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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Stories from Summer Vacation: Greg Seaver on Finding “New York” in the U.S. South

We are counting down the days until the firstclasses of Fall semester, but summer’s not quite over yet–enjoy today’s story from Masters student Greg Seaver!

This summer, I took an unfocused, meandering road trip with my college roommate that launched from Bedford, New York and landed roughly two weeks later in Athens, Georgia. Nick (my college roommate) had helped me schlep all my stuff from New Orleans to Austin last year when I moved, and I figured I’d return the favor by providing moral support while he looked for a new place in central North Carolina, where he’ll be teaching college Geology this coming year. If you haven’t travelled with a geologist, I recommend it. They’re full of all sorts of vaguely illuminating though not obviously useful information, like how to tell that you’ve just crossed over from one geophysical province to another (e.g. Piedmont to Coastal Plain), or how, roughly, to distinguish endemic from non-endemic rocks by chewing on them.

At some point fairly early on in the trip, it occurred to me that this coming semester will mark the beginning of my ninth consecutive year living in the U.S. South. Zounds! I certainly never planned it this way. And yet, after a year of studying American culture at UT, I was also feeling better equipped than ever to make sense of a region that, as a native New Yorker, has always struck me as somewhat foreign.

This turned out to be more or less the case. But something else happened, something much more interesting than the eight-hundred or so pithy Seinfeldian observations I made over the two week duration–stuff like how billboards in the South are on the whole more confrontational, or tipping situations less anxiety-producing. Something rather bizarre I started noticing, with increasing frequency as latitudes dropped, was various business concerns billing themselves as New York-style. So you’d see a storefront with a sign advertising a New York, say, Salon. Or Life Insurance Group. Genuine Pizza Parlor. Boutique. Chinese Food! Obviously some of these make more sense than others.

I can only speculate why such outlets chose to draw on Northern cachet to pitch their products: my guess is that “New York” connotes some sort of authenticity or trustworthiness with the more cosmopolitan Southern crowd (many of these self-proclaimed “New York” business were to be found in more upscale southern cities like Charleston and Savannah). Anyway, like any trend that’s gathered a bit of momentum, this one seemed to have spawned an underground counter-movement, to my great delight.