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My New Book!
My New Book!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

January 11, 2012: New England American Studiers

[This week I’ll be blogging about fellow American Studiers, colleagues and friends who exemplify the best kinds of scholarly engagement with our national histories, stories, and identities. That’s in addition to other folks about whom you’ve already heard in this space, a list which would include Caroline Rody, Karl Jacoby, Christopher Cappozzola, Mike Branch, Heidi Kim, Kevin Levin and Ta-Nehisi Coates, Rob Velella, Larry Rosenwald, Steve Railton, my web guru Graham Beckwith, and many more. This is the third in the series.]

How a couple of regional colleagues can reveal the incredible range of contemporary, exemplary American Studies scholarship.

Long-time readers of this blog know well how much I’ve been influenced and inspired by my work over the last few years with the New England American Studies Association; for new readers, the relevant posts are collected under the “New England ASA” category on the right. But even before I had the chance to serve as the organization’s president and organize a conference and so on, just serving on the NEASA Council already helped me to recognize and appreciate two interconnected and impressive facts: New England is full of folks doing amazing American Studies work (in and out of the academy, to go back to yesterday’s subject); and the different disciplines and approaches contained within the field of American Studies are even broader and richer than I had previously imagined. Many of my NEASA colleagues could be used to illustrate those facts, but I’m going to focus here on two: NEASA’s current webmaster, Jonathan Silverman; and one of its most successful past presidents, J. Kēhaulani Kauanui.

Jonathan Silverman teaches in the English and American Studies Departments at UMass Lowell, and so might on the surface seem to share an American Studies approach with this American Studier. But as I have discovered through my work with him, Jonathan’s American Studies lens is just as significantly, and very uniquely, informed by a combination of four other elements: analytical tools drawn from the worlds of popular and visual culture, as illustrated by his great book on Johnny Cash; a connection of those skills to the kinds of arguments and work at the heart of composition studies, as illustrated by his co-edited reader; an interest in international experiences and perspectives, as illustrated by his work as a Fulbright Roving Scholar in American Studies in Norway; and all of it viewed and written through the lenses of a long-time journalist and media scholar. Jonathan’s newest project, on the international and national meanings of horse racing, demonstrates anew how much this combinatory American Studies perspective can tell us about the societies and worlds in which we live.

J. Kēhaulani Kauanui, who teaches in Anthropology and American Studies Departments at Wesleyan University, has a much more unified, if still impressively deep and multi-faceted, lens through which she has done and continues to do her exemplary American Studies work. She is one of New England’s and America’s most prominent and influential scholars of indigenous cultures and histories: her most central interest is in the indigenous Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) cultures, as illustrated by her first book on colonialism, sovereignty, and indigeneity in Hawaii and by her two scholarly projects in progress; but she has linked that specific scholarly pursuit to comparative analyses of and activism with Maori groups and other Pacific Islanders, to a radio program that explores indigenous political and social issues across the US and beyond, to the founding of the national Native American and Indigenous Studies Association, and to important work on a number of related American Studies issues of ethnicity, gender and sexuality, democracy and activism, and more (all of which were exemplified by the NEASA conference she organized in her year as president).

I’m not saying other regions don’t have equally diverse and impressive American Studiers, but I’m pretty proud to call these two (and many others) regional and NEASA colleagues. Next models tomorrow,


PS. Any exemplary American Studiers you’d highlight?

1/11 Memory day nominee: William James, the pioneering psychological, philosopher, spiritual thinker, and renaissance American who not only significantly advanced human knowledge and ideas in a number of disciplines but also played a hugely influential role in the careers and lives of both one of our greatest creative writers (his brother Henry) and (to me) the most inspiring single American (W.E.B. Du Bois).

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