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Want to learn more about the faculty, students, and staff that make up the Department of American Studies? Follow along with our new AMST/FOLK Coffee Chat series where we ask our community about new research, old hobbies, and everything in between. 

This week we’re chatting with Dr. Annette Rodriguez, a new American Studies Post-Doc scholar for the AY 2018-2019. Read on to learn more about her current writing projects, favorite rom-coms, and the best academic advice she’s ever received. 

Q: Where do you call home?

A: I just came from teaching in New Mexico.


Q: Are you excited about being here in a new location, in the Southeast?

A: I think it’s going to completely change my work, needing to explain things differently. Thinking about historical moments of emergence (gender construction and racial construction), everything is new to me, studying things that are marked (like historical markers). I think my work will shift greatly and be much more polished thinking through the histories and present of this place here in the Southeast. It’s very exciting and our faculty are so warm and so generous and I’ve been lucky to grab them and talk about my work.


Q: How would you best describe your research to an undergraduate?

A: The work I do really concerns violence. These are questions I’ve had since I was a child, why people hurt one another, what prompts people to do this, is it human nature or bound by conditions of need/want? My questions started young, philosophical ones that will never really be answered…

Labor studies transformed into thinking about how I can pursue this question of violence in an historically bound way. I started with a study on labor and copper mines on the US Mexico border, then as I was thinking through labor relationships, I kept getting these hints of violence (the dead, disappeared), I put them aside, returned to my MA program, started thinking about migration, immigration, and movement – and how it is constrained or encouraged by violence. For me, there’s no way to understand US and global histories without thinking carefully through the human interaction of violence. Violence is not human nature, instead it is an instrument and a human choice. I try to find the historical moments that best help me explore those ideas. Some scholars really enter the work as historians (historical recovery, new narratives) and others really do think through the deeper philosophical or religious questions it brings up for them.


Q: Tell us about your latest project:

A: I just finished a memoir piece. My grandmother just passed away at the end of June. She was 90 and lived a full life. I was very sad when I got a call asking me to write a piece in 1500 words, which gave me some room to write a piece about my grandmother and about borders. One of the interesting things about my grandmother–she was in hospice, she stayed a while, she was stubborn. As she was sitting in hospice, we had the TV on and it was showing footage of immigrant families being separated. And I was on social media, actively sharing things with hashtags, and we were having these conversations about who in our family could come visit my grandmother, but with considerations about who has papers, who could legally get here. It was all so interesting because it was happening in real time. Very experiential. It was a wonderful gift to write this. It will be published this fall in the Fifth Wednesday Journal in an issue guest edited by Ana Castillo on borders.

I currently have lots of time to do scholarly work, but I keep getting pulled into memoir and autoethnography, which I love. There’s this heaviness in scholarly work and it stays heavy because it needs to be. But I like it to be pulled out into memoir. Sitting down with a memoir piece just feels really playful and gives a feeling of relief. I like sentimentalism and nostalgia, which needs to be stripped from my research.


Q: So what is your favorite memoir to read? 

A: There’s two: Paloma Negra by Anna Castillo (which is co-written in some sections with her son and speaks about the experience of single-motherhood with a son) and the essay “Late Victorians” by Richard Rodriguez. 


Q: What is your proudest academic moment?

A: When I was awarded the Catherine Prelinger award from the Coordinating Council for Women in History. The award includes a $20,000 grant to complete your dissertation and the really cool part was that I got to stay on the decision board and help advocate for other historians who are applying now. They also made an anthology of all the winners called Reshaping Women’s History: Voices of Nontraditional Women Historians (available from the University of Illinois Press this fall).


Q: Go-to music?

A: I’m always looking for good music to listen to in the background, but I’ve never found any. So I started listening to Sufjan Stevens, but he made me cry. I loved Lorde’s last album and I like MIA’s music a whole lot, I like her commitment to the ideas of refugees and borders.

I’ve yet to find any music that I can just not pay attention to and work, I was listening to Aretha this morning and I just had to stop everything I was doing and give it my full attention [Aretha Franklin had just passed away at the time of this interview].

When I was studying for comps I listened to Taylor Swift’s first album, so I know that by heart. When I was driving here I heard a Taylor Swift song when I stopped in a truck stop, so I just lingered there to listen to it, it gave me relief. I’m so far past comps, life is good.


Q: Favorite Rom-Coms?

A: Four Weddings and a Funeral, It has the best build up with the worst pay off. Where Andy McDowell has her horrible acting at the end. Same with Notting Hill, the build up is just a let down.

I don’t usually like the romantic pairings in rom-coms, but they usually have great supporting cast.


Q: Any particular hobbies?

A: I take up hobbies when I’m under a deadline. So in grad school I took up quilting, I bought a sewing machine and my mom taught me how to sew and I made some baby quilts. I was super committed to it and found special fabric stores and wanted a professional quilting sewing machine and then I never did it again.

In undergraduate, I took up the Ukelele (my hands were too small for guitar), but I gave that away to a friend.

I tend to pick up things really passionately.

My next hobby will be about self-care and mindfulness, pilates, meditating, making my own kombucha, something that should be free, but quickly becomes very expensive.

That happened when I took up cycling with new pedals, shoes.


Q: Best piece of advice you’ve ever received, and piece you’d give?

A: The best advice I’ve ever gotten was from art historian Kirsten Buick, I was worried about some research I was doing and how it was going to end. She said she woke up every morning and said “Let me ask good questions.” That was what sustained her as a scholar–not to come up with a good answers, but to think very carefully about good questions. This helps me understand other people’s scholarship, approach, analysis, methodology, if you just ask why did they ask those questions?

The advice I would impart is that life does not start after you finish, life is happening right now. Life does not happen after comps, after your PhD, after you get tenure. You shouldn’t feel like you should have to wait until a particular milestone to enjoy that life. This happens a lot in higher education and to graduate students. We defer life waiting on these milestones–quilting, getting a dog, so many things we defer waiting for life to begin. Wake up to life every morning–and your work is a huge part of that life–but so is music, your family, and rom-coms.

At a basic level, if you are thinking about productivity, you’re less productive when you don’t sleep well and when you aren’t eating. You need a good night’s sleep, a good meal, and the things that make you happy.

Want to suggest someone for a AMST/FOLK Coffee Chat interview? Send us a line at uncamericanstudies [at] gmail [dot] com.

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