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.

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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Five Questions with Rebecca Rossen

Today we’re pleased to feature an interview with another one of our incredible affiliate faculty members, Dr. Rebecca Rossen, professor of dance history in the Department of Theatre & Dance and Performance as Public Practice. Dr. Rossen has just published her first book, Dancing Jewish: Jewish Identity in American Modern and Postmodern Dance (Oxford). We recently sat down with her to talk about her scholarly and artistic background, her new book, and her future research and teaching.


What is your scholarly background and how does it motivate your current research?

Before I was a scholar I was a dancer and choreographer in Chicago. I did that for the decade after I graduated from college, my entire 20s. I went to graduate school to get a PhD, expecting to continue on making dance, but the experience ended up transforming me into a historian. I would say that as a scholar I’m a dance historian whose work focuses on identity, ethnicity, and gender representations in performance. Methodologically, I bring together my work as a dance historian with my experience as a performer. Those two threads are not only present in my research but are also present in the classes that I teach and how I teach them.

What has been your favorite project to work on so far?

As a scholar I’ve worked on one main project (with multiple side projects) for a really long time, which started as a dissertation–as many of our projects do–14 years ago. It was finally birthed as a book last spring. It’s both my favorite project as well as something that I have sometimes referred to as “the beast” because it was the project. Dancing Jewish has been an extremely involving endeavor. The book looks at how American Jewish choreographers, working in modern and postmodern dance, represent their Jewishness. I show how, over a 75-year period, dance allowed American Jews to grapple with issues like identity, difference, assimilation, and pride.

What projects are you excited about working on in the future?

Dancing Jewish considers various themes that are repeated in dances over time, like nostalgic depictions of Eastern European Jews or biblical heroism as a response to World War II or Jewish humor and stock characters. Because the book focuses solely on Jewish-American performances, it’s definitely an American Studies book. I’m interested in the next book in looking at representations of the Holocaust in performance, not focusing solely on American artists but including European and Israeli artists, and not just focusing on Jewish artists but also including non-Jewish artists who have responded to the Holocaust in interesting ways. The next project is a natural extension of the first one but takes a more global perspective and moves beyond considering just the work of Jewish artists.

How do you see your work fitting into broader conversation in dance history or American Studies?

Dancing Jewish is certainly an American Studies book, because when you are talking about Jewishness in America, you are talking about how a group of people balanced a very specific ethnic identity with their Americanness, which generally–especially in the earlier part of the century–was conceived as not-Jewish. There are some very interesting tensions that get worked out in these dances between Jewishness and Americanness and how choreographers are choreographically trying to balance these identities or converge them. It is ultimately a book about American identity with a specific lens looking at Jewish identity. But it is also a work of Dance Studies, so if you are interested in dance and performance, it’s a book that considers how identities are performed physically. Because of that, and because of my background as an artist, I think one of the contributions it makes is its use of embodied scholarship. I spent a lot of time in the archive, I did dozens of interviews, and there is analysis of photographic and video evidence and live performance. But I also use embodied methodologies, which means that at points in my research, I had physical and creative dialogues with my subjects. For example, I asked two of my subjects to “make me a Jewish dance,” and even though I didn’t have any money and they didn’t yet know me, they said okay. That process was a very interesting entre into my understanding of their work, because I didn’t just learn about their products on stage, but I also learned something about their processes and what Jewishness meant to them.

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Five Questions with Dr. Phillip Barrish


Today we continue our ever-popular series, 5 Questions, where we sit down with American Studies faculty and affiliate faculty members to chat about their research and teaching. Today we bring you an interview with Dr. Phillip Barrish, Professor of English and author of The Cambridge Introduction to American Literary Realism (Cambridge UP, 2011).

What has been your favorite project to work on and why?

Luckily for me, my favorite project is the one I am working on right now, which has to do with the medical humanities. More specifically, I’m interested in what I’m calling the Healthcare Policy Humanities, or the Healthcare Humanities. A lot of work by literature scholars in the medical humanities has focused on representations of doctors, patients, and the illness experience, as well as on narrative medicine, which has to do with the stories patients tell doctors and the stories doctors tell patients—that is, the patient-doctor interface. I’m really interested in how literature and narrative relate to what could be called the political economy of healthcare, that is, for example the kinds of issues we are grappling with now around Obamacare and the healthcare crisis in our country. How has literature reflected, directly or indirectly, on questions such as who pays for healthcare, who has access to what kinds of healthcare, what is the role of government in providing healthcare? What role do stories, language, and metaphor play in the dynamics of how institutions, individuals, practices, and professional modes messily intersect to produce a healthcare system.

There are plenty of excellent books by historians, sociologists, political scientists, and economists about the historical evolution and current state of the U.S. healthcare system, but I want to look at those issues through a literary lens. (I’m an Americanist so it’s the U.S. context that most interests me, at least for now.) For example, I have an article in the most recent issue of the journal American Literature called “The Sticky Web of Medical Professionalism: Robert Herrick’s The Web of Life and the Political Economy of Healthcare at the Turn of the Century.” I’m currently in the early stages of researching an article/book chapter provisionally called “Healthcare Policy and Dystopian Fiction.” Here I’m less interested in dystopian works that extrapolate from the often disturbing implications of cutting-edge developments in medical technology, many of which have to do with reproduction: genetic engineering, cloning, surrogate pregnancy, but also such things as new organ-transplant technology. As fascinating and disturbing as such literature often is, I want to focus on a related but different aspect of dystopian medical imagining—dystopian literature and films that focus at least as much on the seemingly more quotidian issues of healthcare access, distribution, and funding. Two great recent examples are the 2013 movie Elysium, directed by Neill Blomkamp and starring Matt Damon and Jodie Foster, and Chang-Rae Lee’s 2014 novel, On Such a Full Sea. If anyone reading this interview has additional ideas for texts, I’d love to hear them!

How do you see your work fitting in with broader conversations within and outside of academia?

Throughout my career, I’ve tried to be conscious of how my scholarly work might speak to issues, tensions, and problems that are important to us today. I think this dialogue is clearest in my current project, because the question of healthcare’s political economy is one that obviously a lot of people are thinking about and debating. Indeed, elections may turn on it.

What kinds of projects or people have inspired your work?

I went to graduate school in the early 1980s at Cornell, which was known for having a theory-heavy English department. I was fascinated by post-structuralism and by the emphasis placed by post-structuralist literary critics on close reading, which I had come to from a more old-fashioned training in college in formalist close reading. Some of the early people who inspired me in graduate school would be Barbara Johnson at Harvard, who died tragically several years ago from cancer, and Jonathan Culler and Mark Seltzer at Cornell. Since then I’ve not gone against my training, because post-structuralism still informs my own thinking and reading practices, often in subtle ways, but I’ve extended my graduate student training into looking at literature in its relation to other discourses and practices in our society. Among American Studies scholars, for example, I love the work of Janice Radway, whom I was able to take classes with as an undergraduate. Not untypically for scholars of my and subsequent generations, I’ve been inspired by feminism, critical race studies, new historicism, cultural studies, queer studies, and affect studies.

What is your scholarly background and how does that background motivate your teaching and research now?

I grew up in a New York City, middle class, third generation Jewish immigrant family. When I was in college and even my first couple years of graduate school, a lot of my favorite texts were British. For a long time I thought about working in nineteenth-century British literature. But I had a feeling then that I wanted to be able to address the kinds of issues and problems American writers were dealing with in the U.S. context. Ultimately, I went into academia because I felt I was better at it than I was at some other things. I thought I’d go to graduate school for a few years and see if I liked it. I did like it, and here I am.

What projects are you excited about working on in the future?

It’s always hard for me to think beyond my current project, especially when I’m still in the early stages. My mind is so full of different directions in which I might take my current work. So I’m going to have to defer answering that question. Ask me in a couple of years.

In one sentence, what is American Studies to you?

American Studies means, to me, mutually stimulating disciplinary approaches to issues and histories I care about.

Phillip Barrish is the author of American Literary Realism, Critical Theory, and Intellectual Prestige, 1880-1995 (Cambridge UP, 2001), White Liberal Identity, Literary Pedagogy, and Classic American Realism (Ohio State UP, 2005), and The Cambridge Introduction to American Literary Realism (Cambridge UP, 2011). His current research explores fictional representations of health-care systems in the United States from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Faculty Research: Interview with Dr. Nicole Guidotti-Hernández


dr.g-h In honor of her recent appointment as the inaugural chair of the Department of Mexican American and Latina/o Studies at UT (MALS), we sat down with Dr. Nicole Guidotti-Hernández to talk about the founding and future of MALS, the unique features of the program, and what Latina/o Studies contributes to scholarship and the community more broadly.

Tell us a little bit about the history of the Center for Mexican American Studies and the founding of the Mexican American and Latina/o Studies department. What do you think is important about the work of the Center and Department at UT and beyond?

These two questions are actually connected. The Center for Mexican American Studies was founded in 1970 under the leadership of Americo Paredes, who was a public folklorist and conducted interdisciplinary anthropological work. He was a student at UT and trained with J. Frank Dobie, one of the most renowned American folklorists. Another really important person who was here was Jovita González, the first woman to be the president of the Texas Folklore Society. When the Center was founded, the mission was to serve the community through intellectual work, so one of the reasons we are doing all the press about the new department is because we feel we are not just an academic unit but that we have a political and social obligation to communities of interest here in Austin, in Texas, and nationally. When I say “the community” I don’t just mean Mexican American or Latina/o communities but wonder instead, what is the responsibility of this department in preparing the state of Texas and the nation for dealing with the exploding Latina/o demographic.

I actually think that we have a real opportunity to show that academic departments can help set the stage and problem solve for questions that emerge on the political scene. I’m not saying we have all the answers or that we should be writing policy, but why can’t research and teaching inform public debate? Also, why can’t the students we train be the people that end up becoming those key decision makers? One of the things I’ve been stressing in a lot of recent interviews is the value of the degree in terms of training students to be Latina/o professionals. I told a journalist that we’re not here to teach people to be Latina/o, that’s something they learn how to do on their own. This major, this degree, this program, its emergence as Mexican American and Latina/o Studies, is a recognition of the historic Mexican American population in the state of Texas, of newly emerging Latina/o populations from Central and South American and the Caribbean, and also a recognition of their long term histories. For example, there’s a Puerto Rican community in San Antonio–why? Because of military bases. We can link that back to the Jones–Shafroth Act of 1917, where Puerto Ricans were given citizenship and could join the U.S. military to fight in World War I. That’s why we have a Puerto Rican community in San Antonio, because of militarization. There are direct correlates between Latina/o migration and historic population and U.S. foreign policy that I think we need to pay attention to. At some level, it is the political, social, and intellectual responsibility of the department to account for these histories. What we can do is provide students a stellar UT education but also give them the additional bonus by teaching them how to be ethical, how to recognize cultural difference so they can be responsible professionals no matter what they’re doing. That’s where I see the relationship between the MALS department’s public mission and the long-term history of the Center being linked.

The thing MALS brings to the table that is different than, say, an area studies model of Latin America where you study Mexico or Chile or the Dominican Republic is that we’re interested in the diaspora question, the transit between there and here, “here” being the U.S. What happens here with those populations when, for example, Central Americans live next to historic Mexican American populations or African American population?. How do we account for these social relations? That’s what Latina/o Studies helps us do as a nation.

How do you see the MALS department growing in terms of research and teaching?

We have six faculty now. When we arrive at the optimum number it will be between ten and twelve, very similar to the size of the American Studies department. We’ll have a Ph.D. program, because you can’t have a research department without a Ph.D. program. One of the things we’re interested in is training students in a core discipline as well as the interdisciplinary field. For example, you could do Latina/o Studies and History, or Latina/o Studies and Psychology, or Latina/o Studies and American Studies. What that does is it gives a student formal interdisciplinary training in their field, and it also gives them a foot in a traditional discipline. I think that more and more it becomes critical to make sure students have as many advantages as possible for an ever-shrinking job market, and if we can provide two different kinds of training that are related to each other, then I think our students are going to fare better. The other thing I would say is that we are going to have small cohorts so that we can support our students better monetarily. What that means is that our students will be taking classes in departments like American Studies, like History, like English as a part of their training. On some level, what we’re doing is building on core disciplinary strengths across the university at the same time that we’re establishing our own individual research program that focuses on Latina/os but with interdisciplinary, qualitative, and quantitative methods.

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Alumni Voices: Carly Kocurek

Back on September 12 here at UT, the department hosted a great talk by one of our recent graduates, Dr. Carly Kocurek, who discussed “What We Talk About When We Talk About Ms. Pacman.” Before her talk, we sat down with Carly to discuss her current research as well as her time at as a graduate student at UT.


What will you be talking about today?

Today I will be talking about the nostalgia for what gets called the golden era of the video game arcade, which I position roughly between 1972 to 1985 (there’s some wiggle room in there). There’s been a real vogue for new arcades and archiving projects both formal and informal, so I’m talking about that, but I’m also talking about what’s at stake in this resurgence of interest in arcades, and what people are actually trying to preserve or longing for when we they talk about a kind of arcade that many of us didn’t experience firsthand. I’m positioning all of this within the context of the current culture wars of gaming.

How did you get interested in this topic? Is it part of a larger project?

I’m wrapping up my book, which doesn’t yet have a title (that’s the last thing that happens in that process), but it’s about the classic arcade and the creation of the gamer that happens around the classic arcade. Even though that term is used later, from the 1990s forward, there’s already an emerging idea in the 1970s of who plays games. The word “vidiots” is used — there’s actually a little magazine called Vidiots — that was published for what we would now call gamers and was sold through arcades. I got interested in that because I was interested in gender and games and the assumptions about who plays games and why. I wondered, when did we start assuming that women don’t play games, and why did this happen? If we look at media history, especially when we look at how many different media are considered feminized, for example film or television (there’s strongly gendered traditions there that we generally think of as feminine) it appears peculiar that we think of games as being something that is “for boys.” Looking at that early coverage of games, I wondered, what are we saying about games, who are we saying they are for, why are we worried about who games are for? I argue that there are a lot of factors that influence this, including the Cold War and the Space Race and the technological anxieties of the time, as well as the ongoing crisis of masculinity in the U.S. in the twentieth century and especially after World War II. There’s also the story of the coin-op industry itself, which was trying to look respectable and really struggled — still does — with looking respectable. They saw these young, clean-cut men playing games as a good way to stake their claim for respectability, saying, “Look, we’re doing good things for the kids!” But what happened is that we have all these images of boys playing games, which is powerful and narrows down who designers think they are catering to.

There’s something at stake here that is important and needs an intervention, needs to be exposed. I think there’s a lot of good in gaming, even though we often hear about the terrible misogyny and racism in the gaming world. The gaming industry employs a lot of artists and there’s a lot of emphasis on design and teaching social behaviors and imparting important skills which people value and love, and that’s why people are so passionate about gaming. But what does it mean when that is not open to everyone? That is the real question.

How does your work build on what you did as an American Studies graduate student at UT?

This work is an update and expansion of what was at one point the final chapter of my dissertation. It has been a few years, so that work has moved and changed quite a bit in part because of something I started to notice–the recent revival of the classic arcade, with places like Barcade in Brooklyn. I wondered, how come Dave and Buster’s is a place that corporations have events? There’s Pinballz in Austin, which is a really wonderful arcade, and my neighborhood in Chicago has an arcade called Emporium.

This all started when I was working on my dissertation at UT. My original question was, why do we think games are for men and boys? I could ask people why they think that now, but there’s actually a historical process that helps us understand this. It’s not a “natural” occurrence. I was also really interested in what young women are doing with pop culture and how they are responding to and through pop culture.

Do you have any advice for current graduate students about how to get the most out of their time at UT?

For me, it was really important to have a hobby or something that I was spending a lot of time on that didn’t have to do with school. Sometimes that was volunteer work, sometimes it was sports, it just depended. I think it made my writing a lot better, because I spent a lot of time freelancing and blogging and things like that. I also think it’s good to have a backup plan, and that’s not just because the job market is terrible, which I think everyone gets told all the time, but also because you might realize that you want to do something else. I think keeping in mind that you are actually a person and not just a graduate student is really great. When I was going through the death spiral of the job market my last year, I was making a plan for what I might do instead. For me, I would have gotten a game design certificate at ACC and looked for a job in the industry. That’s not the right fit for everyone, but that would have been an okay path for me. We have alumni that teach at really amazing high schools, or run really excellent nonprofits or make documentaries or work for the state department. All kinds of things. Thinking about how you would apply your interests later is a good thing to do.



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!