Fall Semester 2014
Noah Cohan (English and American Culture Studies)
Cohan's dissertation is titled "'We Average Unbeautiful Watchers': Reflexive Fans and the Readerly Stakes of American Sports Narratives.” In it, I argue that we can best grasp sports not as real events with objective results, but as narratives; mass-mediated athletics are consumed, variously interpreted and assigned personal significance in a manner most similar to the way books, films and other narrative entertainments are read. Examining a wide range of literary and cultural narratives that depict the readers of sports — the fans — I assert that the tools of critical textual inquiry are not only appropriate but are necessary if we are to understand the way sports inform the identities of millions of Americans. The fourth chapter, “Reimagined Communities: Web-Mediated Fandom and Subjective Narrativity,” extends my analysis of the fan-reader as author into the Internet era, arguing that the easily accessible publishing platforms of the blogosphere have enabled fans to publicly appropriate and renarrativize the sports, teams and players they covet. Cataloguing and closely reading texts produced by multiple narrative-oriented online fan communities, I demonstrate that these fan authors create a literature of sport unfettered by the implied narrative restrictions of “real” competition, freeing them to explore political, personal and philosophical themes often thought unavailable or limited in sporting texts. Given my argument and its investment in electronically mediated narratives, the chapter takes as its primary form a website (http://americanculture.wustl.edu/projects/cohan/) that allows readers to experience the larger web networks of contemporary American sports fandom via links, pictures and video — in effect, furthering my analysis by inhabiting the form as I examine it.
Margaret Dobbins (English)
Dobbins' dissertation, Queer Accounts: Stories of Economic Change in the Victorian Novel, argues that as economic developments in the 19th century put pressure on social identities and relations in England, novelists envisioned new, queer forms of desire in a capitalist society. Since Foucault’s History of Sexuality, queer theorists have identified the 19th century as the defining moment when “heterosexuality” and “homosexuality” emerge, effacing more fluid forms of sexual desire. Her research revises this history by uncovering the overlooked link between the imperatives of the market economy and heteronormative desire originating in the British Empire. She begins by asking why the novels of high realism fix so persistently on figures outside the prevailing sex-gender system: widows, miserly bachelors and businesswomen. Rather than seeing these characters as anomalies who must be assimilated into the heterosexual family and the capitalist ethos, she explore how mid-century novels illuminate a queer history of modern economic thought. The broad interest of this project lies in exploring how humanists tell stories of economic change in social terms: Novels take stock of the radical changes that capital wreaks on existing social structures in Victorian England, and, in the process, offer “queer accounts” of desire in a capitalist society.
En Li (History)
Li's project, titled “Betting on Empire: A Socio-Cultural History of Gambling in Late-Qing China,” uses the practice and licensing of gambling, especially the lotteries, to investigate social, political and cultural changes in the transitional period of late-Qing China and in its global context. This research begins with a study of a civil service examination scandal in 1885. A highly organized lottery scheme, where money was bet on surnames that would pass the state’s official selection exam, spurred manipulation of the exam results. Based on archival research, she concludes that instead of being a social vice or individual moral defect, the lottery contributed to a more inclusive public by providing people with simultaneous experiences across time and space. Moreover, licensing allowed the Qing state to extend its power in local society by incorporating gambling, an irrational activity, into a rational ruling framework. As a social practice in China, gaming became a cultural custom in its communities abroad. Gambling created a local, national and transnational network. Similar to commodities such as sugar, coffee, tea and codfish, gambling was able to spread across the globe, often along the same trade routes. Gambling became an important part of public culture in late-Qing China for its reorganization of interpersonal relations, cultivation of a de-radicalized society, and facilitation of exchanges in information, materials and capital in an increasingly interconnected world.
Spring Semester 2015
Courtney Andree (English)
In her dissertation, “Disabling Modernity: Disability and Sexuality in British Literature, Film and Culture, 1880-1939,” Andree argues that disability can be looked upon as a limit case that made it possible for writers, artists and filmmakers to reflect upon the shifting boundaries of citizenship, sexuality and community in modern Britain. While cultural attitudes toward and engagements with disability were in flux throughout the period that she treats, disability can be seen as a point of growing imaginative and creative interest, making it possible to conceive of alternative narrative modes; new models of inclusion and social acceptance; and the limits of the nation. Disability was also consistently bound up with questions of individual growth and development (or the perceived lack thereof), and served to reveal the limitations — and political assumptions — built into traditional narrative forms and the bildungsroman proper. As she argues, disability was frequently set apart as a prototypical “outsider” position, a position that took on increasing importance for members of other traditionally stigmatized and disenfranchised groups — particularly for queer and disabled women writers and artists. While this project is grounded in the political, legal and social history of disability, she examines a range of cultural texts from British artists, filmmakers and writers that serve to reveal an emergent disability consciousness and community. Building on recent work in disability studies, queer theory, genre studies and theory of mind, she argues that these authors and artists attempt to redress the erasure of “otherness” from the British public sphere. By restoring disability to its place within the community and decoupling it from its degenerationist and eugenic legacies, it becomes possible to conceive of disability in the future tense, as something that is potentially compatible with romantic love, reproduction, sexuality and personal autonomy.
Sara Jay (History)
In her dissertation, “Falafel, Rai and Bijoux: Cultural Exchange within the Transnational Algerian Jewish Community, 1945–1970,” Jay argues that the Algerian Jewish communities that settled in France and Israel after Algerian independence in 1962 represent a mobile, transnational collective that served as conduits of French, Israeli and Algerian culture to their new homes. Following the 1962 Evian Agreement, which denied citizenship to Jews living in Algeria, 125,000 Jews immigrated to France and 14,000 chose to settle in Israel. While most scholarly discussions of Algerian Jewish migrants have focused on the dramas of assimilation and integration into new host societies, her work examines the maintenance of communicative ties across national boundaries, among members of what was once a single community. She draws upon Jewish newspapers and pamphlets, synagogue bulletins, oral interviews with more than 80 individuals, and research in state and local government archives in France, Israel and Algeria in order to trace the exchange of both ideas and material culture, in the forms of music, fashion, art and food. These diverse sources and personal narratives reveal that the vast economic and personal networks, which existed before 1962 were maintained, and even expanded, as the population of Jews from Algeria dispersed. Emigres remained in contact with and visited family members, neighbors and friends while often simultaneously forming business partnerships. Markets for unique goods and services produced by Algerian Jews were cultivated in France and Israel within and outside of the Jewish community. Remaining a mobile community throughout the 1960s, Algerian Jews continually imported, exported and adapted musical, clothing, and food trends that they discovered and developed through their participation in transMediterranean economic and personal networks.
Jennifer Westrick (History)
Westrick’s dissertation, “In the Blood: Breeding Vice and Virtue in Early-Modern Britain,” reconstructs early-modern beliefs about blood and the inheritance of qualities spiritual and moral as well as physical. It then traces the ways in which those beliefs were put into practice. She argues that the 17th century presents a moment of syncretism between scripture and science: Older beliefs about original sin and inheritance mixed with newer medical and philosophical understandings of body and blood, each reinforcing and lending conceptual legitimacy to the other. The early-modern discourse of blood, body, nature and nurture — in which sinfulness could be passed through either reproduction or contagion — laid a path for later ideas about biological determinism. Westrick’s sources include an extensive range of legal, medical and religious texts, as well as archival documents such as diaries, criminal depositions and midwifery notes.