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.

October 30, 2013

Pearl Curran: "Ghost"-writer

Halloween 2013

In 1913, Pearl Curran, a St. Louis housewife, sat at a Ouija board with her friends when the planchette went wild under her hands. It said, "Many moons ago I lived. Again I come. Patience Worth my name." And so began the literary career of the long-dead Patience Worth. Pearl transcribed novels, plays, essays, and poetry supposedly composed by Patience, and both became celebrities. Daniel Shea, emeritus professor of English at Washington University in St. Louis, recently wrote a book about the phenomenon, The Patience of Pearl: Spiritualism and Authorship in the Writings of Pearl Curran. In it, he uses modern psychology and the writings themselves to uncover the truth of this ghostly voice.

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 25, 2013

Girlhood in Hollywood

People, Places, and Ideas: Episode #8

Miley Cyrus' recent twerking incident aside, young actresses have been struggling with how to grow up in Hollywood since the silent film star Mary Pickford, "America's Sweetheart," first arrived on the silver screen. As they transition from childhood to adulthood, how can young actresses prove their womanhood on screen? And why do they need to? In her book, Precocious Charms: Stars Performing Girlhood in Classical Hollywood Cinema, Gaylyn Studlar, the director of the film and media studies program at Washington University in St. Louis, takes us back to Hollywood films of the 1910s to the 1950s to examine representations of girlhood by stars like Shirley Temple, Elizabeth Taylor, and Audrey Hepburn. Studlar examines how each of these actresses confronted their age both on and off the screen.

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.