American Identities

November 13, 2013

Irregular Intimacies

American Identities: Episode #10

What do polygamy, prostitution, and pet inheritance have in common? For the final episode in our 10-part series on American Identities, Adriennne Davis, professor of law and vice provost at Washington University in St. Louis, discusses the role of law in regulating intimate relationships in the United States. According to Davis, personal attachments, identity, and citizenship are fundamentally linked, and in her research, she envisions concrete ways in which the U.S. legal system might be more accepting of irregular forms of intimacy.

November 6, 2013

How Americans Make Race

American Identities: Episode #9

In Argentine tango, the steps that dancers perform - and even the shoes that they wear - tell a certain story about the correct role of men and women in the dance. In her recently released book How Americans Make Race: Stories, Institutions, Spaces, Clarissa Rile Hayward argues that racial identities are formed in much the same way. Whether looking at the 1920s or 2013, people's behavior and attitudes toward race are often influenced by factors beyond their own experience and control. Hayward tracks this phenomenon, introduces the ideas of 'institutionalization' and 'objectification," and reveals why some stories about race are more influential than others.

In 1912, Abdul-Baha, leader of the Baha'i faith, visited Greenacre, a religious community in Maine founded by Sarah Farmer in 1894.
October 23, 2013

Restless Souls

American Identities: Episode #8

In recent years, many Americans choose to label themselves as "spiritual but not religious." What is the history behind this type of open-road spirituality, and how have Americans' attitudes toward religion shifted over time? Leigh Schmidt, professor with the John C. Danforth Center on Religion & Politics at Washington University in St. Louis, uses the story of Sarah Farmer - a visionary who started a religious community in 1894 - to illustrate the ever-present struggle between freedom and surrender in American religious identity.

October 16, 2013

Art and Nationhood

American Identities: Episode #7

What can a painting of people on a porch reading a newspaper reveal about what it means to be an American? Angela Miller, professor of art history and archaeology at Washington University in St. Louis, discusses the intersection of American arts and nationhood. With examples of portraits, landscape and genre paintings, folk art, and more, Miller explains how visual culture both constructs and challenges the idea of American identity.

October 9, 2013

FB Eyes

American Identities: Episode #6

When is literature a counterintelligence tool? When is it a means of protest or subversion? Under longtime FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, the written word was recognized as all of these and more, especially in relation to African-American writing. William J. Maxwell, associate professor of English, documents this unique literary history in his forthcoming book, FB Eyes: How J. Edgar Hoover's Ghostreaders Framed African-American Literature.

October 2, 2013

Confronting the Middle Passage

American Identities: Episode #5

In her forthcoming book Routes of Terror: Gender, Health and Power in the Eighteenth Century Middle Passage, assistant professor Sowande' Mustakeem reveals the forgotten world of 18th century slave ships. In today's podcast, she shares the story of one enslaved woman and discusses why it's so important for Americans to confront this foundational, brutal chapter of history. Mustakeem's research focuses particularly on the experiences of those most frequently left out of the history of the Middle Passage - women, children, the elderly, and the diseased.

September 18, 2013

Notes from No Man's Land

American Identities: Episode #4

In her collection Notes from No Man's Land: American Essays, author Eula Biss asserts that "nothing is innocent." As described in the essay "Time and Distance Overcome," even telephone poles are marked by the country's history of slavery and colonization. Biss pairs the personal and the political in her writing, and in Notes from No Man's Land, she offers candid reflections on the role of race in her own life and in American history. Biss teaches writing at Northwestern University.

September 11, 2013

Rock and Revolution

American Identities: Episode #3

“Music is too important to be left to the musicians,” ethnomusicologist Christopher Small wrote in 1977. A decade earlier, the experimental rock band the Godz seemed to agree. As associate professor Patrick Burke reveals, musicians in the 1960s resisted predetermined categories or simplistic musical identities. Instead, bands like the Godz chose to blend genres, adopt the musical styles of different racial and ethnic groups, and resist the idea that only competent musicians should be heard. In this interview, Burke describes the role of ethnomusicology in dispelling the myth of "authentic" American music.

September 4, 2013

Who Should Sing "Ol' Man River"?

American Identities: Episode #2

In his upcoming book Who Should Sing 'Ol' Man River'?: The Life of an American Song, Todd Decker, associate professor of musicology at Washington University in St. Louis, reveals how one song has been shaped and reshaped over time. From Paul Robeson to Frank Sinatra - from the era of big bands to the civil rights movement - every performance of "Ol' Man River" has a political dimension involving the evolution of race relations in the United States.

August 28, 2013

Stripes and Scars

American Identities: Episode #1

In July of 1863, James Pennington, a prominent African American minister and former slave, saw his neighborhood destroyed in a violent episode now known as the New York draft riots. How did this chapter of Civil War history shape Pennington's identity and those of the primarily Irish rioters? And what does it reveal about the identity of the country as a whole? Iver Bernstein, director of the American Culture Studies program at Washington University in St. Louis, shares Pennington's story and discusses the tension between the idea of American unity and the diverse experiences that make up the past and present of American culture.