Why did you decide to come to UNC’s American Studies department for your degree?
I came here from the University of Mississippi’s MA program in Southern Studies, and you can mount a pretty convincing argument that the formal study of the South (in a way we’d call interdisciplinary today) started here at UNC with Howard Odum and his merry band of regional sociologists. If you’re going to study the South, this is the place.
One of the most important factors in my decision to come here was the presence of the Folklore program as our colleagues here, which really enhances both the breadth and depth of my work. Folks like Glenn Hinson, Bill Ferris, and Patricia Sawin are always there to remind me why I do this work, and that the people I write about belong at the center of everything I do.
What has been your favorite class to TA for?
Can I say all of them? Or a top three? How about a top three? In no particular order: Shalom, Y’all: The Jewish Experience in the American South (Marcie Cohen Ferris), American Studies 101 (Joy Kasson), and Native North America (Dan Cobb).
These three courses in particular allowed me to work closely with Carolina’s undergraduates, and they also challenged me to work in areas outside my direct focus of study. And all of these courses have influenced the work I’m doing for my degree.
Give us the elevator pitch for your dissertation/thesis topic.
Many of us have this tendency to think about the South in terms of what and where it is, and what and where it is not. I challenge this! I challenge this by providing important examples and explanations of things that are and are not “southern,” including but not limited to:
– professional ice hockey in the South
– what happens when you read William Faulkner as America’s own nationalist fantasy literature (like Tolkien is Britain’s nationalist fantasy literature)
– blues collectors in the files of the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission, and what their experiences have to do with contemporary discourses on sovereignty
– the genealogy of Choco Pies, a Korean snack food based on Chattanooga’s own Moon Pies, and their relationship to a different North and South — the one on the Korean peninsula.
By looking at all this stuff, we’re going to go on a magical journey that shows us how to think about the South in a way that busts the binaries that tend to dominate thinking about the region — black/white, urban/rural, North/South, local/global, and so many others.
Most gratifying yet unexpected perk of coming to UNC or Chapel Hill?
I’m now much closer to my mom’s side of the family — they’re out in Wilson and Rocky Mount — and I’m picking up all kinds of gossip about my mom as a kid! And also eating much better barbecue than I’ve had the opportunity to eat in quite some time.
Define American Studies or Folkore in one sentence.
I’ll define both! American Studies and Folklore are about the study of what I like to call “stupid human tricks,” which are not stupid at all but instead make up the entire world we navigate and are evidence of human dignity and/or ingenuity, and presume that the choices we all make every day matter and are worthy of our study, engagement, critique, and respect.
I really like stupid human tricks, y’all. If anybody has any YouTube videos featuring people doing magnificent things — like inventing a pulley system to zipline a couch off a third-floor balcony — send them my way.