Announcement: Dr. Caleb Smith Lectures on Law and Literature

Join us this Friday for a lecture by Dr. Caleb Smith (English and American Studies, Yale), “Crime Scenes: Fictions of Security and Jurisprudence.” The talk will take place in Parlin Hall 203 at 3:30pm.

In this lecture, Dr. Smith will discuss his recent work on law and literature, focusing especially on the popular literature that emerged from the struggle over Cherokee “removal” between the 1830s and 1850s; the minister Samuel Worcester’s letters from a Georgia prison; the lawyer-novelist William Gilmore Simms’s “border romances”; and the Cherokee writer John Rollin Ridge’s Joaquín Murieta, sometimes known as the “first Native American novel.”


Dr. Caleb Smith is the author of The Oracle and the Curse (2013) and The Prison and the American Imagination (2009). He is working on an edition of “The Life and Adventures of a Haunted Convict,” an 1858 narrative by Austin Reed, an African-American inmate of New York¹s Auburn State Prison, which will be published by Random House in 2016.

Presented by the departments of English and American Studies.

Announcement: Dr. Ramzi Fawaz Lectures on “The Fantastic Four”

Join us this Friday, February 7, for a lecture by Dr. Ramzi Fawaz (Assistant Professor, University of Wisconsin) entitled “‘Flame On!’: Nuclear Families, Unstable Molecules, and the Queer History of ‘The Fantastic Four.'” The talk will take place from 3:00-4:30 in Burdine 214.


In this lecture, Dr. Fawaz argues that “The Fantastic Four” offered a key contribution to queer literary history in the 1960s by using the mutated bodies of its four heroes to depict the transformation of the normative types of the 1950s nuclear family – the breadwinning father, doting wife, and bickering male siblings – into icons of 1960s radicalism. These icons included the liberal feminist, the left-wing intellectual, the political activist, and the potential queer or neurotic, all non-normative characters the four came to embody.

This event is sponsored by the Center for Women and Gender Studies, the Children, Youth, and Gender Research Cluster, and the Department of American Studies.

5 Questions with Affiliate Faculty Member Dr. Coleman Hutchison

Happy Monday! Today we bring you an interview with associate professor of English Coleman Hutchison, an affiliate faculty member of the American Studies department.


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

I have a healthy dose of the presentist in me: I really like whatever I’m working on right now. For instance, I’m really excited about a collection I’m pulling together for Cambridge University Press, the first omnibus history of American Civil War literature. As editor I’ve been able to draw on a number of disciplines—literary studies, yes, but also, history, cultural studies, musicology, art and art history—and draw together a truly international roster of scholars. Together we’ll be addressing a literature that emerges in response to a very specific historical drama and then continues to develop across both the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Needless to say, this is a much more collaborative project than my first book, and it’s been hugely gratifying.

Of course intellectual pleasure can also come from unexpected and somewhat awkward sources. My first book offered a literary history of the Confederate States of America. It may have been about the “bad guys,” but there was immense pleasure in getting to work with archival material that people either didn’t know existed or didn’t want to deal with. The extraordinary historical interest and extraordinary political problems of that material were really exciting and daunting and uncomfortable for me. That project pushed me to the edge of my comfort zone, the edge of what I thought I could do as a responsible critic. There was, then, a strange intellectual pleasure in that sort of “recovery work.”

How do you see your work fitting in with broader conversations within academia or within society as a whole?

Because I’m a first-generation college student—because this life was never a given for me—it’s always been important for me to make my writing and research available to as many people as possible. Part of that has to do with style—with writing in a clear, cogent, and concise way that doesn’t involve a lot of jargon. The work may be theoretically rich and complex, but it is, I hope, delivered in a way that’s accessible. I think that scholarly knowledge production is increasingly important in a moment of intense information overload. Just because everyone has a blog or a Tumblr or a Twitter feed doesn’t mean that the knowledge we produce in the academy is less necessary, less urgent.  The glacial pace of academic publishing and knowledge production is in some ways an advantage, because we can take a more considered, more careful argumentative tacks and engage in longer, older, maybe even slower critical conversations. This is not to say that we should return to a closed circuit wherein academics produce work only for other academics, but we should continue to do what we do best, which is produce careful, well-researched critiques, and then put those critiques into new and interesting forms. For instance, I’ve done a good bit of work for Southern Spaces online, and I love the idea that careful, considered scholarship can engage a broader, open source community.

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5 Questions with Dr. Cary Cordova

Dr. Cary Cordova, with a painting by Carlos Loarca

Painting by Carlos Loarca

We return today to one of our favorite blog series: 5 questions with members of the American Studies core and affiliate faculties. Below, we feature a conversation with Dr. Cary Cordova, assistant professor of American Studies and graduate of our program (Ph.D. 2005).

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

I would turn to the projects that have helped me work with people, the projects in which I am engaging with others, whether it is students or other colleagues or professionals out in the world; these projects have probably netted me the most personal satisfaction. Specifically, i am drawn to doing oral history. When I initially approached oral history, I viewed it as a way to source information, as a way to get data that otherwise wasn’t available. But then in doing interviews, I learned a lot more about myself and about other people, and oral history became a significant amplification of my education, it became a way of expanding my universe well beyond the world that I thought I was in. For instance, one of the artists I interviewed passed away, and I went to his funeral, and it was striking to see the numbers of people that were there. And I did not expect this, but his family had decided to play the interview that I had recorded with him there at the funeral for everyone to hear, and it was so moving and so powerful to suddenly have everyone in that room listening to an interview that had just been me and him, and it helped me see the ways in which the work I was doing had a greater relevance than just me and him sitting in that room.

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

Academically, it’s pretty easy to see where I have come to be, because it has been pretty consistent. I have always been trying to negotiate this world between American Studies and Latino Studies, and I came to graduate school specifically to study Latina literature. I didn’t end up focusing on Latina literature, but disciplinarily that has been a continuous framework. Then through graduate school and a lot of other things I came to realize I was doing a lot with Art History and with Urban Studies, but those are just the disciplines, and per my previous answer, my academic engagement has always been tied to thinking about others and thinking about my community and thinking about people that make the world matter to me.

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Link Round-Up! Security/Insecurity in the News, Oct. 25 – Nov. 8


Hey folks! Here’s what’s what in the news world re: security and insecurity.

Sex Machines: a new game takes the human-machine relationship to its logical extreme. (Slate) 

Frank Rich writes on the politics of 12 Years A Slave (New York Magazine)

The secrets of the world’s happiest cities: what makes a city a great place to live – your commute, property prices or good conversation? (The Guardian)

What 1984 can teach us beyond the dangers of surveillance (Salon)

Ender’s Game vs. The Hunger Games: a military analysis (Wired)

The power of patience: teaching students the value of deceleration and immersive attention (Harvard Magazine)

The New York Times forum on the future of the humanities (New York Times) 

Police in Washington DC are monitoring gunfire with acoustic sensors on rooftops (Washington Post)

Is there an ‘angst canon’ of books that teenagers read? (BBC News Magazine)

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Alumni Voices: Allison Wright, Editorial Staff for Virginia Quarterly Review


Today, we’d like to share with you an interview with one of our recent Ph.D. graduates, Allison Wright. Allison is a member of the editorial staff for the Virginia Quarterly Review and also teaches in the Media Studies department at the University of Virginia.

How is the work that you’re doing right now informed by the work that you did as a student in American Studies at UT?

I am on the editorial staff of the nation’s leading literary journal. VQR has published the greatest novelists, poets, critics, and social scientists in America over its ninety-year history, and has received more National Magazine Awards than any other literary quarterly in the nation and more nominations than some well-known magazines (such as Rolling Stone and Esquire). Because of that, our standards are high and the level of expectation we place on ourselves requires a dedication that reminds me very much of graduate school.

On its face, much of what I did as a student in American Studies at UT may not translate to what I do on a daily basis–the work of editing and publishing a magazine. But the focused, intellectual work of graduate school prepared me for this job in a very real way. The nuts and bolts of putting together a magazine–writing, editing, copy editing, fact-checking, image selection–all draw on skills I honed in the American Studies program.

And of course teaching in the media studies department at the University of Virginia, where VQR is located, is a direct result of my time at Texas.

Do you have any words of wisdom or advice for students in our department about how to get the most out of their time here?

Look for opportunities outside of the department, and say yes as often as possible. In my last year at Texas, I taught writing for the College of Pharmacy and I was a lead teaching assistant for “Classics of World Poetry” and “The American Experience as told through Autobiography,” both of which were offered through the university’s School of Undergraduate Studies. I also served as a rater for the university’s accreditation effort, visiting a wide variety of classes and scoring student presentations. These brought diversity to my CV, and they helped me discern a career path.

Finally, something Steve Hoelscher, who was graduate advisor at the time, said to me during our first meeting back in 2003 bears repeating: Have a life. Meet people who aren’t in graduate school; spend time with them. Volunteer. Find a way to feel like you are making a contribution, however small. The results of those efforts will be transportable once you take your leave.

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Stories from Summer Vacation: Dr. Julia Mickenberg in the UK

Next up is a dispatch from across the pond! Dr. Julia Mickenberg discusses her time spent in the UK:

A reading of Dubliners at Sweny's Pharmacy in Dublin

A reading of Dubliners at Sweny’s Pharmacy in Dublin

I spent the first part of the summer trying to finish some writing projects, putting together a new Plan II Signature Course on “College and Controversy,” and getting ready to spend six weeks in Ireland and the UK. On July 4th my family left for Ireland, where we spent a week, mostly in the West—we visited Yeats’ Tower (closed, but still really cool, down a narrow lane and next to a beautiful stream) and Coole Park, the home of Lady Gregory, containing a huge tree autographed by pretty much every literary figure from early twentieth-century Ireland. My daughters busked in Galway, and took in 7 Euros, which they spent on fancy ice cream cones. In Dublin we visited Sweny’s Pharmacy, featured in James Joyce’s Ulysses, and now preserved as a kind of tribute to Joyce: there we participated in a rather magical reading from Dubliners.

Now I’m in Oxford, England, tagging along with a crew from UT’s English department (including my husband, Dan Birkholz), which runs a summer program here. Outside my window are green fields where old men and women do lawn bowling and play bocce, and boys and girls play soccer. Running between two fields (and also just outside my window) is a bicycle path that goes to the city (we’re in an area called Summertown, just north of Oxford) and out into the countryside. Nearly every morning I’ve been running through a green meadow and woods with walking paths, the Thames River slowly winding alongside.

After a bike ride along the Thames

After a bike ride along the Thames

Sometimes I work at home, in my little study looking out over the athletic fields. Other days bicycle into Oxford, which seems to be filled with American students. No matter, it’s still a pretty fabulous place, heavy with history, the kind of place that makes you want to do nothing but read. Blackwell’s Bookstore is dizzying. Every site in town is a literary reference. Speaking of books and literature, I’ve been working in the Bodleian Library, which is probably the ur-library of libraries. There’s an exhibit going on right now in the library about Magic in Children’s Literature, from the Middle Ages to Middle Earth. Pretty awesome stuff, with original Tolkien manuscripts alongside illuminated manuscripts that you can’t believe they’ve just put in a case for everyone to see. I’ve met with some British children’s literature scholars, and Oxford is, of course, home to Alice Liddel of Alice in Wonderland fame, not to mention Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, etc., but mainly I’m working on the book that’s been preoccupying me for years, on Russia in the American Feminist Imagination, 1905-1945.

So, at the Bodleian. Once I found my way to the place where the books I needed were supposedly shelved, through the maze of stairs and passageways, I stood mystified for a while, with no clue as to how to find the books I needed (and I pride myself on being a library person). Finally an old man asked me if I needed help and I said yes, yes I do need help. Turns out, as I have remarked elsewhere, these English people don’t use the Library of Congress cataloguing system. But I found my books and sat happily reading in the bowels of the library (seriously, I was in the sub, sub-basement). I’m mostly working in the Vere Harmsworth Library, specializing in American culture (yup, they haven’t forgotten us in Merrie olde England). I’m also taking a few trips into London: the chapter I’m currently writing concerns a joint American-British Quaker Russian famine relief effort in 1921-1922, and I need to look at materials in the London Friends House. Several radicals (American and British) managed to get into Russia during the allied blockade by volunteering with the Quakers, who didn’t care about their volunteers’ politics. I’m interested especially in how publicity workers created sympathy for the Bolshevik project by playing on the public’s concern for starving Russian children (child savers presenting the possibility of a glorious future if these children are saved, i.e. child saviors). Doing a bunch of other research too depending on how many trips to London I can squeeze in: at the Karl Marx Library, the Women’s Library at London School of Economics, the Society for Cooperation in Russian and Soviet Studies, and the World Education Fellowship.

It’s a lot to cram in, what with all the traveling we’re doing, some with the UT Program (Shakespeare plays, Jane Austen-related sites, William Morris related sites, etc.). In the Lake District we’ll see the landscapes that inspired William Wordsworth, Beatrix Potter, and other luminaries of childhood innocence. And right here in Oxford there’s plenty to do. This past weekend we went on a long bike ride along the Thames, and went punting from the Cherwell Boat House with Lisa Moore (a colleague on the UT program) and her son Max. I’m drinking a lot of tea and spending quality time in English pubs, trying my requisite share of British ales.