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Faculty Projects

Dr. Amanda Gilroy

“Watching Dallus Redux: Doing Retro Audience Research” (essay)

This essay and the two audience reception projects it introduces alleviate the desperation of seeking the television audience by recourse to Ien Ang’s influential book Watching Dallas (1985). Within the context of an MA course unit on audience research, two groups of students explored the possibilities of remixing Ang in the present digital media landscape via informants’ comments on the new series of Dallas. Discourses of nostalgia circulate within and around the text, and the project itself. Dr. Gilroy argues that retro audience research generates not only data about the affective memories and critical reflections of informants, but insights into research methods and the production of new “nostalgic subjects.”

Dedicated to Black Beauty: A History of a Horse and His Companions (monograph)

The equine hero of Anna Sewell’s world-famous novel Black Beauty (1877) lives in the collective memory of childhood for countless girls (and some boys) all over Great Britain and the United States, as well as Italy, India, and a host of other countries. Many encountered this famous black horse and his companions in abridged and illustrated editions of children’s classics, or, like Gilroy, it was their first real book. The opening line (“The first place that I can well remember was a large pleasant meadow … “) remains instantly recognizable. It indexes the start of a life-long love affair with horses, real and imaginary, and with the book itself.

This project documents the novel’s affective aesthetics; in other words, it examines how it produces feelings in its readers. And, more importantly, how it got its readers to do things. Gilroy traces the novel’s reception and effects through selected moments and spaces across two centuries and at least two continents. She is interested in the emotional labor the text performed at different historical moments. On this transmedia trail, Gilroy looks at translations, adaptations, and remediations, at sequels and prequels, written and visual material, literature, political pamphlets, cartoons, films, toys, computer games, and Black Beauty’s place in the new field of animal studies. This book is a tribute to a much-loved novel and an attempt to understand the special way it speaks to us and continues to move its readers.

Writer Film and TV, PopMatters (

“Hi Ho Silver, Again” (Feature on The Lone Ranger, 12 Nov 2013)
One Life Makes the Invisible Visible” (TV review, 8 Dec 2013)
“The Flashy Trashy Aesthetics of Rodeo Girls” (TV review, 11 Dec 2013)
Blood Ties” (Film review, 21 Mar 2014)

Dr. Tim Jelfs

Of Goods and Garbage: Literary Fiction and the Argument about Things in American Life, 1976-1991

This monograph proposes that the literary depiction of everyday, late twentieth-century things—the consumer goods and garbage of my title—in works by Raymond Carver, Marilynne Robinson, Don DeLillo, Bobbie Ann Mason, Nicholson Baker, Tim O’Brien and others both contributed to and complicated a long-running cultural argument about the proper place of material things in American life that is central to understandings of what the United States is, was and may in the future be. While this argument can be traced as far back as the Puritan settlement of New England, Tim Jelfs wants to show how the capitalist crises of the mid-1970s and an elite embrace of the emerging doctrines of neoliberalism ensured that it would start raging with a renewed intensity across numerous discursive spheres at the beginning of a pivotal (and in some ways, still-unfinished) period in U.S. history that he characterizes as “the long 1980s.” This argument about things (in both the public rhetoric of the nation and those existing critical accounts of late twentieth century literary engagements that touch upon the question of things at all) has frequently taken the form of either the celebration or denigration of something called “American materialism.” What the fictional work Jelfs examines offers to this often broad-brushed discussion is, he argues, some much-needed nuance. Thus, while Jimmy Carter told his fellow citizens in 1979 that “owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning,” and while those few literary critical treatments of the topic that can be found frequently fail to advance much beyond a set of well-rehearsed critiques of late capitalist consumption and consumerism when dealing with these writers’ representations of things, Jelfs combines an attentiveness to the often-overlooked details of fictional texts with a diverse body of conceptual material from the ever-evolving fields of consumption and “object studies” to show how, for many U.S. writers in the last quarter of the twentieth century, the things Americans were living among were, in fact, replete with meanings, posing a series of consequential questions about art, death, love, war–and ultimately, the thing (or the argument) that is the United States itself.

“‘[A] different kind of action is necessary’: Violence and the Idea of Action in Nicholson Baker’s Checkpoint (2004)”

This paper will argue that Nicholson Baker’s controversial George W. Bush-era novel Checkpoint (2004), dismissed by some reviewers at the time of its publication as something akin to an act of “bad citizenship,” in fact offers an important contribution to a debate about what it means to be, and even more importantly “act,” as a citizen in a republic. Baker’s novel, in which two friends discuss assassinating Bush, exemplifies a problematic tension within the political culture and thought of the United States about the legitimacy or otherwise of violence and the idea of political action. Alongside this cultural problematic of violence and its (il)legitimacy, Jelfs argues, Checkpoint exhibits a concern with the idea of action that is itself a long-standing preoccupation in U.S. political culture. Moved by what he sees as the intolerable yet culturally invisible violence wrought by the United States in Iraq, Baker’s Jay feels compelled to act, and act violently, in a way that (unlike the peace marches he has participated in but now rejects) merits Hannah Arendt’s definition of action as that which “interrupts[s] what otherwise would have proceeded automatically and therefore predictably.” Jay’s dilemma, and his friend Ben’s appeals to him to embrace a pacifist quietism, reflect the quandary of the concerned citizen-subject in the twenty-first century American empire: outraged, perhaps compelled towards action, but nevertheless constrained by the politics of violence to fulfill the role of observer to the actions of the powerful.

Dr. Anne Martinez

The Outsourcing of Souls: Black and Mexican Catholics

Dr. Martinez' research explores how race, ethnicity, religion and nation interact among Catholics of color in the early twentieth century United States. Her second book project, The Outsourcing of Souls: Black and Mexican Catholics in Chicago, 1910-1939, centers Blacks and Mexicans, who rode significant waves of migration to Chicago, drawn by the promises of social and political stability, and steady jobs in the thriving industrial economy. Religious orders, rather than diocesan priests and nuns, were responsible for the pastoral care of both Blacks and Mexicans in Chicago. This “outsourcing of souls,” was a double-edged sword: it brought in specialists – for example, priests and nuns who spoke Spanish – but it also removed the responsibility for “troubling” souls from the archdiocese, because those who worked with Mexicans and Blacks reported to their religious orders outside of Chicago and often outside of the United States. These foreign priests working with Black and Mexican populations did not always understand the racial and social contexts shaping the daily lives of their charges. This structure kept African American and Mexican Catholics at a distance from the rest of Catholic Chicago, shaping their experience of the urban north. This book works across racial and ethnic lines to forge a broader understanding of Catholicism in shaping the city of broad shoulders.

American Indians and Catholic missionaries in Early Twentieth Century

Catholicism, national discourses, and race are also in play in an article Dr. Martinez is writing on American Indians and Catholic missionaries in the early twentieth century. This project, which began as she was conducting research for Catholic Borderlands , seeks to understand the ways Catholics embraced and rejected American narratives of Indian savagery and civilization in the West as part of the Catholic Americanization project in the East.

Dr. Marietta Messmer

Migration and the Tensions between National Borders and Transnational Relations: A Comparison between Current U.S. and EU Migration Policy Regimes

Both the U.S. and the European Union are currently negotiating increasingly large streams of migrants, and both have – for various reasons – responded by partly outsourcing migration control to countries of transit that are located outside of their own geographical and political borders. In this context, Mexico, Morocco, and Senegal have started to assume a crucial role as buffer zones and migrant-absorbing countries vis-à-vis Central America and sub-Saharan Africa while at the same time being more strongly incorporated (politically, economically, and militarily) into a larger North American, respectively European Union through measures such as, among others, El Plan Sur (2001), the “Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America” (2005), the “Dublin Regulation” (2003), or the “Global Approach to Migration” (2005). This project intends to explore the complex effects that this reconceptualization and deterritorialization of borders has on the buffer countries Mexico, Morocco, and Senegal and will argue that their position has, on the one hand, been empowered because of their deeper integration into a North American/European Union through cooperation on the levels of law enforcement, immigration and visa laws, as well as military and police training in exchange for infrastructural support, mobility partnerships, and bi-national repatriation agreements. On the other hand, however, these countries may not only face a heavy financial, legal, and administrative burden but also a potential risk of losing sovereignty by being an integral part of such an asymmetric power constellation.

The International Turn in American Studies

A collection of essays charting current debates and controversies and showcasing a broad range of state-of-the-art critical interventions in the context of trans-, post-, international, global, hemispheric, (circum)atlantic, Black atlantic, trans-pacific, comparative, intercultural, and Inter-American Studies. Co-edited by Armin Paul Frank (Göttingen) and Marietta Messmer (Groningen). Forthcoming in the series Interamericana by Peter Lang Verlag (Frankfurt/Main and New York). Publication date: Fall 2014.

Jelte Olthof, MA

Patchwork Republic

For his PhD thesis, Olthof studied how rhetoric was employed in congressional and court debates to create, shape, and challenge the assumption that the United States formed one "we the people." The book studies a century of debates, from the conflict on the Stamp Act of 1765 (when the notion of a separate American constitution was first raised) to the end of the Civil War in 1865. Olthof's claim in the book is that the US Constitution, instead of turning America into one people, was the product of a patchwork compromise that assumed the United States to be both one and thirteen separate peoples at the same time. The debate on the true meaning of “we the people” in this patchwork republic would eventually be drowned in the blood that was shed at Antietam and Gettysburg and contains an important lesson for the advocates of a European federation like Verhofstadt and Habermas, who hope to build a United States of Europe on the basis of “we the European people.”

Constantijn Smith, MA

For his Master’s dissertation, Smith focused on a current syndrome in American popular culture whereby characteristics of postmodernism are used as a strategy for (constructed) female pop stars to reintroduce a mythical image of the star through postmodern parody. As such, Smith enjoys engaging with theories of stardom and celebrity culture.

Through an interdisciplinary approach, Smith’s PhD research, “Titanic Memories,” examines the American appropriation of the sinking of the Titanic. The growing number of Titanic enthusiasts in the US, artifact exhibits across the country, and many films and books on its sinking highlight an enduring fascination with opulence and technological progress as well as trauma and mortality. This proliferation of (commodified) representations continues to inscribe Titanic with contemporary significance and attempts to keep the sinking afloat. As a result, the disaster has given rise to a generation of post-witnesses who feel an urge to remember something they never experienced. This collective fetishizing of the inaccessible has transformed “lived memories” of those who survived into prosthetic “postmemories”; everyone has their memories of Titanic, yet no person alive today set sail on the fateful ship.

Dr. Mark Thompson

The Contest for the Delaware Valley: Allegiance, Identity, and Empire in the Seventeenth Century

Dr. Thompson’s new book (Louisiana State University Press, 2013) examines the ways in which ethnicity, national identity, and cosmopolitanism intersected in the Delaware Valley during the seventeenth century.  The book also discusses people like Henry Hudson, John Smith, Peter Minuit, Johan Printz, Peter Stuyvesant, William Penn, among many others, and touches on New Sweden, New Netherland, New Haven, Maryland, Brazil, settler revolts, invasions, and Penn’s debt to English imperialism. To learn more, visit the “Contest for the Delaware Valley” blog or the book’s press site.

“Land, Liberty, & Property: Surveyors and the Production of Empire in British North America”
Thompson’s new research project is a cultural history of land surveyors that aims to show how surveyors constituted Britain’s empire in North America through practices of measuring and representing the landscape. Drawing from historical, geographical, and literary approaches, it presents surveyors as key players in a settler-driven process that attached landowners first to their lands, markets, and local institutions, and only secondarily to the imperial authorities that oversaw them. “Creole” surveying practices adapted from European models ultimately gave settlers more, not less, control of their own properties and communities. However, these practices also tied them closely to an empire that promised to protect their rights to land, liberty, and property.

Dr. Jeanette den Toonder

Canada and the multicultural society

In the framework of the Specialisation programme Canadian Studies offered by the Centre for Canadian Studies on the various aspects of the multicultural society in Canada, the transformation of the bilingual and bicultural Canadian society into a multicultural one is studied. This transformation has started in the last two decades of the 20th century and has resulted in important changes with regard to the study of literary texts.

From the 1980s onwards, the growing interest in migrant literature has changed the traditional dynamics between Anglophone Canada on the one hand, and Francophone Canada/Québec on the other. The matter of plurilingualism and cultural exchanges between different groups in society, have as it were ‘disturbed’ the minority position of francophone and Québécois literatures in Canada and require a reconfiguration of values.

These cultural changes show the necessity of a comparative study with regard to the question how Anglophone and Francophone literatures react on the current changes and how new relationships can be defined.

First Nations literature

A comparative study resulting from the participation in the TransCanada 3 conference, “Literature, Institutions and Citizenship”, held at Mount Allison University, NB (July 2009). den Toonder mainly participated in the workshops concerning the role that the culture and literature of indigenous peoples (or: First Nations) of Canada are playing at this moment. Other than migrant literature, First Nations literature is not yet embedded in university programs. As a result, it is not yet part of the research domain. However, together with migrant literature, this emerging literature offers an important ‘counter-voice’ with regard to the traditional dichotomy separating Anglophone and Francophone Canada. Since the 1980s, young indigenous authors have manifested themselves by publishing novels, the number one genre read and studied in the literary field. This literature seems therefore to be also responsible for a new dynamics in the Canadian literary field.

Professor Wil Verhoeven

Dr. Wil Verhoeven’s general research topic can be described as the study of structures of continuity and rupture in the Age of Revolution and Enlightenment in the Atlantic World, 1600-1800. Consistently marrying archival research with cultural theory, and historiography with the history of ideas, his work explores the evolving symbiosis between historical event and historical consciousness, between power and knowledge, agency and identity.

Worlds Apart, Minds Divided: The Ideological Origins of American Exceptionalism

Verhoeven is currently working on two book projects, the first of which is Worlds Apart, Minds Divided: The Ideological Origins of American Exceptionalism which starts from the premise that in the course of the eighteenth-century, a number of radical Enlightenment thinkers began to conceptualize the American continent as a categorically “new hemisphere”: that is to say, a hemisphere that was neither a regressive off-shoot of European civilization, nor some utopian improvement on Europe’s despotic societies. Indeed, at the heart of Verhoeven’s overall argument lies the thesis that the radical rupture between American and Europe was not inaugurated in the New World, but in the Old World. It was the Enlightenment that projected an “ideology of radical difference” on to America in order to argue for sociopolitical change in Europe; occupying that ideal space, the Americans subsequently set out to build an improved version the Old World in the New World.

Enemies of the State: Sedition and Resistance in the Trans-Allegheny West, 1776-1806

Professor Verhoeven’s second monograph project, Enemies of the State: Sedition and Resistance in the Trans-Allegheny West, 1776-1806, seeks to qualify the conventional representation of the American Revolution as a singular and unequivocal landmark in the emergence of political modernity in the Atlantic world. More specifically, the study takes as its premise that the much-acclaimed “dawning of liberty and equality” in America privileged above all the sanctity of property and the rights of ownership. Individual civil and political liberties in effect arose as byproducts of a political strategy aimed at safeguarding the right to property ownership from encroachment by the forces and agents of arbitrary and despotic power. This limited and pragmatic notion of American liberty, he argues, was not therefore so much revolutionary as expedient. In the wake of the constitutional compromise (which ultimately settled the conflicting doctrines of liberty and order), a monolithic narrative of the American Revolution has tended to eclipse from historiography a more comprehensive account of alternative American Revolutions and other possibilities for new experiments of civil government. Enemies of the State seeks to redress this anomaly in the history of early America.

Last modified:25 July 2018 3.54 p.m.