American Studies has its 75 year anniversary at UT

Burhanuddin Calcuttawala

Seventy-five years after its inception, American Studies at UT is celebrating decades of scholarship and accomplished graduates. 

To commemorate the milestone, the department held a symposium titled “American Studies in the World Today” on Thursday and Friday, which brought together scholars from around the nation to foster a conversation about their studies and experiences. Since 1970, the department has awarded nearly 200 Ph.D’s to students who have gone on to become college presidents, scholars and award-winning authors and became an official department in the year 1998, said Steven Hoelscher, chair of the department. 

In his opening remarks at the symposium, Hoelscher said UT’s American Studies department began with professors Henry Nash Smith and Theodore Hornberger, but relied on the support of other faculty and administration to become what it is today.

“Our history would be one of lost opportunity were it not for the commitment and vision of key leaders at UT,” Steven Hoelscher said. “[Hired by President Harry Ransom, William] Goetzmann skillfully parlayed his recently awarded Pulitzer Prize into an engine driving the growth of a program that was soon recognized as one of the leading in the country.”

Josh Kopin, an American Studies graduate student, said the field allows English, history, art and various other disciplines to come together to form interdisciplinary approaches to problems. 

“I love the idea that there is more than one way to do something,” said Kopin, who helped publicize the symposium. “At one point I owned like six or seven ways to make a cup of coffee because I just love this idea that you can do one thing, make a cup of coffee, in a dozen different ways. One of the things that American Studies recognizes that the traditional disciplines don’t always recognize is that by looking at a thing in more than one way, you can get a better sense of it.”

Jeffrey Meikle, a professor of American Studies and art history, said American Studies has evolved into a diverse and nuanced study of the nation’s history and culture. 

“There’s a much wider sense of cultural and social diversity,” Meikle said. “In the last 30 years, contemporary issues of race, class, gender and ethnicity have become much more important than they were 50 years ago. Over the last 30 years, American studies people have realized that … the nation is far more diverse and complex than it was 50 years ago.”