Faculty Research: Dr. Janet Davis pens NYTimes editorial on elephants in the circus

CircusProcessionElephants1888

We’re pleased to share with you all the news that Dr. Janet Davis, one of our core faculty members, published an editorial in the New York Times this past Sunday. She describes the history of elephants in the circus in light of Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus’s announcement that their traveling elephant performers would be retiring by 2018.

See an excerpt below; the full editorial can be found here.

Elephants have been wildly popular in this country since 1796, when the first one arrived on American soil. Jacob Crowninshield, a ship’s captain from Salem, Mass., landed in New York City with a two-year-old Asian female from Calcutta. He sold the “Crowninshield Elephant” to an enterprising showman for $10,000. Thousands of eager Americans, including President John Adams, flocked to see the animal in taverns and courtyards, where audiences, fascinated by her trunk’s dexterity, plied her with gingerbread and wine. She and her keeper plodded from Rhode Island to New Orleans under cover of darkness for the next nine years because her owner was fearful of giving spectators a “free” look.

Americans at the time were particularly receptive to the Crowninshield Elephant and the many others who followed her, in part, because of nationalistic myth: Thomas Jefferson believed that flesh-eating elephantine mammoths roamed the American West, and he expressly ordered Lewis and Clark to look for one on their trans-Mississippi expedition. Performing elephants gave live, physical form to Jefferson’s notion of the American mammoth.

But that’s not all! Janet also contributed her expertise to this recent CNN piece on the circus’s decision. See that article here.

Faculty Research: Dr. Randy Lewis’s Original Comedy, “My Dinner With Bambi,” to Premiere in Austin

8829860_orig[1]

Although our university won’t be back in session for several days yet, we couldn’t wait to post this exciting news about one of our faculty members. Dr. Randy Lewiswho we’ve featured in the past for his expansive work on topics from surveillance to media studies to public scholarship, has penned an original play that will premiere in Austin later this month. We asked Dr. Lewis for a few words about his new work, and how it relates to his broad interests in all that American Studies has to offer…

So a funny thing happened on the way to the lectern—I wrote a play, a dark comedy called My Dinner with Bambi (A Shocking Comedy) that is now in rehearsals under my direction. Is it funny? Outrageous? Insightful? You be the judge when it opens on January 22 at Austin’s FronteraFest.

The main character is a force of nature called Bambi Krill. She’s a media celebrity extraordinaire, a powerful woman with hints of Sarah Palin, Ann Coulter, Stephen Colbert, and Mephistopheles. The basic set-up is that she’s holding court with her two young acolytes, Sarah and Roger, one of whom is not yet converted to the dark side of big money punditry. Drinking heavily after a widely protested campus lecture, Bambi spars with her minions until an explosive encounter with Sarah’s parents brings deeper tensions to the surface. And no one—on the right or left—gets off unscathed. (I mean this quite literally: a real Taser is one of our central props).

As anyone who knows me can deduce, Bambi is another version what I often talk about in the classroom. For instance, last fall I was working on Bambi while teaching undergrads how to make documentary theater out of Internet troll comments (talk about tragedy!). I love this overlap between my academic and creative work. For me, it all flows together—especially when I’m teaching courses with titles such as “The Politics of Creativity.” Bambi also has many literal connections to UT: we auditioned actors at night in a seminar room in Burdine, we ended up casting several alums and one faculty member, and we’re working with a consultant from UT’s Drama Department, which is something I really appreciate as a first-time director.

We have an amazing cast and know that you’ll enjoy the show—especially if you have any connection to American Studies. After all, how many plays have jokes about Moby Dick, Thomas Kinkade, and turducken? (Not King Lear—I checked!). Even if you’re not part of the American Studies world, we hope you’ll come see Bambi in action starting January 22.

More information about the play can be found at its website and Facebook page, and tickets for all four performances are available here. We recommend you buy tickets in advance if you’re interested in checking the show out – they’ll sell out!

Faculty Research: Dr. Randy Lewis featured in ‘Life and Letters’ Magazine for documentary film

Sicilians and Sicilian-Texans exchange memories of the town poet.

Sicilians and Sicilian-Texans exchange memories of the town poet.

Last spring, we posted a dispatch from Dr. Randy Lewis about his travels to Sicily, Italy to screen an ethnographic documentary called Texas Tavola that he directed and produced with Dr. Circe Sturm. We’re pleased to also share with you a brand new piece in the College of Liberal Arts’s Life and Letters magazine featuring the duo’s work on this film, as well as Dr. Lewis’s and Dr. Sturm’s broader concerns with public scholarship.

“From Bryan to Sicily: Public Scholars Join Academy to Community” can be read in its entirety here, and here is a quick excerpt:

Sturm and Lewis both come from non-academic families, and this background is a big driver of their passion for public scholarship.

“Randy and I have always tried to create work that has an impact as scholarship and is also accessible to broader publics,” Sturm says. “Even with book writing, we’re both committed to writing about complex ideas in such a way that anyone can read it and that the communities that we write about will want to read it and engage with it.”

Public scholarship is intellectual work done with a non-academic audience in mind. It can take many forms, from digital humanities and online journals to books and documentary films created for a general public.

“Public scholarship is a broader thing that’s trying to transcend this inwardlooking model of higher education and really connect with different kinds of publics and communities out there,” Lewis says. “How do you convert or translate [your academic research] into something that resonates with the people who are actually paying for the University of Texas?”

Announcement: introducing the social media team

Science museum 025 adjusted.jpg

We use only the most advanced technology in the American Studies department. Source: “Science museum 025 adjusted“. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

The beginning of the school year seems like an apt moment to introduce the editors/writers/internet gurus behind the Department of American Studies social media presence. So, without further ado, meet your American Studies internet team!

carrie

My name is Carrie Andersen, and I’m a fifth year Ph.D. student and one of this blog’s original editors and founders. Aside from running the blog, I’m the manager of our Twitter account. My dissertation explores the cultural and political valence of the military drone in post-9/11 American society. Beyond my dissertation’s confines of technology studies, cultural/media studies, political theory, and gender studies, I hold interests in digital humanities and public scholarship, which also led to my position as a member of The End of Austin‘s editorial board and manager of its own social media presence. My inclination towards all things internet, however, developed much earlier than graduate school: by age 10, I was teaching myself HTML and creating homepages on – and I’m aging myself here – AOL and GeoCities (RIP). As such, I’m so grateful to our department for supporting and encouraging the development of projects that foreground engaging with individuals through digital media and pushing beyond the boundaries of the everyday – an interest that also nourishes my love of exploring strange, far afield places, as you can see above.

 

DE41F098-52DD-4797-B721-431274FDAC47My name is Josh Kopin, and I’m a second year Ph.D. student in the department of American Studies. My interests lie at the intersection of art, history, politics and commerce, and they express themselves with work on comics and American popular religion. At the moment, I’m preparing to write a master’s thesis on the place of religion, writ broadly, in Charles Schulz’s Peanuts comic strip. Other dream projects include work on the English rock band The Animals, the relationship between non-fiction comics and traditional journalism and academic history and the history of men’s style in the United States. I’m also dedicated, as both a student and a teacher, to writing as a way of thinking something through; I hope that my work for this blog will allow me to do that on a regular basis.

 

emily_bbq

I’m Emily Roehl, a fifth year Ph.D. student in American Studies. Carrie Andersen and I founded the AMS :: ATX blog back in 2011, and I manage the calendar. Have an Austin/UT event to promote? Let me know! My dissertation focuses on representations of contemporary oil extraction (hydraulic fracturing, oil sands, deep water drilling), and I share Carrie’s interest in digital and public humanities. I am a member of The End of Austin’s editorial board and the co-founder of Mystery Spot Books, an independent artist book publisher out of Minneapolis. As you can see from my picture, I’m a really bad vegetarian.  Texas has that effect.

 

Faculty Research: Dr. Karl Miller and Dr. Janet Davis at Humanities Texas Teachers Institute on 1960s America

america in the 1960s

Some very cool activities from our faculty this summer: Dr. Karl Miller and Dr. Janet Davis are both participants in the Humanities Texas Institute for Texas Teachers, this year’s theme being “America in the 1960s.” Dr. Davis gave a presentation yesterday on “Influential Women in the Sixties,” and Dr. Miller is today speaking about “Music in the 1960s.” Both also led primary source workshops in the afternoons.

We just wish we could attend, too!