Undergrad Research: Molly Mandell named UEPS scholar for 2015-2016 school year!

Today we are thrilled to share a conversation with AMS undergraduate Molly Mandell, who is the recipient of an Unrestricted Endowed Presidential Scholarship (UEPS) for the 2015-16 school year. The UEPS award is one of the most notable scholarships offered to UT students from a wide range of departments. We are super excited that Molly will be representing AMS and doing great work in the year ahead. To find out more about her next project, which involves a trip to Cuba to visit and photograph organic farms, read on!SelfPortrait

Tell me about what you are working on right now.

This summer, I’m working with the school of Undergraduate Studies and American Studies professor Randolph Lewis on an independent research project where I will be going to Cuba to photograph organic farms. I’m trying to understand sustainability there. Here at UT, I worked at the Micro Farm, which was an extension of my summer WWOOFing (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms) in France and Italy. I’ve always been interested in organic, sustainable farming and agriculture, but that really inspired me to come back and to look into my own community and see what is going on locally.

How have your American Studies classes influenced the way you think about sustainability and organic agriculture?

My American Studies classes have taught me to think really critically in a lot of ways. I didn’t start as an American Studies major. I found it by chance. I’m also interested in the arts. I like how in American Studies you can look at a lot of different topics and see common themes across them and understand how things reflect society. It makes you question society both locally and more broadly.

American Studies classes had a big influence on why I chose to go to Cuba, actually. At first, I didn’t make the connection between agriculture and Cuba. I was just following all the news once the United States started relations again with Cuba. I feel like Cuba is either romanticized or demonized in the United States. Simultaneously, there are all these discussions happening about when the embargo is lifted and America is once again involved with Cuba, how all these things will get better. I think there is a lot of truth to that; many things will improve, but I also think that there are parts of their culture that we don’t talk about that are really unique and special. As I was researching I started to read about agriculture, and it’s fascinating: basically, they were forced to be entirely organic because they haven’t had access to pesticides and machinery. They are now on their way to being one of the most sustainable countries in the world, but that is really subject to change as the United States gets more involved.

Tell us about one of your favorite experiences in an American Studies classroom.

The class that got me involved in American Studies was the Politics of Creativity course with Randolph Lewis in the Fall of 2013. That class was initially a writing flag for me, and I picked it at random. In that class, I did my research paper on Marfa, Texas, and the controversy between Prada Marfa and Playboy Marfa, which are two roadside art installations. I was talking about which one should stay there in relation to Donald Judd’s ideas around art and what it should be. That was really influential for me because I hadn’t really explored my more creative thinking side, and that class pushed me to do so. It caused me to rethink academics in general. There are all these notions about what it means to get a degree and do research–write a research paper. But I get to incorporate photography, as I will in my Cuba project, which is important. The end result for my Cuba project will be a book published as both a paper and eBook. I’m old school, I still like holding things. My photographs will have long captions as an alternate to a long research paper. My American Studies classes have taught me that you can use your creative side in academics, which is really exciting.

Grad Research: PhD Candidate Carrie Andersen wins P.E.O. Scholar Award!

We love it when our grad students do awesome stuff, so we’re thrilled to be able to share that PhD Candidate Carrie Andersen has been awarded the prestigious P.E.O. Scholar Award!

11150307_10102030799772771_5875756648760492413_nCarrie’s advisor, Dr. Randolph Lewis, had the following to say about Carrie’s work in a recent Chicago Tribune article announcing the award:

Few scholars have reckoned with the profound implications of UAVs or “drones” in ways that go beyond the legality of CIA drone strikes on foreign soil or private drones invading our backyard pool parties with remote-controlled video cameras. These are important matters, but Carrie is exploring something that extends far beyond a single academic discipline, something that requires an interdisciplinary fusion of research and method, indeed, something that probes to the heart of American culture.

Congratulations, Carrie!

Announcement: Undergraduate Honors Thesis Symposium Today!


Here at AMS::ATX, we love to draw your attention to the awesome work our American Studies undergraduates do, and so we’d like to invite you to the Undergraduate Honors Thesis Symposium this evening, Wednesday, April 22. Please join us in Burdine 214 at 5:00pm to celebrate the work of some of our stellar undergraduates, who will present portions of their thesis research.

Here is a lineup of tonight’s presentations:

Courtney Michelle Luther – “Pregnant in Prison: Orange is the New Black and the Reproductive Justice Crisis in Prisons”
Kevin Machate – “Promise Me”
Misael Mendoza – “Popped Open: Containment and Domesticity in Pop Art”
Lindy Nesmith – “An Evolution of the Delta Blues from the Disreputable Margin to the Respectable Sinner”
Shannon Schaffer – “Mental Illness in America: A Personal Odyssey”

Undergraduate Research: Andrea Gustavson on teaching undergraduates at the Harry Ransom Center

We love it when we can draw your attention to the awesome teaching our grad students do and the exciting research our undergraduates do. Today, we’d like to point you toward the Harry Ransom Center’s newsletter, Ransom Edition, where our very own Andrea Gustavson talks about her work teaching undergraduates in the archive. 


Teacher Andrea Gustavson shares photography materials with undergraduate students in her class “American Images: Photography, Literature, Archive.” Photo by Robert V. Reichle.


Undergraduate in the class “American Images: Photography, Literature, Archive.” Photo by Robert V. Reichle.

Here’s a taste of Gustavson’s article:

In the fall, I taught a class called “American Images: Photography, Literature, Archive” that made extensive use of the collections at the Ransom Center. Each week, the students and I explored the intersections between photography, literature, and archival theory using the Center’s primary materials as the foundation for our discussions. On Mondays and Wednesdays we met to discuss the week’s reading, closely reading passages or images and making connections to contemporary events. On Fridays the students had the opportunity to view rare manuscripts and photographs that illustrated, extended, and even challenged many of the concepts we had discussed earlier in the week. Over the course of the semester, the students worked within a variety of written genres as they built toward a final project for which they conducted their own original research.

Check out the full article here.

Gustavson is a PhD candidate in American Studies here at UT and she worked as a graduate intern in Public Services and as a Graduate Research Assistant at the Ransom Center in 2010–2014.

Announcement: AMS Graduate Conference this week: “Home/Sick”

Join the graduate students of the Department of American Studies at UT as they put on a conference that takes on the theme “Home/Sick” this Thursday and Friday, April 2 and 3. The keynote address will be delivered by Dr. Kim Tallbear (Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, UT Austin) on Thursday, April 2nd at 6pm in NOA 1.124. Dr. Tallbear will give a talk called, “Molecular Death and Redface Reincarnation: Indigenous Appropriations in the U.S.” Panels will take place Thursday and Friday in the Texas Union. See below for a full schedule, or click here.

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The following is a description of the conference theme from the organizers:

The death of eighteen-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri this August, the immigration crisis centering around the influx of children from Central America to the United States, and the recent panic over the spread of the ebola virus can all be read as the newest manifestations of a long-running pattern throughout American history and culture: the relationship between constructions of “healthy” communities, the fear that these communities will be violated, invaded, or contaminated, and the mobilization of these fears as justification for action in the name of community preservation. The history of the United States is littered with rhetorical constructions of safety and security, purity and contamination—as well as with the results of very real processes of violence, displacement, and exclusion. The 2015 AMS Graduate Student Conference considers constructions of home and health, and explores how these concepts have been and continue to be mobilized in the construction and erasure of American communities, families, and selves.

Schedule for Panels

Thursday, April 2

Registration 1pm- 5pm
Sinclair Suite (UNB 3.128), Texas Union

2:00pm – 3:30pm – Panel 1: Surveillance at Home
Texas Governors’ Room (UNB 3.116), Texas Union

3:45pm – 5:15pm – Panel 2: Sick: Bodies and Affect
Texas Governors’ Room (UNB 3.116), Texas Union

Friday, April 3

Registration 8:30am – 5:00pm
Eastwoods Room (UNB 2.102), Texas Union

9:00am – 10:30am – Panel 3: Race and Reconfiguring the Home
Chicano Culture Room (4.206), Texas Union

10:45 – 12:15 –  Panel 4: Home in Digital Life
Chicano Culture Room (4.206), Texas Union

1:45 – 3:15 – Panel 5: Leisure, Labor, and Contested Homes
Chicano Culture Room (4.206), Texas Union

3:30 – 5:00 – Panel 6: Gulf Coast Oil and the Labor of Self, Loss, and the South
Chicano Culture Room (4.206), Texas Union

Grad Research: PhD student featured on television series ‘American Canvas’

We are thrilled to be able to draw your attention to the great work our graduate students do both on and off campus. PhD student Kirsten Ronald, who is writing a dissertation about social dance, gentrification, and cultural preservation, is featured in a segment that was recently filmed for the program American Canvas on the cable channel Ovation TV. The segment follows Ronald as she leads two-step dance lessons at The White Horse in Austin. The episode airs this Wednesday, March 18, at 9pm Central Time. You can find the channel number for your cable provider here.

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Ronald shared the following with us about her research about and through dance:

Most of us in American Studies are lucky enough to study what we love, and I’m no exception – I’ve been an avid two-stepper almost since I set foot in Texas, and I research and write about social dance, gentrification, and cultural preservation in Austin.  I also teach beginning two-step classes at a few bars around town.  My co-teacher Houston Ritcheson and I were thrilled when the folks from American Canvas, a new cultural travel show on Ovation TV, asked if they could come film our class at The White Horse for their pilot, and now we’re super psyched to announce that the Austin episode is airing, and we’re in it!  With fingers crossed that they made us look far cooler than we actually are, please check it out: March 18th at 9pm on Ovation.

Announcement: ‘LaToya Ruby Frazier: Riveted’ exhibition reception tomorrow!

We are pleased to announce that the second exhibition associated with LaToya Ruby Frazier: Riveted has officially opened at the John L. Warfield Center ISESE Gallery in JES A230. The gallery will be open to the public from 12 – 5, Wednesday – Saturday, through May 9, 2015. This exhibition features video and photographic work previously unseen at UT that emphasizes the intimate stakes of Frazier’s political and artistic practice.

This exhibition was organized by INGZ Collective, a curatorial collective that includes our very own American Studies PhD student Natalie Zelt. Join Natalie and the rest of the INGZ Collective for a curators talk and exhibition reception tomorrow, Tuesday February 24, from 4 – 6pm in JES A230. And mark your calendars for LaToya Ruby Frazier’s upcoming residency at the John L. Warfield Center for African and African American Studies, which will include an artist talk and exhibition reception on April 22.