Director's Letter, Spring 2017

AMCS Spring 2017:  Opportunities and Updates in American Culture Studies; AMCS Material World of Modern Segregation Symposium

Dear Americanist Colleagues and Friends,

I'm writing to let you know of opportunities in American Culture Studies and to update you on AMCS's various initiatives and activities.  You may be involved in some of these activities, or as important, you may find that hearing about them gets you thinking about new projects you'd like to propose.   We are open to your ideas!  Our job is to facilitate and enhance your work, particularly as it relates to multi-disciplinary research and teaching in the field of American culture, broadly defined, and as it can contribute to our abiding goal of creating robust intellectual community through collaboration.

This is an exciting time for American Culture Studies.   It is worth reminding ourselves of the program's foundational project, set forth in its original endowment letter nearly twenty years ago:  "in an era of hyphenated Americans, students today, like their counterparts in prior generations, are asking serious questions.  What does it mean to be an American?  What is special about the United States and its culture?   Who am I?  By connecting inquiring students with gifted faculty we believe our American Culture Studies program--a multi-disciplinary initiative reaching across Arts & Sciences and Washington University--has the potential to make Washington University and St. Louis a premier center for the study of American culture."  These questions and that ambition were significant then and take on added urgency now.  AMCS is uniquely positioned to do this work because of its integrative approach:  integrative in its rigorous model of cross-disciplinary scholarship, rooted in asking "big" questions that no one discipline can answer on its own, and pursuing them in deep engagement with disciplinary conversations; and integrative in the synergies of its Undergraduate Major and Minor, Graduate Certificate, University College/Continuing Ed. M.A., and Faculty Research/Program Initiative components. 

We encourage you to think of AMCS as a resource.  Do you have a multi-disciplinary course you're contemplating that could be home-based in AMCS, one you'd like to teach or co-teach two or three years from now?  AMCS is open to proposals for course development that may require supplemental resources.  Do you have a proposal for enhancing an existing course?  Please feel free to contact AMCS Academic Coordinator Máire Murphy at to start a conversation.  At another level, do you and some colleagues have a proposal for a new AMCS faculty program initiative, a more ambitious cross-disciplinary endeavor that would require a longer-term commitment (3-5 years) and be eligible for more substantial program support, though it could begin modestly with, say, a reading group or speaker series?   Please consult our website on faculty program initiatives ( and feel free to start a conversation with us, no matter how rudimentary you feel your idea may be. 

I draw special attention to the accomplishments of Heidi Kolk, AMCS Associate Director, who as Acting Director in fall 2016 presided over important new collaborations between AMCS and the St. Louis Film Festival; the planning of a successful day-long Inauguration Teach-in, in collaboration with the WUSTL Center for Diversity & Inclusion, which provided a unique venue for faculty and students to come together to discuss the current political moment from different disciplinary, personal and political perspectives; and the re-configuration of the Lynne Cooper Harvey Fellowship in American Culture Studies, a key component of the AMCS graduate certificate program, in collaboration with AMCS Director of Graduate Studies Peter Benson (Anthropology) and Administrative Coordinator Jennifer Gallinat.   And additional acknowledgement is due Pete Benson, who has conceptualized and run a series of superbly provocative Americanist Dinner Forums in 2016-17, including a packed recent one on "The Affective Turn," featuring Arts & Sciences faculty Amber Musser (WGSS), Anca Parvulescu (English and Interdisciplinary Project in the Humanities); and Rebecca Wanzo (WGSS).  American Culture Studies is also vastly enriched by the teaching and research contributions of Jasmine Mahmoud (Ph.D. Northwestern), American Culture Studies Postdoctoral Fellow in Inequality and Identity, and the leadership and teaching of Michael Allen (AMCS Lecturer/Sam Fox School Senior Lecturer), Coordinator of the growing AMCS M.A. program in University College. 

This spring is an especially busy one.  Check our website ( for the events calendar.  Three AMCS Faculty Program Initiatives, Visual and Material Culture (VizMat), Race and Popular Music (RPM), and Modern Segregation (ModSeg) have important programs underway.  The Law, Identity, and Culture Initiative and AMCS are co-sponsoring a day-long visit of Gabriel Rosenberg (Duke, Women's Studies), and focused on the "animal/human"--connections, discourses, interlocutions--on Thursday, April 6th.   Professor Rosenberg will give a lecture at 4:00; at noon he and Adrienne Davis (WUSTL Law) will present their individual research in a joint workshop, Venus Bivar (History) and Peter Benson (Anthropology) commenting.   An opportunity for AMCS graduate students to interact informally with Prof. Rosenberg is being set up for 2:00, location TBA.

A noteworthy event this spring is the symposium, "The Material World of Modern Segregation:  St. Louis in the Long Era of Ferguson," supported by a WUSTL Ferguson Academic Seed Fund grant in tandem with the AMCS Danforth Endowment, to be held on April 21-22.   This innovative symposium, which brings together twenty scholars from in and outside WUSTL, will feature research that these scholars have done on the complex genealogy of segregation in the St. Louis region.   Participating scholars have focused intensively on a range of material sites of segregation--locales that are racially over-determined, often saturated in racialized meanings, but under-studied, and that often define and even symbolize urban life.  In this ultimately collaborative project, scholars will ask what we can learn about the racialized experiences embodied in such sites through "archeological" examination.   From their various disciplinary perspectives, the participants share the premise that this intensive "ground-up" approach will reveal new pathways and relationships, both in space and time, that can offer what one Material World project advisor has called a new "diagnostics" of segregated life in the present moment.  The symposium is connected to an undergraduate course, AMCS 3190, "The Material World of Modern Segregation," co-taught by Heidi Kolk and myself, and students will attend parts of the symposium and serve as interlocutors in discussions with faculty scholars; students will draw upon their own emerging expertise on the St. Louis region's sites of segregation derived from their final research projects in the course. 

The Friday morning April 21 plenary and morning and early afternoon panels (9:00-12:15; 1:15-2:30) will be open to project contributors, partners and invited guests, students from the MWMS course, AMCS/Olin Library project collaborators, and to the Washington University community. Walter Johnson (History, Harvard) will assist with the project's interpretive work and book project conceptualization over the two-day symposium, and will deliver the keynote Friday at 9:00, followed by brief presentations by the participants of their research questions and findings. 

The inventive Material World of Modern Segregation website is substantially the brainchild of David Walsh, AMCS Instructional Technology Developer and Lecturer.   Dave Walsh orchestrated a pioneering collaboration with Olin Library (particularly Mark Sellan, Brian Woodman, Miranda Rectenwald, and Vernon Mitchell) to produce the website/"living archive"/blog that is the digital home for this collaborative project.   Thank you also to AMCS major Morgan Brooks '18, for her indispensable research assistance and contributions to the blog, and to AMCS Academic Coordinator, Máire Murphy, for her work on interviews with participants and other aspects of the project.   We encourage you to visit the project's website to learn more about the project's sites, approaches, and contributors:

And long story short, we hope to see you as well as hear from you with your ideas and proposals!





AMCS Academic Open House

McMillan 140 @ 3:00pm



Annual Welcome Back Reception

DUC 278, Goldberg Formal Lounge @ 5:30pm