Raising the Status of the GC in American Studies

Three well-deserving GC doctoral candidates working on their dissertations were selected for the Futures of American Studies Institute. From June 18 to 24 Paula Austin (History), Jesse Schwartz (English), and Dominique Zino (English) had the great opportunity to think through their dissertations and present their work to nationally recognized leaders in American literature, history, and related studies, and network with peers from other distinguished academies.

According to its Dartmouth College website, the Futures Institute, now in its sixteenth year, was designed to provide a shared space of critical inquiry. Participants read their work in open seminars and critiques are provided by plenary speakers, who in the past have been instrumental—suggests the website—in forging connections between the participants and well-known journals and university presses within the field of American studies, and in providing recommendations and support in a fiercely competitive job market.

Schwartz, who will be defending his dissertation on late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century American literature in September, acknowledged his appreciation of the experience. “The vast range of speakers certainly highlights the array of approaches and concerns that characterizes American studies today,” he noted. “By acquiring a comprehensive topography of the field, I was able to better situate my own work … while also being exposed to new research from established scholars that both challenged and expanded my thinking.”

Like Schwartz, Austin attended the Futures Institute on an inaugural fellowship from the GC’s American Studies Certificate Program. Having trained as an historian focused on using archival materials to access glimpses of the black working class in Washington, D.C., during the interwar years, she found the emphasis on theoretical literary and cultural criticism at the institute to be a bit disorienting at first. It was, she said, “a little like being in a foreign country, immersed in a new language that you think is beautiful, but you don’t quite understand.” By the end of the week, however, Austin had met a number of faculty members and students whose work resonated with her academic interests. “I made copious notes of folks whose work on race and theoretical frameworks sounds like it will help me in reading my archival sources,” she effused. “I also made contact with other students and although they were outside of my discipline, they gave helpful feedback of my work.”

For Dominique Zino, whose dissertation is centered on four canonical nineteenth-century American authors—Ralph Waldo Emerson, Emily Dickinson, William James, and Henry James—and their relationship to media, funding to attend the Futures Institute came from a GC research grant. She too was excited by the range of perspectives she encountered during the weeklong event. “In my twelve-person seminar group alone,” she reflected, “I developed relationships with doctoral students from Norway, Sweden, Germany, Ukraine, and China.” She added that “understanding what it meant to these students to ‘do’ American studies abroad led me to consider more closely the scholarly methods and modes of national imagination that I’m exposed to as a graduate student in the United States, and in New York City.”

Spearheading the GC student participation as well as the GC’s first-time institutional involvement in this prestigious think tank for American studies was Duncan Faherty, a member of the doctoral faculty in English and head of the American Studies Certificate Program. Faherty also is codirector with Professor Kandice Chuh (English) of the GC’s Revolutionizing American Studies initiative. For all three GC attendees, a key benefit of the institute was the ability to network with professors and students at some of the country’s most elite Ph.D.-granting schools. “I know faculty at other institutions who have gone, and what it meant for their development,” said Faherty. “So our attendance there raises the status of the GC in American Studies.”

Submitted on: JUL 20, 2012

Category: American Studies, English, Student News