Grad Research: Ph.D. students Kerry Knerr and Elissa Underwood inaugural recipients of Les Dames D’Escoffier, Dallas Chapter Endowed Presidential Fellowships in American Studies

Steve Hoelscher; Mary Kimbrough*, Susan Auler*, Kerry Knerr, Elissa Underwood, Tracey Evers*, Marvin Bendele (Executive Director, Foodways Texas). * member of Les Dames D’Escoffier, Dallas Chapter

Steve Hoelscher; Mary Kimbrough*, Susan Auler*, Kerry Knerr, Elissa Underwood, Tracey Evers*, Marvin Bendele (Executive Director, Foodways Texas).
* member of Les Dames D’Escoffier, Dallas Chapter

A hearty congratulations to Ph.D. students Kerry Knerr and Elissa Underwood, who have been named the 2016 recipients of the Les Dames D’Escoffier, Dallas Chapter Endowed Presidential Fellowships in American Studies. Les Dames D’Escoffier of Dallas have offered their generous support of American Studies graduate scholarship at UT on topics relating to food studies.

Kerry Knerr’s project, “Cocktails, Class, and Conspicuous Consumption in the Progressive Era U.S.,” examines the early history of the American cocktail and its entanglement with American cultural imperialism. The project will build upon her master’s report, “In Search of a Good Drink: Punches, Cocktails, and Imperial Consumption,” currently under review at Global Food History. In it Kerry argues that understanding the material aspects of alcohol consumption (what people are doing), through close readings of recipe collections and material cultures of public and home bars, can ground otherwise nebulous discourses (what people are saying) of social movements, gender politics, or class formation. Kerry will conduct research at the National Food and Beverage Foundation in New Orleans, which houses both the Southern Food and Beverage Museum and the Museum of the American Cocktail. There she will analyze menus, published cookbooks or bar manuals, private recipe collections, newspaper clippings, and photographs.

Elissa Underwood’s project, “Women and Food in Carceral Spaces,” will explore women’s understandings of and experiences with food and foodways, including specific nutritional needs and distinct relationships with food, during and after incarceration by conducting oral histories with formerly incarcerated women in Texas. Elissa will interview women working and learning or perfecting skills in food-based industries, as well as women who have started their own food-based companies or non-profit organizations specifically aimed at combating recidivism and/or preventing incarceration.

The winners were announced at this year’s Foodways Texas conference, an organization now housed in the Department of American Studies. For more on the conference, check out this very in-depth, fascinating recap of the weekend of festivities.

Alumni Voices: Robin O’Sullivan’s American Organic

Robin head shot 2015UT AMS grad Robin O’Sullivan recently published American Organic: A Cultural History of Farming, Gardening, Shopping and Eating, about the history of the organic movement in the United States. AMS grad student Kerry Knerr spoke to her last week.

Can you tell us a little bit about your book American Organic, and how you came to the project?

It’s a cultural history of the organic food and farming movement, which first elicited my interest after I happened to visit the homestead of Helen and Scott Nearing in Harborside, Maine (when I was living up there in Portland). As I began to research the history of homesteading, I learned more about the organic movement, which was related but also distinct.

What projects or people have inspired your work?

The Nearings, certainly; and the major player in the organic farming movement was J.I. Rodale, who began farming in Pennsylvania in the 1940s and subsequently developed a media empire that publicized the organic movement.

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

It’s relevant to work in environmental and agricultural history, consumer studies, food studies, and, of course, American Studies.

How is this work you’re doing now, as a scholar, teacher or both, informed by the work you did as an American Studies student at UT?

At UT-Austin, four talented professors served on my dissertation committee: Jeff Meikle, Janet Davis, Steve Hoelscher, and Elizabeth Engelhardt. All four have written books that served as models for mine, and all four were delightful to work with.

Do you have any advice for students in our department about how to get the most out of their experience at UT?

I’m sure the students already know how fortunate they are to be surrounded by such stellar faculty members!

What projects are you excited to work on in the future?

My next project will be an analysis of “techno-natural” phenomena, with a particular focus on its manifestations in 19th century literature.

Grad Research: Eric Covey’s Intro AMS course creates photography Tumblr

It should come as no surprise that our department takes digital and new media very seriously. Many of our professors and instructors have integrated online tools into their research and in their teaching with fascinating and wonderful results. So, needless to say, we’re thrilled to share with you a photography project that emerged out of recent Ph.D. graduate Eric Covey’s summer introductory American Studies course, which centered on foodways in America.

Here’s what Eric had to say about the project in a blog post, the full text of which is available here:

This time around I decided to slightly refocus the course—engaging more closely with the field of American studies that has been my intellectual home for a decade now— but to still maintain an emphasis on US foodways. I would draw from many of my previous lectures, but each day’s class (this was a small lecture with about 40 students) would begin with a discussion of a selected keyword from  editors Bruce Burgett and Glenn Hendler’s collection of Keywords for American Cultural Studies (2007). The resulting course would be dubbed “Introduction to American Studies: Keywords and Key Foods.”

In practical terms, what this meant was that when I lectured about rice in West Africa and the Stono Uprising in South Carolina, students came to class having read African (Kevin Gaines). And when I lectured on barbecue and cotton culture in Central Texas, they read Region (Sandra A. Zagarell). Since this was a summer course, additional reading beyond keywords was light. Students read William Cronon’s “Seasons of Want and Plenty” from Changes in the Land alongside Colonial (David Kazanjian) the day I lectured on maize. My lecture on bananas was prefaced by Cynthia Enloe’s “Carmen Miranda on My Mind” from Bananas, Beaches and Bases and Empire (Shelley Streeby). I explained to students on the first day of class that what I expected was for them to develop a vocabulary that they could use in a variety of settings.

Of course I also expected them to demonstrate some mastery of this vocabulary in their coursework. Three exams asked students to identify material from the class and explain its significance using the language ofKeywords. I also assigned a photo project that required them to take a photo of a local food site and write a brief caption (450-900 words, also drawing on Keywords) to accompany the photo. These photos and captions were posted to a collective Tumblr at When I initially described the project to my students, I suggested two approaches they might take: first, they could show how their photo illustrated a particular keyword; Or, second, they might use one of the keywords to analyze the photo. On the due date, students e-mailed me their photo and caption. Because Tumblr is mostly user friendly, it only took me a few hours to upload all the images and uniformly-formatted text.

Foodways TX: Dispatches from the Annual Foodways TX Symposium

Image by Kelly Yandell

Image by Kelly Yandell

Last week, College Station played host to Foodways Texas’s Annual Symposium, centering on the theme “Farm to Market 2014.” In case you missed it – and we hope that this will serve as a call for you folks to attend the next! – enjoy this fascinating and detailed write-up of the symposium from Kelly Yandell. We’ve pasted an excerpt below that explains what the symposium offers; the full post detailing some of the conversations that occurred (and some more of her wonderful photos) can be found here.

We meet yearly in support of a greater academic archiving project run through the University of Texas to document the diverse cultures of Texas. In fact, Foodways Texas just became a permanent part of UT’s American Studies Department. The panels, talks, and discussions this year were centered on the topic of agriculture at the aptly titled Farm to Market 2014: 4th Annual Foodways Texas Symposium. This alone would have been enough to hold my attention for two days. And, the meals at the symposium would have been enough to justify the cost of admission had there been no discussions at all.

But the enduring draw of this event is the fascinating group of people that it brings together.  We are scholars, writers, farmers, ranchers, chefs, food lovers, entrepreneurs, photographers, scientists, and all manner of other professionals and people who simply love Texas, Texas food and foodways, and Texas history and cultures. This is not to say by any means that we all share the same point of view on some of these thorny agricultural topics.  In fact, with a group this diverse it is virtually guaranteed that our interests, backgrounds, and opinions will diverge. But the very convivial nature of the gathering ensures that we all seek each other out and use it as an opportunity to think, more so than to merely form opinions. The time limitations and the number of topics covered mean that we barely scratch the surface of the topics we approach; however, for many of us it is the first time we have ever considered the lives and businesses of some of our peers.

Announcement: Foodways Texas Joins UT AMS!

American Studies is happy to announce the recent addition of Foodways Texas to our department! As many of you know, Foodways Texas and AMS have worked together for a few years now. AMS Ph.D. candidate Marvin Bendele is the Foodways Texas executive director, and our very own Elizabeth Engelhardt serves on their executive board.

foodways logo

Foodways Texas is an organization founded by scholars, chefs, journalists, restaurateurs, farmers, ranchers, and other citizens of the state of Texas who have made it their mission to preserve, promote and celebrate the diverse food cultures of Texas. By joining and supporting Foodways Texas, you become part of a movement to preserve the vibrant foodways of Texas through oral history projects, documentary films, recipe collections, and scholarly research. Foodways Texas highlights the state’s distinctive foods and food cultures at their annual symposium, supporting educational food-based seminars, promoting local food networks, and partnering with universities and other non-profit organizations to educate future generations about Texas food histories, cultures, and emerging trends.

They have also worked closely with other centers on campus, like the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, which houses their oral history archive–a growing collection of oral histories, documentary footage, menus, advertisements, cookbooks, and other ephemera from farmers, ranchers, chefs, pitmasters, and restaurant owners from around the state. Several of the interviews were done by members of the AMS community, and they are available online here. Foodways Texas has already released four short documentaries and will show new films at the upcoming conference.

This year’s symposium, Farm to Market 2014, will be held from March 20 to 22 in College Station. Scholars and professionals will gather to discuss Texas crops, the history of Texas markets, urban farming, and farm labor, among other topics; as well as eat some very delicious and educational food. Foodways Texas also holds biannual barbecue camps in College Station in January and June of each year. Unfortunately, June’s upcoming camp is already sold out. As we all know, Austin judges barbecue by length of wait-time, making the barbecue camp the greatest in the state.

In honor of our new addition, go forth and snack!

Graduate Research: Natalie Zelt Curates Exhibition at the Houston Center for Photography

Houston Center For Photography

Second-year graduate student Natalie Zelt has curated an exhibition at the Houston Center for Photography that opens Friday, November 22, and runs through January 12. Her exhibition is called “See Food: Contemporary Photography and the Ways We Eat” and features the work of more than ten contemporary photographers.

The following is Zelt’s curatorial statement that accompanies the exhibition:

Our appetite for food imagery is voracious. The popularity of cooking programs, foodie blogs, and pictures of food on social media reflects some of the ways our current encounters with food and food issues have become increasingly visual. Food trucks, farmers markets, and community gardens have redesigned the urban food-scape. When mediated through the lens of a camera, our cultural relationship with food is transformed into a complex single-sensory engagement that is guided by sight but charged with personal, political, and sensual associations. The eleven artists in See Food experiment with this visual investment in the power of food by exploring both its formal qualities and its cultural relevance.

Mark Menjivar, Emily Peacock, and Emily Sloan look to food as a raw expression of identity and personal taste, while others, such as Jonathan Blaustein and Nolan Calisch, use food to challenge the current modes and costs of industrial production and suggest alternative commercial models.  By fusing food to plate, Damaris Booth’s ceramic sculptures play with the ephemeral nature of leftovers and consider how quickly a desired dish becomes refuse.  In Andrzej Maciejewski‘s modern take on sixteenth-century Flemish paintings, fruits and vegetables are catalogued, certified, and labeled to adhere to a standardized definition of nature. These artists create images that are both still lifes and portraits, indicative of their individual experiences and engagements with the meaning of food today.

For Nolan Calisch, David Welch, Christin Boggs, and Corey Arnold, the camera records a tactile encounter with food, either on the farm, in the field, or at sea, while Jody Horton uses cookbooks and narrative forms to highlight contemporary means of hunting and gathering. More documentary in approach, these photographers illustrate a growing cultural interest in knowing food at its source.

All of these artworks highlight a uniquely visual relationship with food, reflecting a variety of ways photographs inform how we picture food and see ourselves.

If you find yourself in or near Houston on Friday, November 22 or Saturday, November 23, make sure to check out the Houston Center for Photography and hear Natalie speak about the exhibition. Here is a list of event related to the show:

Opening Reception: Friday, November 22nd from 6-8pm
Curator’s Remarks: Friday, November 22nd at 5:30pm
Roundtable Discussion: Saturday, November 23rd at 12pm

Stories from Summer Vacation: Natalie Zelt’s Refreshing Break

Here’s a note from Natalie Zelt about spending her summer enjoying Austin’s pools and some time away from the city, too:

After surviving the first year of graduate school, I have spent my summer away from campus in a state of rebellious delight. Beginning in May, I devoted hours looking at images of and about food while curating an exhibition for the Houston Center for Photography titled See Food: Contemporary Photography and the Ways We Eat which opens this November. Over the past few months, I’ve worked with an array of photographers, including one who spends the summer months salmon fishing, another who runs a farm featured in Portlandia.

I also swam as often as I could, making the most of Austin’s free public pools.  Swimming early in the morning was a great way to get to know some real characters in Austin. The rhythm of swimming laps proved soothing and revitalizing, as I compared the tiled bottom of my beloved Dottie Jordan pool to the shockingly large fish and underwater plants in Barton Springs.  This may not come as a much of a surprise to anyone else, but it turns out that swimming is an unbelievable way to decompress and stay cool in Austin.

Another way to beat the heat is to get out of town. I just got back from a whirlwind research trip to Chicago.  If you are interested in learning more about the history of radical initiatives that link art and community, Chicago turns out to be an incredible town to check out. While there, I visited the Jane Addams Hull House where the staff literally opened their desks to share their working files on the settlement house’s art lending library and the Butler Art Gallery.


I also explored the history of the Chicago Society for Art in Public Schools and the Art Resources in Teaching programs at the University of Illinois Chicago. In the Ryerson Archives at the Art Institute, I learned about some pretty formidable efforts to bring art to the farming communities around Chicago in the 1920s. And I also heard about a number of current programs, such as CSA’s (or Community Supported Art), that connect contemporary artists and the community.  Prior to my trip to Chicago, I ventured up to Boston where I managed to coerce my younger brother into crashing a bridal shower dressed in full Colonial-era garb and to read Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “Paul Revere’s Ride.” Much to my unabashed glee, the bride was mortified and the crowd loved it!

The rest of the summer was spent with my puppy Scout as she recovered from two leg surgeries.


Aside from becoming acquainted with puppy orthopedics and the wonders of Austin, this summer allowed me to explore a many of the interests born out of first-year seminars at my own pace. My work on See Food and my research in Chicago were both great ways to allow my first-year of graduate study to grow and have gotten me pretty pumped about the fall.