Fall Semester 2015
Max Forrester, History
Anglo-American settlers arrived in the early 19th-century Southwest with a desire for individual participation in local governance and profound, if conflicting, senses of destiny that turned the borderlands of Louisiana and Mexican Texas into a forge for political challenges and emergent religious awakening. Forrester contends that the religious history in these places is inextricable from the political, and that this symbiosis may be seen through the performance of national loyalty, the initiation and relief of violent conflict, the facilitation and justification of dispossession, and the legitimation and sustainment of systems of labor exploitation. To address these issues, he concentrates on the ways in which Anglo and Franco-Americans, Hispanics, and Indian groups conceived of and attempted to bring about futures they considered realizable or foreordained. His dissertation, “Competing Destinies: Religious and Political Conflict in the Southwest Borderlands, 1803–1848,” employs a wide range of historical sources, including written correspondence, government documents, sermons, speeches, newspaper editorials, court papers, memoirs, travelogues and unpublished diaries. These texts help him to develop a narrative that is both local and national, and both personal and public. Connecting politics to piety, however, has necessitated a multidisciplinary approach, and to this end he regularly incorporates ethnohistorical scholarship, cultural studies and cultural anthropology into his analysis.
Kelsey Klotz, Music
In her dissertation, “‘How Can They Call Us Cool?’ Race, Authenticity, and Embodiment in Cool Jazz Narratives, 1948–1960,” Klotz analyzes narrative formation and the cultural construction of racial bias in the genre “cool jazz.” By focusing on the Modern Jazz Quartet, Miles Davis and the Dave Brubeck Quartet, she investigates the embodied experience of musicians who fit uneasily within the boundaries of both authentic jazz and cool jazz as defined by the critics and audiences who listened to them. In most mid-century critiques of cool jazz, historians and critics noted cool’s supposed privileging of mind over body, a critical distinction that relied on opposing discourses of intellect and primitivism. Critics created jazz narratives that invoked racial stereotypes to determine what was, and was not, authentic jazz. This dissertation focuses on these primitivist discourses, which fetishized African-American bodies but denied African Americans’ intellectual powers, while privileging the minds and music of white musicians as inherently intellectual. The cultural legacy of primitivist images of African Americans contributes to ongoing institutional racism, and it is only by recognizing this legacy that we can begin to question how it plays out in other domains, cultural, political and otherwise.
Elisabeth Windle, English
In her interdisciplinary dissertation, “Queer Nostalgia Across the Gay American Century,” Elisabeth Windle recovers nostalgia—unpopular, readily dismissed, and presumptively conservative—as a generative analytical position from which to read queer texts. Queer nostalgia designates, on the one hand, specific kinds of nostalgic feeling for the queer past as well as, on the other, nostalgia’s own theoretical, affective, and formal queerness. Against both the ubiquitous narrative of progress circulating in mainstream gay culture and the theoretical impasse of competing theories of queer temporality, a number of recent films and cultural products illustrate alternative approaches to queer history, approaches marked by formal and/or thematic nostalgia. Her archive gathers together a group of post-Stonewall films, literature, and cultural products that deploy the pre-Stonewall literary past to think through contemporary issues of gay life, sometimes overtly, sometimes obliquely: same-sex marriage, the myth of the down low, effemiphobia and anti-feminism, hate crimes legislation, gay teen suicides, and HIV/AIDS. Primary texts at the center of this project include the film Brother to Brother (2004), the Levi’s Jeans ad “Go Forth” (2009), a new edition of the “Calamus” sequence from Whitman’s Leaves of Grass (2011), and the Truman Capote biopics Capote (2005) and Infamous (2006).
Spring Semester 2016
Claire Class, English and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies
Class’s dissertation, “Typewriting: Literature, Gender, and Modernist Sociology in America, 1892-1930,” argues that some practitioners turned to literary modernism not to describe modernity but to codify situated knowledges and advance social change. In his formative study, Edmund Wilson describes modernism as “literary shorthand which makes complex ideas more manageable.” His sentiments resonate with those of many early-twentieth century American sociologists who likewise hoped their writing would streamline complex social processes and expose essential patterns. Yet modernists such as Ezra Pound, Wyndham Lewis, and Virginia Woolf roundly condemned sociological writing, which they considered too “realist” and, unlike modernism and the physical sciences, incapable of transcending language and revealing essential truths. Class concentrates on a small group at the margins of both these camps: sociologists who turned to life writing and fiction to theorize gender. Though Jane Addams, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Pauline Hopkins, and W. E. B. Du Bois moved to literature with the hope of better understanding complex social systems, unlike their literary and sociological colleagues, they did not aspire to locate fundamental truths. Instead, they developed a modernist sociology that highlights the productive limits of language and renders the systemic without collapsing difference or curtailing interpretation. Moreover, Class claims those aspects of their writing that are the most “modernist,” that engage the formal experimentation associated with modernist writing, are also those most responsive to these aims.
Robin Girard, Romance Languages & Literatures
Scholars of the medieval Mediterranean are increasingly aware of the intellectual imperative of abolishing divisive and often anachronistic boundaries that have so long dominated literary studies, be they political, religious or linguistic, and of embracing a rhizomatic reading of literary culture extending from the British Isles to Persia. Robin Girard’s dissertation, “Courtly Love and Its Counterparts in the Medieval Mediterranean” (dir. Julie Singer), seeks to interrogate the considerable cultural affinities evinced by the French and Islamicate literary traditions as seen through the lens of twelfth-century erotological knowledge. By drawing on a diverse body of texts ranging from the Andalusi love manual, the Ṭawq al-Hamāma, and the Arabic folk compendium, the Alf Layla wa Layla, to the early Arthurian legend of Tristan and Yseult and Constantine the African’s medical primer, the Viaticum Peregrinantis, Girard argues that the High Middle Ages saw the development of a shared erotological culture based upon a system of mutually recognizable symbols and aesthetics that spanned the Mediterranean and transcended contemporary geopolitics. Further, his dissertation project aims to map certain routes by which this erotological culture could be disseminated and thus come to shape the worldview of Muslim poets, Jewish doctors and Christian kings alike.