Alumni Voices: Prof. Angie Maxwell (University of Arkansas) on the South and Donald Trump

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Prof. Angie Maxwell, Diane D. Blair Professor of Southern Studies and Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Arkansas, has penned a new piece exploring southern identity, whiteness, and Donald Trump’s rise for Virginia Quarterly Review. We’ve reproduced an excerpt below, but for the full article, click here.

Southern whiteness is not just about race. Yes, that is how it started. But as Southern whites faced the changing twentieth century, they became the “other” or foil to American identity. Each time the criticism poured in, they defined themselves in opposition to a growing pantheon of enemies. Southern whiteness expands beyond racial identity and supremacy, encapsulating rigid stances on religion, education, the role of government, the view of art, an opposition to science and expertise and immigrants and feminism, and any other topic that comes under attack. This ideological web of inseparable strands envelops a community and covers everything, and it is easily (and intentionally by Donald Trump) snagged.

Announcement: Dr. Maurie McInnis appointed UT Provost and Professor of American Studies

Maurie McInnis

Earlier this week, University of Texas at Austin’s President Greg Fenves announced the appointment of Dr. Maurie McInnis as the University’s executive vice president and provost. In addition to her duties as the provost, Prof. McInnis will also be appointed as Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities #1 in the Department of American Studies.

Prof. McInnis has long taught undergraduate courses in American Studies and Art History, including an innovative multi-disciplinary lecture class focused on the history and culture of the slave South. A former Chair of University of Virginia’s American Studies program, her interdisciplinary scholarship focuses on the relationship between politics and art in early America. Prof. McInnis’s most recent book, Slaves Waiting for Sale: Abolitionist Art and the American Slave Trade, was awarded the Charles C. Eldredge Book Prize from the Smithsonian American Art Museum for outstanding scholarship in American Art and the Library of Virginia Literary Award for non-fiction. Her scholarship has been long engaged with public history, and she has worked regularly with museums and historic sites. More details on Professor McInnis’s scholarship, research and accomplishments are available on her website.

We are delighted to welcome Maurie McInnis to both the College of Liberal Arts, and the Department of American Studies!

Alumni Voices: Angie Maxwell, Asst. Prof. of Political Science, University of Arkansas – Fayetteville

We’re pleased to share with you this conversation with Dr. Angie Maxwell, who received her Ph.D. from the Department of American Studies in 2008. Dr. Maxwell is the Diane D. Blair Professor of Southern Studies and an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. Her new book is The Indicted South: Public Criticism, Southern Inferiority, and the Politics of Whiteness (UNC Press, 2014). 

Maxwell author photo

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 landed in a political science department which, at times, feels very far removed from my training and my natural curiosity. Data sets, hypotheses, and statistics software were not my tools in my days in Garrison Hall. But the questions I ask always percolate from my American Studies background—questions about identity and the imagined space of the South. I’ve just started a new book that considers the impact of what I’m calling “The Long Southern Strategy” on white southern distinctiveness. Whereas political scientists have seem consumed, at least so far, with locating the origin of southern realignment with the Republican Party in the second half of the 20th century, I see the shift as a movement that extends beyond the initial exodus of white male voters from the southern Democratic Party. And like most American Studies scholars, I’m fixated on the long term effects of an effort that was not limited to race-baiting, but rather a broader pitch of us vs. them, with the them being African Americans or working women or religious non-believers, etc. Professor Abzug once told a room of graduate students that American Studies folks circumambulate a question or an idea. They place it in the middle and then they look at it from every possible angle until they have enough perspective to say something useful. I’ve never forgotten that image, and it guides my interdisciplinary reading habit, which is, first and foremost, the most important demand of the discipline. American studies closes no doors, but seeks insight from any and all sources. My UT professors exemplified that in their teaching and their research, and I am still learning from their example.

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?

Three pieces of advice (solicited but not necessarily wise…) that I wish someone would have given me.

  1. Take classes outside of the humanities. I had the extreme good fortune of studying under such legends as Elspeth Rostow (LBJ School of Public Affairs), Roderick Hart (Communications), and Walter Dean Burnham (Government). The reading and the work stretched me intellectually and forced me to confront both methodological strengths and limitations. At their core, each discipline has a different take on proof and on the production of knowledge. The “truth,” as American Studies scholars know well is somewhere in the middle. But that becomes clearer the farther you wander from your intellectual home.
  2. Soak up your time with your professors. If they are in the American Studies department at UT, then they are the best in the business. They have put big ideas on paper. And that is not a small thing. Seek their advice, but don’t waste their time. Listen. Be open to criticism. Allow them to pick apart your ideas and then put you and your project back together. The finished project will be better than you could have imagined, and the process itself will sharpen your mind and amplify your scholarly voice. Thank them.
  3. Be kind to and supportive of your cohort. Celebrate their successes. Truly interdisciplinary thinkers are not as easy to find as it may seem when you have the luxury of being surrounded by them in graduate school. In fact, you may never “fit in” quite as well anywhere else. So no matter where you end up geographically, they will be your community, and you will rely on them as colleagues and need them as friends.

Faculty Research: Dr. Karl Hagstrom Miller on “15 Minute History”

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Want to learn something fascinating about the history of popular music? Kick your weekend off with one of our favorite podcasts: the UT History Department’s “15 Minute History” has released a quick interview with our own Dr. Karl Hagstrom Miller about his book, Segregating Sound: Inventing Folk and Pop Music in the Age of Jim Crow.

The podcast is available here, and a quick excerpt from the chat is below:

I find three groups are essential to this book and three groups of players or people really started interacting in new ways at this period. Those groups are musicians in the south, who have been there all along of course, a record industry that is new, recordings really started taking off around 1905-1906 and they spread across the north and south and the globe, in fact. And this is a completely fresh and novel way of making music, listening to music, and buying music. It’s this moment where music actually gets separated from the musician for the first time. That has dramatic effects on the way people conceive of the identity of the music as separate from the identity of the musician, because there had never been an opportunity to contemplate that before.

So musicians, music industry, and I also think academics at the time, particularly folklorists were instrumental in this shift. At the same time that record companies were distributing this technology and new records across the south, folklorists were moving into the south looking for particular kinds of music and not others. It is at this moment when records, musicians, are permeating the south that folklorists begin talking about the south as a repository of older styles of music, more authentic, more true, more genuine styles of music as a way of distinguishing them from these commercial ditties that they didn’t like very much.

Alumni Voices: Dr. David Wharton, Director of Documentary Studies at Center for the Study of Southern Culture, University of Mississippi

Today we share some insights from Dr. David Wharton, the Director of Documentary Studies at Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi. He is the author of The Soul of a Small Texas Town: Photographs, Memories, and History from McDade, Texas (2000) and will release Small Town South, a collection of photographs of the south, in Fall 2012. In addition, a selection of his photographs can be found at his website.

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?

The work I do now, both my teaching as a member of University of Mississippi faculty and my personal photographic work, have been directly informed by the graduate work I did at UT.  As a teacher, I demand that students search beyond the obvious to discover deeper meanings in nearly all things cultural.  I learned this, not always happily at the time, from seminars with Professors Goetzmann and Crunden.  Goetzmann knew intuitively that everything was connected to just about everything else and took delight in showing us how.  Crunden insisted that we constantly dig deeper and that we think clearly all the while.  Jeff Meikle’s quiet good humor assured us that we could be both good scholars and good people, while Bill Stott’s grand embrace of a broad spectrum of ideas gave us intellectual license to roam.  I try to incorporate all of these qualities into my teaching.  Occasionally I succeed and that makes me feel good.

As a photographer whose work lives in the gray area between art and documentary, I am also able to credit my grad school years.  While working on my MFA in the Art Department, Mark Goodman and Lawrence McFarland made me wrestle with the complicated relationship between photography and reality.  The AMS doctoral program demanded that I steep myself in the study of America’s past and present (something I had managed to avoid as an undergraduate) for several years, but then set me free to do whatever I wanted.  That was a vote of confidence I am thankful for to this day.  It propelled me into completing a photographic/ethnographic/historical dissertation on a small bit of rural culture that was eventually published in book form: The Soul of a Small Texas Town: Photographs, Memories, and History from McDade (University of Oklahoma Press, 2000).  I continue to work in a similar vein, traveling throughout the American South to photograph various aspects of rural and small town culture.  Another book of photographs—Small Town South—will be published this fall (see www.gftbooks.com for more information).  I truly believe that my UT graduate school experiences opened these intellectual doors for me and gave me the confidence to walk through them.

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?

Do something you truly care about—not something you think you should care about—but something you REALLY do care about.  Find a mentor who will support and encourage you but won’t insist that you do things his/her way.  Life’s too short to always be jumping through hoops.