Teaching Stories: Featured Fall 2016 Course Offerings, Part I

Being an interdisciplinary department, American Studies has a history of offering fascinating courses about American culture, politics, and history that you cannot find anywhere else on campus. Today, we feature four of those courses taught by our stellar Ph.D. students, to be offered in Fall 2016 and Spring 2017, about fascinating and timely topics like conservative politics in America, public education, energy and oil, and the image of the American Indian. We’ll feature more of our courses over the next few weeks, so stay tuned!

Each of these courses is a lower division course and will fulfill your writing flag requirements.

AMS 311s: The Culture of the Right

Unique # 30555
Instructor: Carrie Andersen
MWF 11am – 12pm

The moniker “conservative” can apply at once to fiction authors like Ayn Rand, political theorists like Alexis de Tocqueville, Renaissance men like Henry David Thoreau, television writers like the creators of South Park, and preachers like Jerry Falwell. How? What does it mean to be conservative? How has that definition transformed over time? And how are those ideologies expressed, reimagined, and critiqued in not only political texts and speeches, but also a variety of different cultural forms, from film to television shows to music to videogames?

In this class, we will explore those cultural forms to understand the changing politics of the Right in America from the 19th century through the 2016 election cycle, emphasizing in particular the relationship between the history of the Right and current events in culture and politics. In tracking the historical development of the Right, we will also attend to the interplay between conservative ideology and race, gender, sexuality, class, and religion.

This course will draw upon a variety of primary source texts (including films, television shows, fictional stories, essays, videogames, and music) as well as secondary source analyses of those cultural works.

Finally, a key question will subtly guide many of our discussions, readings, and assignments: how did we get from Thomas Jefferson to Donald Trump?

Oil Well -- Bradford Oil fields, oil metropolis of the world (69693)

AMS 311s: Cultures of American Energy

Unique # 30560
Instructor: Emily Roehl
MWF 12pm – 1pm

Sources of energy are all around us—deep underground, blowing in the wind, stored in muscle and bone, mined and refined. The way we work, move, eat, and play is deeply connected to the histories and cultures of these energy sources. For this reason, energy is an important topic not only to engineers and economists but to humanities scholars as well. In this course, we will consider the histories and cultures of energy in North America from the mid-19th century to the present. We will dig into the question of energy by focusing on four themes: energy frontiers past and present, energy disasters fast and slow; energy in cultural memory; and energy media. We will look at representations of various energy sources (fossil fuels, human and animal power, wood, water, and wind) in film, television, literature, art, photography, museums displays, and industry archives while considering the role of energy in our everyday lives.

Integrated classroom at Anacostia High School

AMS 311s: Imagining Public Education

Unique # 30565
Instructor: Caroline Pinkston
MWF 1pm – 2pm

The last sixty years have been a remarkable and tumultuous period for American public education. From the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision to desegregate schools to the more recent controversies over charter schools and high-stakes testing, public education has spent much of the last half-century right in the middle of national debates about equality, justice, and democracy. A recurring narrative in these debates is that our public schools are failing, and that fixing them is crucial to solving other longstanding issues of poverty and racial injustice.

Where does this narrative come from?  What stories and images contribute to the way we understand the importance of public schooling and its apparent failures? What’s at stake when we imagine a “failing” public school – or, for that matter, a successful one?

This course will examine contesting representations of public school in American culture from the 1960’s to the present day.  This will not be a course in the history of American education. Our main purpose, instead, will be to investigate cultural perceptions of the state of public education, in pop culture, in the news, and beyond. What’s the relationship between the stories we tell about public education, the policy that determines what happens in schools, and broader cultural anxieties about race, childhood, and social justice? We will consider sources including film and television, policy briefs & journalism, nonfiction texts & memoir, children’s literature & school curriculum.

Potential texts (excerpts): Up the Down Staircase (Kaufman, 1964); Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools (Kozol, 1990); Bad Boys: Public Schools and the Making of Black Masculinity (Ferguson, 2000); Whatever it Takes: Geoffrey Canada’s Quest to Change Harlem and America (Tough; 2009)

Potential films (excerpts): The Breakfast Club (1985), Dangerous Minds (1995); Freedom Writers (2007); Waiting for Superman: How We Can Save America’s Failing Schools (2010)

American Indian stamp 14c 1922 issue

AMS 311s: The Mythic Indian in American Culture

Unique # 30570
Instructor: Eddie Whitewolf
MWF 9am – 10am

American culture is replete with images of the “Indian.” From the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition to professional sports team mascots, and from the packaging on Land ‘o’ Lakes butter to Walt Disney animated feature films, the “Indian” remains a pervasive yet enigmatic figure, but also, in the words of Vine Deloria, “unreal and ahistorical.” This course will interrogate the image of the mythic Indian in American popular culture, as seen through a variety of media, including American history, world’s fairs and expositions, public museum exhibits, literature, and film.

Teaching Stories: AMS students create 1990s zine


It’s no secret that American Studies courses are among the most fascinating, enriching, and fun at UT. Today, we bring you a feature on a unique creative assignment that one of our Ph.D. candidates and Assistant Instructors, Brendan Gaughen, created for his undergraduate 311s course, “America in the 1990s”: a 1990s era zine.

Here’s what Brendan had to say about the project:

During the semester, students read about and discussed the activist and community-building potential of zines and this assignment was inspired by a desire to have students participate in something creative and collective, using a format that was quite popular in the 1990s.  In addition to creating a single-page visual representation of their final paper (a topic they had been researching and writing about for most of the semester), students submitted a 2-3 page reflection paper describing why they chose particular images and text and how this creative visual format allows them to convey something different about their project than a typical research paper.  Being a class about the cultural history of the 1990s, having students contribute to a collective zine seemed like an obvious choice for an assignment and I am quite impressed at what they created.  Doing the layout was more complicated than I anticipated (it required cutting everything in half and reassembling four different halves per two-sided page), but the result is something tangible that students can hang onto as a memento.

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 http://amskeywordskeyfoods.tumblr.com. 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.

5(ish) Questions: A Conversation With Dr. Ramzi Fawaz (University of Wisconsin – Madison)

photo 14

On the first Friday in February, Dr. Ramzi Fawaz, braving the relative cold, came to UT from Madison, where he teaches at the University of Wisconsin, to give a talk on queer theory and comic book superheroes. Called “Flame On!: Nuclear Families, Unstable Molecules, and the Queer History of the Fantastic Four,” the talk is drawn from Dr. Fawaz’s upcoming book, The New Mutants: Comic Book Superheroes and Popular Fantasy in Postwar America. After he left Austin, we spoke by phone about comics, the importance of interdisciplinarity in both scholarship and teaching, and about American Studies as the study of how people dream what it means to be American.

In your talk at UT, you discussed The Fantastic Four and their contribution to queer literary history in the 1960s. How did you come across this project?

That’s a great question. There is a combination of personal and intellectual reasons that I approached this project. The personal one that I always tell is that when I was thirteen I went through this incredibly difficult period of my own life, as someone who was coming out as gay, who was ostracized, made fun of, bullied, etc., and, during this period of difficulty, I discovered the X-Men. I began reading this comic book that was about mutant outcasts, that was racially diverse, and I felt this incredible kind of identification with these characters that I never found in any other form of popular culture. As I grew older and started exploring American Studies in college, I became really interested in the kinds of questions that we ask in this field, where we don’t really think about how “I” personally relate to this object but, rather, what the conditions are that allow me to relate to this object in this way.

The questions grew wider and wider over time, and I began to ask myself if I was the only person who identified in this way? Or was there something about the comic book that speaks to people who feel like outcasts? Through a series of research projects at the undergraduate level, I began to explore the history of the X-Men, and that history lead me back to the sixties, and the array of comics, including the X-Men, that exploded out of that moment, some of which of course included the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, the Avengers, and many, many others. I began to realize that, in that moment, comic book creators began to think critically about readers like myself, and geared their comic books to people who did feel like they were out of the social norm, not merely people who identified as gay or lesbian, but also people who felt politically out of step with the conservatism of the US after World War II. This is fascinating to me.

So, there’s kind of a personal history that lead me to a larger, intellectual set of questions, and I think as a scholar, invested in popular culture more broadly, I fell in love with this question as an undergrad: why would fantasy forms, why would popular cultural forms that seemed so escapist, so distinct from politics, why would they be the site in which people were doing political work? This fascinated me, as someone who felt a commitment to radical, left wing ideals, but also didn’t necessarily express those commitments through direct-action politics but rather through the forms of reading and interpretation. I started to ask why would that be one of the sites where people do that political work? Comics seemed like one of the great objects through which people engaged the political.

Is this work you picked up as a graduate student?

The kernel for this work began as an undergraduate. I was lucky as an undergraduate to be trusted enough by some of my professors to be asked to be their teaching assistant. I was an assistant for a class taught by Kathleen Moran, who was the chair of American Studies at the time at Berkeley. The class was on consumer society, and she asked me to give a lecture on comics and consumerism. She encouraged me to do a reading of a text rather than a history, so I ended up doing this reading of the X-Men storyline “The Dark Phoenix Saga,” which some people at UT actually read as a chapter, and we talked about how this storyline was about anxieties of consumption. After I gave that talk, Moran told me “I think you nailed it, and I think you need to pursue this as a project.”

Little by little I was lucky enough to win small research awards, I spent a summer at Yale as an undergraduate research fellow, and I began writing about comics in a scholarly way. When I became a graduate student at GW, I was still very committed to the project, but I wasn’t sure what my method would be. I took an extraordinary seminar with Robert McRuer, which was all about cutting edge interventions in queer theory, and I remember being very transformed and galvanized in that seminar, and it led me to realize that queer theory was going to be one of the primary nodes of intervention that I was going to make in this project, one that had not been done with the object of superhero comics. So, little by little I developed this project, and in graduate school it kind of took shape theoretically, and that was kind of the genealogy of the project.

Truly, I was lucky to have undergraduate mentors who said, you know, “go ahead,” and then to work with graduate mentors who said, “if you’re going to run with this project, let’s make it as precise, as theoretically innovative, as possible.” I think that’s part of the reason that the book has gained so much traction, even before its publication, is because the people I worked with knew that I knew that it wasn’t merely a history of comics, but rather about locating superhero comics in this larger conversation about liberal and radical politics in the post-war period. So that’s been my broader commitment.

In that project, are there particular scholars whose work has been really helpful for you?

Absolutely. I’ve said this many times, but I think a really transformative moment for me was when I read the work of Julia Mickenberg in Learning from the Left. I think Julia modeled for me what it mean to take a particular object, in her case children’s literature, and place it in this really deeply elaborated and thickly researched network of relationships. She not only thinks about children’s literature as a text, but also its relationship to its creators, its producers, its sites of circulation, and then to the broader political context in which it was circulated. So that allowed me to think about an object that was similarly denigrated or thought of as kind of escapist, meaningless, not intellectually worthy, and, instead of thinking of it that way, to actually place it in a context. I also think the work of people like Christina Kline and Melani McAlister, in Cold War Orientalism and Epic Encounters, also do really extraordinary interdisciplinary work in talking about the relationship of political theory and policy to cultural production. Those are some of the books I feel most moved by in American Studies.

I also have to say that, over the course of this project, I was so galvanized not only by queer theory, but also by the uptake of political theory in queer studies. I read some unusual work that would not normally fit into this realm; I read a lot of work by people like Hannah Arendt. I read the work of political theorists like Linda Zerilli, sociologists like Debbie Gould writing about ACT UP and its radical politics, and I read an unbelievable range, in addition to the comic books themselves, of actual primary sources from the radical politics of the sixties and seventies; the Port Huron statement, the radical statements of women’s liberation, gay liberation. All of these together allowed me to see that comic books were not merely entertainment, they were a way to theorize politics and people’s relationship to public life through fantasy figures. I love being able to engage a broad range of work that normally wouldn’t be thought of as political theory. Those thinkers were really central to me.

And I’ll admit to you something that really blows my mind: when I look back it, I read something like 3,000-4,000 pages of comics for every chapter that I wrote. And I wrote seven chapters. I would not only read and reread the actual thing that I was going to look at, let’s say The Fantastic Four or Green Lantern/Green Arrow, I would read many comics that were coming out at the same time, and the political discourse of that moment. So I tried to invest comics in this kind of wider language that’s going on. I was influenced from many, many different directions.

I was going to ask you a question about interdisciplinarity, but you’ve already answered it…

I’m actually happy to elaborate on that, if you want to talk a little bit more about it.

Continue reading

Faculty Research: Designing History’s Future with Karl Hagstrom Miller


It should come as no surprise that we at AMS :: ATX headquarters love projects that delve into the digital world. One of our faculty members, Dr. Karl Hagstrom Miller, is working on the ever-fascinating Course Transformation Project with the UT History Department to “reimagin[e] what it means to teach and learn history.” The project includes a blog with content from Karl’s graduate seminar in the department, “Designing History’s Future,” a compendium of online resources about history pedagogy and research, an extensive bibliography, and a series of Friday afternoon workshops.

Here’s an excerpt from a write-up about the endeavor from Karl – the full post can be found here:

Penne Restad and I, in consultation with other history faculty, developed the basic plan for the project. But we have no idea how it is going to turn out. That is by design.

One of our major goals is to re-imagine the way we teach our US history survey courses. “United States, 1492-1865” and “United States Since 1865” are the backbone of the UT history department. These two courses enroll about 4,500 students annually. That’s a lot of students. It’s also a lot of faculty and a lot of graduate teaching assistants. Our goal is to develop ways for these students to learn more and learn better. For us, that means moving away from the lecture format towards more active and collaborative learning, designing a course in which students engage in doing history rather than watching it done by others. We don’t know what that is going to look like yet. We’ve got a load of ideas, but we will be developing, refining, and implementing them over the coming year. Keep posted.

We also hope to foster a broader conversation about teaching and learning history among our faculty, our students, and anyone else who is interested. The issues facing those who take and teach the US survey are far from unique. They resonate across the department and the university. Many, of course, resonate across the field of higher education. From student engagement and success to the paradoxes of systematic assessment in the humanities, from debates about active and situated learning to the existential challenges and exciting opportunities offered by digital technology, from graduate funding and placement to faculty research and retention: we often find ourselves working on contested and congested terrain. It is not always clear which way to travel or whether the paths we forge today will still be viable routes tomorrow. We do think that practicing teachers are in the best position to work out solutions to these complex issues while preserving and improving the quality of student learning. We hope that the history CTP will provide faculty and graduate students opportunities to debate these issues and collaborate on new designs for teaching history well into the future.

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Announcement: The Course Transformation Project Continues This Week

The Course Transformation Project in the history department is hosting a series of lunch workshops for faculty and graduate students. This week’s theme is: History and its New Pedagogues. This workshop turns its attention to learning history and how we can bring some of the insights from the last session on participatory learning into the unique and demanding discipline in which we are trained and in which we work. The workshop will meet Friday, October 18 in GAR 1.122 at noon.


They’ll start with Lendol Calder’s short article, “Uncoverage: Toward a Signature Pedagogy for the History Survey” (available here). Faculty and graduate students (regardless of your particular field) are encouraged to participate. RSVP to Jessica Luther.

Announcement: Two Not-to-Miss Talks This Friday

Happy almost-end-of-semester!  While we know all the students and faculty out there are probably up to their gills in paper writing and grading, we recommend taking a break from the madness this Friday, December 7, to attend one (or both!) of these great talks.


For more information on Christopher Newfield’s talk, see here.


For further details on Avery Gordon’s talk, see here.