Undergrad Research: Molly Mandell Awarded 2015-2016 Rapoport-King Scholarship

SelfPortraitWe are very pleased to announce that UT AMS undergraduate Molly Mandell recently received a Rapoport-King Scholarship from the College of Liberal Arts to support her honors thesis research this school year. A Rapoport-King is a great show of support from the College, and we are very pleased to have Molly represent the great work being done in the department to the wider university community.

If you’d like to learn more about Molly and her research on organic farming in Cuba, check out this interview we did with her last spring.

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.

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.

Undergrad Research: “Exhibiting Austin” Presentations This Tuesday


The amazing undergraduate research just keeps coming! Earlier this week we featured a project by Dr. Steve Hoelscher’s Intro to American Studies class, Postcards from Texas, a photo blog that considers the themes of the American Dream and mobility. Today we would like to invite you to attend a series of presentations by students in Dr. Cary Cordova’s “Exhibiting Austin” class that ruminate on Austin’s diverse history. The presentations will take place at the Austin History Center photo gallery (810 Guadalupe St.) on Tuesday, May 13, from 3:00 – 5:00pm.

Here is a description of the project from Dr. Cordova:

Students have spent the semester studying not just the history of Austin, but the collections of the Austin History Center.  Studying our local archive has inspired diverse and unique research projects: students have gathered oral histories, composed photo essays, generated economic studies, composed resource guides, and launched fundraiser projects.  Their research topics vary widely, but feature examinations in education, the arts, activism, food, transportation, and human trafficking, and include meaningful contributions to Mexican American history, Asian American history, Native American history, Czech history, and LGBTQ history.

Please join us to celebrate the hard work of these students and to share in their excavations of Austin histories.

Undergrad Research: Postcards from Texas

We love to feature student work here on AMS :: ATX, and today we are pleased to direct your attention to a project by Dr. Steve Hoelscher’s Spring 2014 Intro to American Studies class, Postcards from Texas. We mentioned this project previously here on the blog, and we’re thrilled to show you its latest iteration. The Postcards project is a blog that features photographs and text created by students that reflect on various concepts–previously the American Dream, and this time around, mobility–and what they might mean today.


Here is a description of the project from the Postcards website:

Over the past couple of years, undergraduate students in Prof. Steven Hoelscher’s Introduction to American Studies class at the University of Texas at Austin researched competing notions of American identity in a two-step project. Beginning with the inspirational model of Magnum Photos ongoing Postcards from America series, students were asked to explore one segment of the U.S. visually, through photography. First, each student considered a complex cultural phenomenon—“the American Dream” in 2012 and “Mobility” in 2014. Second, students then recorded their thoughts in the form of a photographic image in Texas. In these original photographs—and in the detailed, unedited captions that accompany them—the extraordinary range of how American cultural life is envisioned comes into full view.

What follows are visual documents of the hope and confidence that often come naturally to college students, but also, in many cases, an equal recognition of life’s injustices and uncertainties. A composite, multifaceted picture of modern America emerges from these photographs: of idealism and pragmatism, the political left and political right, acquisitiveness and a rejection of materialism, arguments for traditional family values and LGBT rights, conformity and insurgency.  Together, these postcards from Texas—of cotton fields and strip malls, millionaires and homeless men, junkyards and mansions—complicate glib calls for an unproblematically unified America. They also demonstrate the creative energy and thoughtfulness that has always been central to “the American dream”—whatever it means – and to American mobility.

Alumni Voices: Recent Grad Publishes Book on Austin Music in the ’60s

Today we are thrilled to feature an interview with one of our recent graduates, Ricky Stein, who has published a book based on his undergraduate thesis, Sonobeat Records: Pioneering the Austin Sound in the ’60s. We sat down with Ricky to discuss his book, his time in American Studies at UT, and what’s next for him and his research on Austin music.


What was the inspiration for this project?

Music and musicology have always been what I go for. I grew up listening to all the great rock records and got endlessly interested in music. My other interest is in my hometown of Austin and its history. Austin has, I think, a history that you don’t hear a lot about. It’s not on par with some of the other major cities in the country, but it has a really nice little history. I was also interested in seeing how it went from being a sleepy college town, a settler’s town, really, to this up-and-coming city on the rise known throughout the country. The thing with Sonobeat, well, that was a gift–it’s amazing what can happen after one conversation. One minute I was working as an intern at KLRU and this guy says I should check out this website, Sonobeat Records, because he knew I was interested in Austin music. I checked it out and two weeks later got invited to participate in the senior thesis class taught by Dr. Janet Davis. I’m so glad I did that, because it dawned on me then that I had a chance to write about this local story.

How did you go from writing an undergraduate thesis on Sonobeat Records to writing a book?

It occurred really naturally. I am also a musician and worked for about ten years before going to college. For a long time I tried to get a record deal and then when I finally went to college the book just happened. I was so lucky, because it’s a really good topic and people are interested in it, especially because Austin has become the music town it has become. When I interviewed one of the musicians who was in a band signed with the Sonobeat label he knew of a publisher, The History Press that does city and local histories. He got me in touch with them, and they read the thesis I had written. They liked it and asked if I could expand it, double it, basically. And we drew up a timetable and they drew up a contract, and it was too cool–a little less than a year later I expanded it into a book and now it’s published.

We had an event this past Sunday at Antone’s Record Shop–there was a book signing, and we had one of the Sonobeat bands playing, The Sweetarts. I wish more students went to Antone’s Records, because I always loved going there when I was at UT and I wish I got out there more. It has a perfect location, right by campus, and they specialize in these old records, the old vinyls. We’re also doing a book signing this week at Waterloo Records on Thursday at 5:00.

How did your work in American Studies prepare you to do what you are doing now?

One of the things I really love about American Studies and one of the reasons I chose it as my degree was the interdisciplinary nature of it. It’s like history meets anthropology, sort of. I’m a culture junkie; I love film and music and art and history and literature, and that’s literally what I wake up thinking about in the morning. So American Studies spoke to me directly because it fit what I was interested in. I think the class I took that most stands out to me is Main Currents in American Cultural History, one of the courses that every American Studies student takes. We studied cities; the professor focused on studies of places like Chicago, New York, the Rust Belt, and we studies Los Angeles when we were talking about the twentieth-century rise of the Sun Belt from Los Angeles to Houston. I found that really interesting–the evolution of the American city–so that definitely had a big influence on writing the book. The broad scope of American Studies is great–there’s a lot of room for research there.

What’s next for you?

I have applied for the Texas State Historical Association conference. I’m on a team with a couple of grad students that is headed by Jason Mellard who is a really brilliant musicologist and American Studies professor at Texas State. He was a big help for me as I was working on the book, and his book on Progressive Country just came out from the University of Texas Press. My topic for the panel is the East Austin music scene, which you don’t hear a lot about–the juke joints of the 1950s back when Austin was a segregated city. I’m not sure where the research will go, but I want to do as much research as I can and continue writing. I loved writing this book–the whole process was so cool and came so naturally. It’s something I’m really proud of. So I hope to do more of that, and I am gearing up to apply to grad school and I want to be a professor of American Studies or History and read and write for as long as I can.