Orvell’s American Studies scholarship has consistently sought to engage with some of the broadest and most defining American ideas and questions: concepts of reality, authenticity, and imitation in American culture and life; the history and practice of American photography; technology and its impacts on the visual arts and culture; popular images and narratives of Main Street. Yet what Orvell has succeeded in doing, without eliding or missing the broad and communal meanings of his subjects in the slightest, is to connect his analyses to nuanced and compelling close readings of individual artists and texts, making clear in the process the specific valences and stakes of his central ideas. A particularly clear illustration of that multi-level American Stuff methodology is the Encyclopedia of American Studies, which Orvell helped create and for which he served as general editor for many years; the EAS is amazingly comprehensive in its range of subjects and disciplines (I helped find pictures for articles on skateboarding, temperance, and the Revolutionary War and wrote ones on Poe, Thoreau, Wright, and Ellison, for example), yet each individual article pays close and convincing analytical attention to specific texts, figures, and details.
Two very distinct scholars and careers, each plenty influential and inspiring, together exemplifying the breadth and depth of what American Studies can be. Next models tomorrow,
PS. Any American Studiers you’d like to nominate? Remember, Guest Posts always welcome!
1/9 Memory Day nominee: Joan Baez, the folk singer-songwriter who has been an iconic presence on the American cultural landscape since Woodstock, who has done important activist work on behalf of civil and gay rights, anti-war and anti-poverty efforts, and the environment (among many other issues), and who continues to release powerful new music in the 21st century.