All posts filed under: American Studies

ASEH 2015 national conference, Washington D.C.

At the end of Day One of the 2015 American Society for Environmental History national conference titled “Turning Protest into Policy: Environmental Values and Governance in Changing Societies,” I can see that it will be a real “branching out” for this Americanist. While my home base at Penn State Harrisburg provides a varied and deeply rooted study of American culture, this conference allows me to extend my reach beyond American studies into other realms of environmental history: transnationalism, legal history, and the sciences. The conference also (clearly) provides an opportunity to interact with academics and non-academics alike. A few environmental “celebrities” (well, at least in my mind!) are in town [including Donald Worster, who wrote Nature’s Economy (1977) which is on my comprehensive exam reading list]. The first session today was a workshop hosted by the National Archives and facilitated by a historian at the NA, a retired historian for the Army Corps of Engineers, and a scholar from Wellesley. Immensely informative, this session presented the details, challenges, and benefits of working with federal records. …

The Cyborgs are Coming!: Women and the Fear of Leadership

For the first installment of the Womanhood Issue series, I present the Cyborg. You may wonder, “What does science fiction have to do with what it means to be a woman?” This is a legitimate question. By the end of this post you will see the lengths women must go to in order to seize the ability to work beyond hegemonic femininity, as defined in the last post. Before jumping into theory, a definition is required. A “Cyborg” is the unification of “cybernetic organism” and originates in popular science fiction culture. Some examples include The Bionic Woman television series (1976-78), which is the story of a female spy who uses semi-robotic skills which gives her an “edge” above and beyond other female agents. The 1975 film (and 2004 remake) The Stepford Wives portrays an uncanny neighborhood where submissive spouses are not entirely human, and the Austin Powers series (1997, 1999, 2002) parodies the cyborg idea through the “Fembots,” ultra-feminine cyborg women who dress scantily and contain deadly machine guns in their breasts. The underlying theme …

The “Womanhood” Issue

Over one year ago I turned thirty and finally felt like a woman. I mean a real, adult woman. In contrast, the years leading to my thirties felt nothing like adulthood, let alone womanhood. Since this mental shift, I ruminated the question over and over, “What happened?” [Short pause for tired age-related jokes.] As it turns out – a lot. None of it has to do with personal history. Rather, I believe it relates to real issues of womanhood: what makes one feel like an authentic adult woman, what constitutes womanhood, and problems with stereotypes relating to this problem. I was invited to participate in a roundtable discussion at the Eastern American Studies Association, entitled “Beyond the Binary: Exploring Contemporary Concepts of Femininity and Masculinity,” and held at La Salle University the weekend of March 28, 2014. As the “women’s studies” scholar on the panel, I was surrounded by talented intellectuals: Jeanine Ruhsam of Penn State Harrisburg, representing study on transgender issues; Amy Milligan of Elizabethtown College, who works in the realm of gay/lesbian scholarship; …

Once a Legend, Always a Legend: Modern Interpretations of Sleepy Hollow in Film

[This is a short version of ongoing research on a super fun topic – Irving, Disney, and Burton! What more could you want?] Washington Irving’s Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1819-1820) begins as a posthumous secret, hidden within the collection of The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. There is a closeness created between the reader and author due to the confession: “Found among the papers of the late Diedrich Knickerbocker.”  Although now Sleepy Hollow is separated from the original anthology, Americans read and know the text, still feeling a sense of intimacy with the legend. Yet, Legend was not a long-established story at the time of Irving’s publication. He is no Homer. He is not finally transcribing the Odyssey. It is, though, America’s legend. Irving makes it easy on us and states the fact in the title. Why wait for a story to become a legend when one can simply authorize it to be so? Hubris aside, Irving’s short story strikes a chord with multiple generations of American readers and viewers due to the fluidity …

Transcendentalism Today; or, Music as Cultural Thread

Each generation believes their ideas to be creative, inventive and the finest the world has seen. While the great art of history is venerated, musicians are inducted into halls of fame, and scientists are esteemed for their work – aside from the typical grievances against “strange” things – the newest generation imagines their view of the world to be the most complete. Similarly, if historians of culture make connections to earlier eras, often it is with the understanding that the current method is the preferred method; it is the most perfected method (possibly, the most politically correct method, too). Granted, big issues such as American slavery, pre-feminist/über-patriarchal society, homophobic, and pre-regulation factory eras always are foul and certain philosophies rooted in these ideas should not be revived. Yet, when considering more subtle undercurrents of American thought, should we continue upholding that eras/periods/phases are really finished? On to the new thing! We “debunked” the old way and are moving on to what is correct. Are we disconnected completely from, say, nineteenth century thought? Independent from nostalgia, …