Previous Graduate Student Research Showcases
The graduate students in the American Studies program at Purdue produce forward-thinking original scholarship and creative productions that push the boundaries of American Studies as a field, as well as that of the various disciplines with which they engage. This page archives the regular showcases of these young scholars and their current interdisciplinary research.
My research examines the evolution of sexual practices between men by focusing on one location within the urban sexual landscape: gay bathhouses. Although sexual encounters occurred in the so-called "ordinary bathhouses" of the late-nineteeth century, these liaisons posed numerous social and legal risks. By the early twentieth century, however, some establishments began to cater explicitly to men seeking sexual encounters with other men, offering a greater degree of privacy and protection. Taking an interdisciplinary approach, I blend methodological elements from textual analysis, historiography, and ethnography to trace how these establishments developed and how they change physically over time, as well as how those changes related to shifts in the sexual practies taking place within them.
My dissertation, Radical Manifest Destiny: Mapping Power in Urban Space in the Age of Protest, 1968-1979, traces the transnational movement of insurgent park creation as a method of portest against urban renewal and police brutality. Having conducted archival research across seven states, I have broken ground by documenting more than four dozen People's Parks created after the first in Berkeley, CA in 1968. Utilizing a wide range of archival collections and oral history interviews, I argue that as practices of experimental community-based urban design, insurgent place-making initiatives--such as the illegal takeover of vacant lots and the anarchist creation of free public green spaces called "People's Parks" --at times, facilitated cross-cultural coalitions that transcended ethnic, racial, and national borders. Linking these spaces together, my dissertation focuses on the social and material culture of these projects, including shared meals, manual labor, and print media, as a lens into how activities understood the connections between identity, power, and space within the late-Cold War era. Fore more, see www.KeraLovell.com
Currently my research focuses on how the display and participation of Asian/American portraiture in the form of performance, digital media, and painting in (inter)national galleries reveal the imperial agendas of such exhibitionary spaces. I ask, what are the effects of an artisit's work in distinct national museums on the art object, the community in which it exhibits in, and the understanding of Asian/American subjectivity? In what ways do these portraits, whose queer, diasporic, and subcultural inflections flounder in the exhibitionary space, reveal treacherous curatorial practice? And how do portraits that are embodied via virtual and augmented reality transcend spatial and ideological boundaries? Ultimately combining visual culture, museum studies, and performance studies, I read the works by and of Asian/Americans as performative agents that contest and complicate Asian/American subjectivity, the rules of citizenry (local and global), and hegemonic modes of displaying within museum spaces that elicit national narratives.
What is the relationship between religious and ethnic identity? How do place, environment, and context affect these identity formations? These are the two critical questions I aim to answer in my dissertation project. The lens through which I will answer these questions is through the experiences of second generation Korean American Christians who grew up in the space of the Midwest. In order to learn about these identity formations and hear from the individuals themselves, I have chosen the enthnographic methodology of in-depth interviewing. It is my hope that this project will challenge, offer encouragement, and lead to care.
In my dissertation, Virgin Land: National Identity, Sexual Citizenship and Young Women in the Contemporary United States, I analyze the rhetoric of virginity in medical, legal, and popular culture documents during the World War II era (1940-1945) and the early War on Terror (2001-2008). This juxtaposition allows the consistencies in the use of virginity discourses in the creation and maintenance of patriarchal state power at home and abroad to become more visible. Further, understanding the connections between virginity and patriarchal power allows for the imagining of alternative, and even queer, formulations of power and community.
My research explores the social and cultural experience of insulin pump use by people with Type 1 Diabetes. Use of these devices simultaneously alters users’ bodies and identities as treatment technologies become integrated as actors within users’ biological and social systems. People with Type 1 Diabetes and their insulin pumps become newly visible and legible to themselves, the people around them, and cultural systems of power in new ways through multi-faceted human-technological relationships. While that new technolegibility of the body provides unprecedented control over the symptoms and side-effects of the disease, I contend, it also brings with it unforeseen social consequences that alter people’s everyday life and practices. Uncovering these sites of techno-medicalized meaning creation destabilizes the assumptions at the center of dominant cultural definitions of diabetes, placing technology at the heart of Diabetic identity construction. Understanding how technoscience, identity, and bodies intertwine in the context of the contemporary United States highlights how that process structures understandings of ourselves and others within modern biomedicalized cultural paradigms.
My research examines the role that African American recording artists played in the global fight against South Africa's apartheid regime. While the study of the anti Apartheid movement has been well documented, no study has attempted a transnational history of the role of African American recording artists in the movement from 1977-1987. Using Sun city- a segregated Las Vegas style luxury resport, as a case study, I look at performance, music, and grassroots movements as a form of cutlural resistance again the Nationalist Party government to end Apartheid. I argue that the disaporic solidarity enacted by prominent African American recording artists was fundamental in the dismantling of Apartheid in South Africa.
My dissertation uses contemporary black literature, film and television to explore and answer the following questions: What types of images of the ageing black woman are created in cultural texts, especially in contemporary literature, film and television? When the stereotypes of age intersect with the most common stereotypes for the portrayal of black women how are elder black women further marginalized? How can womanism be used to offer a critical analysis of the hegemony of youth, and aid in images of elder black women becoming more visible while also impacting the social cultural realities of Black women in their later years.
My dissertation examines the roles of economic citizenship and conceptualizations of care within potential expressions of a U.S.-based solidarity economy, which is grounded in principles of solidarity, sustainability, equity in all dimensions, participatory democracy, and pluralism. Highlighting the effects of race, ethnicity, class, gender, and political and cultural histories in a specific context, my project examines a historical settlement house and a contemporary women-led community organization in El Paso, Texas. Utilizing ethonographic methos, as well as archival research, I aim to provide important implications for broadening a conceptualization of a "solidary economy," especially within the context of the U.S.-Mexico border.
My current research investigates the intersections between race, gender, popular culture, tourism, and US empire, focusing primarily on Disney’s representations of Hawai’i. Through its parks and films, Disney constructs a model for ideal tourism of its narratives and spaces that I argue supports and enforces contemporary U.S. imperial tourism by normalizing U.S. empire in its version of tourism. Using Disney’s representations of Hawai’i as a case study, this project interrogates the ways in which Disney contributes to contemporary U.S. empire by providing a platform that encourages white, middle-class mainlanders to participate in and practice imperial tourism, journeying from Lilo & Stitch to the Polynesian Village Resort Hotel.
My research focus is the anthropology of midwifery, and my dissertation examines the pursuit of legal recognition by non-nurse midwifery in the state of Alabama. I am particularly interested in how theories of intersectionality, economic citizenship, and structural violence impact midwives ability to provide care, and womens accessibility to care. My dissertation is informed by a mixed methodology of participant observation and statistical analysis in order to provide evidence for effective change and improvement to maternal and reproductive healthcare in Alabama. I also consider how women supplement their maternal and reproductive healthcare with limited care options.
Beginning with Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, my dissertation traces a theoretical approach I am calling “The Invisible Man Paradox.” I argue that black satire creates an ongoing resistance to invisibility resulting from the social acceptance of racial stereotypes that marginalize blackness and protect whiteness. I explore how powerlessness, voicelessness and social death are often times direct results of invisibility creating a monolithic definition of black identity. Furthermore, I explore how black satire supplies counter narratives that place black individuals within social history, thereby establishing space for black humanity (in contrast to whiteness) within the American social landscape. Finally, I examine ways in which black satire, as a form for social protest, has survived and evolved over time providing a constant and persistent resistance to racism and its dehumanizing effects.
Paula D. Ashe
The Sister Cyborg Project (SCP) is an interdisciplinary, multi-modal examination of the discursive strategies employed by black feminists via digital technologies from 2004 to 2014. This project interrogates black feminist social networking exchanges, digital cultural productions, and web-based political mobilizations on behalf of black feminist agendas and agency by considering three digital events: folksinger Ani DiFranco’s ‘Righteous Retreat’, Mikki Kendall’s #solidarityisforwhitewomen Twitter campaign, and The Onion’s incendiary Tweet at actress Quvenzhane Wallis. The SCP considers the rallying efforts of black feminists around issues of space, sisterhood, and self.
My research studies the migration patterns of the hipster and their commodification of the rural. More specifically, I look at how the contemporary counterculture is moving away from their familiar urban environment and immersing into the pastoral landscape, thereby becoming farmers. Consequently, I also focus on how millennials seek authenticity by appropriating the material culture of the traditional family farm into their own identities. By studying this socially constructed movement, my work challenges the fluid relationship between the urban and the rural as a reaction to the modern, as well as a revolt against industrial failure in metropolitan areas.
My research examines the ideological underpinnings of transgender representation in popular culture, what these portrayals communicate to audiences, and how this affects trans people on a systemic level and in their everyday lives. I am looking at the ways in which mass media obsesses over trans women like Caitlyn Jenner while obscuring the experiences of trans people via sensationalist conversations of medicalization, pathologization, and fetishization. I am interested in examining the historical conditions for trans representation(s) to understand how systems of oppression have fostered conditions of injustice, especially for those who are not straight, cisgender, middle class, male, and white.
My research is Race, Space and Place in that it explores the psyche of African Americans in the United States and how they had to negotiate their existence according to the racial history of the U.S. that is founded and built upon extreme contradictions of theoretical freedom and applied bondage. It defines and describes the making of the Purdue Black Cultural Center as a place where Black cultures from different Black neighborhoods throughout the nation would meet to demand ‘place’ and ‘space’ for Black identities to develop at Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs),during —and leading up to- the Second Reconstruction (1945 to 1973).
My writings give a cultural history of Black Americans, and it is best described as documenting a Black Cultural Continuum in the United States during the time the Purdue Black Cultural Center was founded (1969) and under the leadership of Director Emeritus, Antonio Zamaora (1973 to 1995), the Antonio Zamora years.
My research explores the relevancy of BCCs and the working title of my dissertation is 'The Antonio Zamora Years, The Creation of Black Cultural Centers as Safe Spaces to Teach, Learn and Talk Race: From Hidden Curriculum to Public Pedagogy when Culture Migrates from Black Communities to White Campuses'. My research maps the cultural education from Black neighborhoods (using handwritten journals, obituaries, and other primary documents) to education at Black Cultural Centers (using flyers, posters, recordings of speeches, annual calendars, and the administrative papers so that these documents help display the evolution of BCC Operations for engaging with students, upper level administration and the public). Both places 'Black neighborhoods' and 'Black Cultural Centers' developed spaces that offer 'formative' educational experiences that support and reinforce 'formal' experiences in the classroom.
Stephanie A. Allen
My dissertation, “Marginal and Forbidden: Black Lesbians, Contemporary American Culture, and the Politics of Representation," argues that Black lesbian literature and film are a direct response to the marginalization and exclusion of Black lesbians and their cultural texts in literary, scholarly, and public discourses. I argue that Black lesbian literature and other cultural products mirror Black lesbians’ social, political, and cultural statuses, in that they are marginalized and often excluded from both Black and LGBTQ communities. I contend that Black lesbian cultural texts have two main goals: 1) to lay bare the experiences of Black lesbians in a raced, gendered, classed, and homophobic society; and 2) to challenge the notion that the claiming of a Black lesbian identity is “marginal and forbidden.”
See Stephanie's directory page for more info.
Aria Halliday, a PhD student in American Studies, plans to follow her research question and follow it wherever it takes her. A student interested in the burgeoning field of Black Girl Studies (a field that has roots in education and psychology), Aria is researching the cultural representations of young black girls in books, movies, plays, and other arenas. “American Studies has taught me to always question, and to always be critical,” she explains. A graduate of Davidson College, Aria was drawn to Purdue’s American Studies program because it allows her to look at a problem from various viewpoints, Instead of being bound by one discipline. “Susan Curtis contacted me because she knew about the thesis I was working on for my undergraduate degree In speaking with Professor Curtis, I realized that American Studies extends the cultural lens beyond what can traditionally be studied,” Aria explains. “In American Studies I’m not bound by disciplinary methodologies.” Although as a young girl she did not have a Barbie Doll herself, Aria is exploring how dolls and Disney Princesses relate to young black girls as they are developing their identities.