Stories from Summer Vacation: Irene Garza on the (Incredible!) AMS Graduate Student Library

This story comes to us from Ph.D. student Irene Garza, who has worked with fellow grad student Brendan Gaughen to create the (incredible!) AMS library:

You could say my summer activities began several months ago when H.B. 2281, an Arizona law prohibiting Mexican American and ethnic studies programs in the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) went into effect in January. In February, I helped to organize and participate in a national Read-In Day held at the University of Tejas campus, in solidarity with the No History is Illegal Campaign protesting 2281. Nationwide, students, teachers, community members, bookstore owners, freedom of speech advocates and so on, read aloud from the books banned from TUSD in accordance with 2281.  A significant number of UT-American Studies faculty and students participated, including Prof. Nhi Lieu who read aloud from Ronald Takaki’s A Different Mirror, Prof. Cary Cordova who recited from Jose Antonio Burciaga’s Drink Cultura, Prof. Naomi Paik who shared passages from political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal’s memoir, Live From Death Row and doctoral candidate Jaqueline Smith who gave a fierce performance of James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time. Across the UT campus, students and faculty donated books to the Librotraficante Movement—a Houston based initiative to symbolically smuggle banned books back into Arizona to create “underground community libraries.”

Hearing my mentors and colleagues read from these texts, many of which have shaped their scholarship and pedagogical practices, inspired me to continue an informal project which I began last summer—the creation of an American Studies graduate student library. The idea of a student library grew from my desire to broaden the currents of intellectual exchange between graduate students about their diverse fields of interest. Currently, there are graduate students doing work on co-ops, mercenary violence, transnational adoption, the American prison system, Israeli “pinkwashing”, the national park system, urban gentrification, comic books, and the history of yoga (to name a few). As I felt on the day of the Read-In, the texts we share with each other, including our favorite “AMS Go-To” books, widen our perspectives, challenge us to think more critically about how our personal research interests intersect with others, and offer interesting points of conversation that can sharpen our insights about the field itself.

Of course, the library also has its practical uses, since most of the books will no doubt be accessed for coursework, Orals preparation, and as teaching resources for AI’s. Currently, the library is up to 250 books and is arranged both chronologically and thematically. Alongside canonical texts like Henry Nash Smith’s Virgin Land and Leo Marx’s Machine in the Garden, are more contemporary AMS classics such as  Gloria Anzaldua’s Borderlands/La Frontera, Jose Esteban Munoz’s Disidentifications, Ned Blackhawk’s Violence Over the Land, and Lisa Lowe’s Immigrant Acts. Since its inception, the AMS library project has been a collaborative one with Brendan Gaughen who took the lead on collecting and organizing the books and with the various graduate students who have donated from their personal collections.  Books, be they “contraband” or not, play a powerful role in my life, whether for activism or leisure. My hope is that the AMS library, much like the Librotraficante libraries, will motivate, challenge, and maybe even light some fires. The summer’s ending soon, so go get your reading on.

Just in case anyone has sticky fingers…

Undergrad Research: A Trip to the Archives in NYC, Part 2

Note: this is the second of two installments about David’s archival research trip. The first can be found here.

New York City at night
I landed at La Guardia, took a taxi to the apartment building on W 71st street, unloaded my bags, and finally sat down in New York City, contemplating everything I would see over the next few days. The Berg Collection wouldn’t open until Tuesday—it was Saturday when I flew in—so I had two full days of sight-seeing available to me and I took advantage of it. I visited Times Square, the Empire State Building, Liberty Island, Ellis Island, NYU campus and Washington Square Park, Radio City Music Hall, Rockefeller Center, Grand Central Station, the site of the World Trade center, The Strand, and up, down, and around Central Park on a tour-bus. By mid-week, I was used to catching the subway and disembarking near Bryant Park, a brief walk away from the ice skating rink and, most importantly, the Stephen A. Schwarzmann building, the iconic section of the New York Public Library. After two full days of exploring Manhattan from top to bottom, I was ready to begin the research that brought me to New York in the first place.

There is always a difference between what we expect to happen and what actually happens. I expected the Berg reading room to be an unsettlingly quiet room, observed by predatory librarians making sure that the timid, silent researchers at the tables didn’t destroy the priceless artifacts in their hands. But in reality, the room’s acoustics reminded me of the sixth floor of the PCL where occasional conversations and the jostle of books and pencils on the desks aren’t followed by an agitated, “Shh!” It was also staffed with helpful, caring, and most importantly, smiling, librarians ready to assist me however they could.

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Undergrad Research: A Trip to the Archives in NYC

Note: this is the first of two installments about David’s archival research trip. The second will be published tomorrow.

This January I was fortunate enough to take a trip to New York City and conduct research at the New York Public Library for my honors thesis, “Making the Team: The Real and Fantastical Sporting Life of Jack Kerouac.”

Before the trip was even conceivable, though, I was in the midst of applying to graduate schools for the fall 2012 term. Graduate school has been an aspiration of mine since high school, and now, nearly five years later, I was finally applying and taking my first steps into a new tier of my academic career.

It was hard to convey to other people how terrified I felt in approaching such a critical moment in my life. As I completed each application, I grew anxious about submitting them. This was the first time that I was really taking a stand for myself and my future. Graduate school was part of the plan, but that plan was never set in stone. It was only what I had imagined for myself thus far. For the first time, I started to imagine different paths for my future that didn’t involve graduate school.

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