner, speech to the graduating class of Bard College (2005)

Announcement: Stephen Vider gives talk on “queering domesticity” this Monday

Our series of talks continue in the Department of American Studies here at UT with a talk by Stephen Vider titled, “Interior Relations: Queering Domesticity and Belonging After World War II.” Vider is the Cassius Marcellus Clay Fellow in the History of Sexuality at Yale University, and he recently won the Crompton-Noll Award from the GL/Q Caucus of the Modern Language Association for best essay in lesbian, gay, and queer studies for his article, “‘Oh Hell, May, Why Don’t You People Have a Cookbook?’: Camp Humor and Gay Domesticity,” which appeared in the December 2013 issue of American Quarterly. Vider’s talk will take place on Monday, February 9 at 4:30pm in Burdine 436A.

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Vider had the following to saw about his upcoming talk:

In the decades after World War II, gay men were typically represented as quintessential outsiders to the American home – a view reinforced by historians both of the home and family, and of LGBT culture. This talk examines the various ways gay men challenged and adapted conventional domestic practices to reshape norms of intimate, communal, and national belonging, from 1945 to the present. From “homosexual marriages” in the 1950s, to gay communes in the 1970s, gay domesticity emerged as a central site of a broader tension between cultural integration and resistance, revealing the normative constraints and creative possibilities of home-making and affiliation.

5 Questions with Dr. Mark Smith

Today we are pleased to present the next in our series of interviews with American Studies faculty and affiliate faculty members: 5 Questions. We recently sat down with Dr. Mark Smith, whose research interests include the history of social science and the cultural history of alcohol and drugs.


1. What was your favorite project to work on and why?

I’m sure my answer’s going to be a little bit different from the other people who I think would talk about their research projects, but I think I’d really like to talk about the teaching that I’ve done around the issue of alcohol and drugs, which is something I just chanced into. In fact, I started working at a drug and alcohol treatment center, and I realized that there was a lack of historical and sociological background to see where that stood, particularly where it stood in the issue of cultural history. And what I’ve done is I’ve been able to give a series of classes to different people that deal with the issue of drugs in various permutations. Someone once told me that in scholarship, the question is whether you do more and more about less and less, that is, your focus becomes wider and wider; or whether you do more about less and less. The second is clearly what you do when you write books. Teaching gives the opportunity to do the former. I’ve taught three classes. I taught the original class, a seminar in the American cultural history of alcohol and drugs, and I’ve taught that primarily as an upper division undergraduate class. And I’ve also taught an upper division class for Plan 2 which treats the issue from a public policy standpoint, and now I’m teaching an undergraduate class on alcohol and drugs from an international standpoint, pointing out the fact that alcohol has been handled differently in places like Sweden and Finland and Africa.

2. How do you see your work fitting in with broader conversations in academia and beyond?

You know, if you asked me ten years ago, I’d have a very clear answer for that. I deal in cultural history; I believe that I was the second person who taught both parts of the cultural history survey. My perspective is always to provide a general overview on the issues involved. I’ve always done that, that’s always been my interest. I was one of the first people to teach Introduction to American Studies. But my feeling is not to plunge myself into a topic- and maybe not even come out- my interest is providing a background so that people in important contemporary fields like Gender Studies or Queer Studies can have background and context. To that extent, I think I’m very much rooted not only in these issues that are coming up today, but those issues that have come up in the past and hopefully the future as well.

3. What projects or people have inspired your work?

Within alcohol studies, probably the best books that I know are W. J. Rorabaugh’s The Alcoholic Republic, and then recently, on Prohibition, Daniel Okrent came up with a book called The Last Call. I think those have really been useful. Clearly, Neil Sheehan’s A Bright Shining Lie, about Vietnam, and Frances FitzGerald’s book Fire in the Lake have been books that really had a lot to do with my understanding of the kind of world that I had grown up in. More recently, George Chauncey’s Gay New York, a work that you might think would be narrowly focused but instead tells you a lot more than you think it ever could. There are many amazing works on slavery, but the one that first opened my eyes at a very unprogressive time was Kenneth Stampp’s Peculiar Institution.  And then sometimes there are books where you think you’re not going to be interested in the topic at all and you’re surprised. There’s a man who died much too young by the name of Roland Marchand who wrote a book called Advertising the American Dream. This is one of the big books, ambitious books, books that you just look at and go, “Wow, this is amazing!” and you’re reading them and you’re taking notes and you do that for two whole days. I think that’s why a lot of graduate students have a “fear and loathing,” to use Hunter Thompson, in reference to the whole concept of the comprehensive exam fields. And to me, maybe that was my greatest scholarly experience in a way. Not only because you have a sense of accomplishment, but because you wind up reading books that you would never read. If you were just interested in alcohol and drugs, you would never read Marchand’s book. And that’s just a sampling of the books that have influenced me.

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Announcement: Patrick Jagoda to deliver talk, “On Difficulty in Video Games: Mechanics, Interpretation, Affect”

We’re excited to announce the first in a series of four talks here in the Department of American Studies at UT Austin. Patrick Jagoda, Assistant Professor in the Department of English at the University of Chicago, Co-editor of Critical Inquiry and Co-founder of Game Changer Chicago Design Lab, will be giving a talk called, “On Difficulty in Video Games: Mechanics, Interpretation, Affect” at 4:30pm on Monday, February 2, in Burdine 436A. Jagoda has been with us this year at UT as a Harrington Fellow, and we sat down with him a while back for an interview, which you can check out here.

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Here’s a description of the talk from Jagoda:

In a 1978 essay, literary critic George Steiner observes that a sense of difficulty in poetry became a major aspect of aesthetic experience in the late nineteenth century and extended, by the twentieth century, to new forms of visual and aural expression. This talk takes up videogames as a crucial medium for making sense of aesthetic difficulty in our time. As a way of mapping the cultural stakes of videogames to the early twenty-first century, I examine three types of challenge that games generate: mechanical, interpretive, and affective difficulty. All three forms of difficulty demand continued analysis, but I argue especially for the importance of attending to the third category of demanding affects and emotions. New media scholarship is already becoming more adept at accounting for elements such as aesthetics, interactivity, software, platforms, and media history. It has not yet done justice, however, to the complicated ways that digital media, and games in particular, generate and alter affects. This talk posits that the types of experiences that register as difficult within cultural consciousness, as they do in a variety of unique ways in the context of gameplay, can help animate the values of contemporary American media and their effects on the sensorium. A fuller sense of affect in videogames is necessary to better understand the ways that games serve as unique ideological forms — and might also structure, limit, and even enable more complex practices of play in the United States.

Announcement: Dr. Julia Mickenberg gives talk on American artists in Soviet Russia

This Friday, January 30, our very own Dr. Julia Mickenberg will share her work with the Modern Studies group at UT Austin in a talk titled, “Missions to Moscow: Vision and Veracity in Margaret Bourke-White and Lillian Hellman’s Wartime Portraits of Soviet Russia.”


Dr. Mickenberg had the following to say about her talk:

 My talk will discuss photojournalism, memoirs, radio documentaries, unpublished writings, and screenplays by Margaret Bourke White and Lillian Hellman concerning the Russian front during World War II, particularly Hellman’s screenplay for North Star (the highest-grossing wartime film about Russia) and Bourke White’s photo-memoir, Shooting the Russian War. Both women were core actors in the Popular Front, and both have attracted intense interest as historical figures. Both were criticized by prominent members of the anti-Stalinist Left for their politics and for their apparent dishonesty, lack of integrity, and/or opportunism. Through archival and textual analysis I’ll use World War II as a framework and Bourke-White and Hellman as  lenses for considering the way in which World War II temporarily revived and also predicted the un-sustainability of a Soviet-influenced left-feminism in the United States.

The event will take place in Battle Hall 1.101 at 1:30pm. Hope to see y’all there!

Announcement: Dr. Steve Hoelscher gives keynote lecture on photographer Elliott Erwitt

Last week, Dr. Steve Holescher presented a keynote lecture at the Boca Raton Museum of Art’s new exhibition of the photographs of Elliott Erwitt. Dr. Hoelscher also wrote the exhibition catalogue for the Erwitt show, which you can check out here.
New York City, 1974. ©Elliott Erwitt/Magnum Photos

New York City, 1974. ©Elliott Erwitt/Magnum Photos

The following information on the photographer and exhibition comes to us from the Boca Raton Museum of Art:

Elliott Erwitt is a renowned documentary photographer who melds substance and enchantment into his work. This exhibition features over 80 images hand selected by the artist himself.

Born in Paris, Erwitt and his family fled Europe for the United States at the onset of World War II. Iconic images by Mr. Erwitt include John F. Kennedy, Che Guevara, and Marilyn Monroe with the skirt of her white dress wafting around her legs as she posed over a New York City subway grate. His spectacular sense of humor and joy is evident in his work that captures quotidian life in urban surroundings.