Our Faculty/Students in News

I Will Never Let Go of Emmett Till's Story

By Christine Clark Zemla


I never knew Emmett Till. Not his mischievous smile, or his fun-loving, fearless attitude, or the stutter when he got nervous. I was just a young white girl growing up in New Jersey when the Black 14-year-old from Chicago went to visit family in the Deep South in 1955.
Though I never knew him, I can vividly recall the first time I heard his name. I had just returned to college, almost two decades older than most of my classmates, when in one of my first classes I watched “Eyes on the Prize: Awakenings.” The film served as quite an awakening for me!


The Deportation of an Iranian Student shows the Unchecked Power of Customs and Border Protection


College campuses have been gearing up for start of the spring 2020 semester. But this week, Mohammad Shahab Dehghani Hossein Abadi, an Iranian student with a valid visa to study at Northeastern University in Boston, was stopped by Customs and Border Protection, detained and then deported — despite a federal court order that should have delayed his removal. His attorneys have no idea why CBP decided to revoke his visa or why the agency ignored the court order. Judge Richard Stearns of the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts urged federal officials to return Dehghani to Boston, but dispiritingly admitted, “I don’t think they’re going to listen to me.”

Dehghani’s case appears to be part of an emerging pattern. According to the ACLU, since August last year at least 13 Iranian students arriving at U.S. airports have been barred entry and removed, despite having visas. In Dehghani’s case, he underwent a year-long vetting process before receiving his visa, a process that the CBP seems to have blithely dismissed.

Read More

Michael Aaron Rockland on his latest book The George Washington Bridge: Poetry in Steel

Since opening in 1931, the George Washington Bridge, linking New York and New Jersey, has become the busiest bridge in the world, with over 100 million vehicles passing over it each year. Many people also consider it the most beautiful bridge in the world, yet remarkably little has been written about it. In this installment of Leonard Lopate at Large on WBAI, Michael Aaron Rockland talks about his new book on this majestic structure, “The George Washington Bridge: Poetry in Steel.”

Link to Soundcloud

Professor Kennedy Discusses Christmas Traditions


Did you know yuletide caroling began 1,000 years before Christmas existed? Or how about the fact that mistletoe was used to represent immortality long before the holiday reached Europe? And before there was eggnog, the medieval English drank wassail made from mulled ale.

Maria Kennedy, an instructor of folklore at Rutgers University–New Brunswick’s Department of American Studies in the School of Arts and Sciences, has researched the European holiday traditions that predate – and became an inseparable part of – Christmas.

She shared her insights with Rutgers Today.


“The Politics of Vanishing Celluloid” – Professor Williamson publishes research on collaboration with Library of Congress

Williamson Screening Race Cover

Professor Williamson’s research was recently published in Screening Race in American Nontheatrical Film (Duke University Press), an edited collection of essays that “adds to the growing study of nontheatrical films by focusing on the ways filmmakers developed and audiences encountered ideas about race, identity, politics, and community outside the borders of theatrical cinema.” Professor Williamson’s project, “The Politics of Vanishing Celluloid: Rediscovering Fort Rupert and the Kwakwaka’wakw in American Ethnographic Film,” offers a critical analysis of issues of race and power in the rediscovery of a once lost ethnographic film from 1950 about First Nations peoples in British Columbia. As part of the project, Professor Williamson worked with the Library of Congress to digitize the only known surviving copy of the film in an effort to make it accessible in new ways to new audiences, in particular the communities in Fort Rupert and Blunden Harbour that participated in making the film.

“Nature and the Wonders of the Moving Image: John Ott's Postwar Popular Science Filmmaking”

By Colin Williamson, PhD

Williamson Ott

This article sheds light on the films of a now-obscure popular science film-maker named John Ott who was widely known in the 1950s for making time-lapse films about plant life that intersected with everything in postwar America from Walt Disney's animations to computer science and natural theology. Drawing on original archival research, I show how Ott used the spectacle of nature to cultivate popular interest in the innovative automated moving-image techniques and technologies he developed to photograph the secrets of nature. In the process, I consider how Ott reanimated early cinematic aesthetic, exhibition, and reception practices that invite us to see the popular science film as a genre that is as much about exploring the nature and possibilities of new moving-image forms as it is about science education.


Bringing a Native American Perspective to American Studies

Written by John Chadwick | SAS Senior Writer

Jimmy Sweet 1x2 web

Jameson “Jimmy” Sweet, the first Native American professor in the Department of American Studies at Rutgers University, had initially set out to become an architect.

“That was my dream when I was in high school,” says Sweet, who joined the School of Arts and Sciences faculty in 2018. “It didn’t occur to me at that age that I could make history or American studies or anything like that into a career.”

But he was always passionate about researching his family’s roots in the Dakota and Lakota tribes of the upper Midwest. He learned how his maternal grandmother had grown up on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota, speaking Lakota as a first language. The family, which made its living running cattle, left the reservation for Traverse City, Mich. during the Great Depression after grasshoppers had laid waste to the grazing lands.

“I’d trace back my family’s history and see ‘oh, they were involved in this, or they were influenced by that,’’’ says Sweet, who spent most of his childhood in Michigan. “That was how I got into history.”


The Twin Towers still stand in our memory 18 years later

by Angus Gillespie

So here we are at the 18th anniversary of the attacks of 9/11 and the destruction of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. There is the obvious question: why did the terrorists attack this particular landmark?

Today, the Twin Towers stand only in our memory, an image that calls to mind sorrow and loss. But during the years that they straddled the skyline, the towers meant many things to many people. On the most basic level, the towers could have been taken to symbolize the Manhattan skyline or the City of New York.

However, for nearly everyone at home and abroad, the Twin Towers symbolized something much large than the aesthetics of a single city. The building represented American engineering know-how. It showed America reaching for the sky. It stood for American capitalism and, with time, for America itself. Indeed, that is the reason it was chosen as a target by the terrorists. Terrorism is a weapon used by the weak against the strong. Because the terrorists were not powerful enough to destroy America, they had to destroy instead an important symbol of America.


Rutgers Course Explores How Mississippi Delta is Still Healing 64 Years After Emmett Till's Murder

2019 Rev. Wheeler Parker600X400

What would justice look like for Emmett Till 64 years after his death became a symbol of the U.S. civil rights movement?

Rutgers scholar Christine Zemla traveled to the Mississippi Delta to pose that question to the Rev. Wheeler Parker Jr., Till’s cousin and the last living eyewitness to his abduction, in preparation for her new fall course, “Remembering Emmett Till.”

“Till’s story is Trayvon Martin’s story. It’s Michael Brown’s story. It’s the continuing story of African-American boys who are still being targeted without justice served,” said Zemla, a professor in the Department of American Studies in the School of Arts and Sciences at Rutgers University–New Brunswick. “I want students to know the roots of his history, so they can have a deeper understanding of what still needs to be done.” 


Springsteen at 70: Remembering When The Boss Rocked New Brunswick

best crop 7449b8a77963331a2fe6 mini magick20190803 10657 1c35asf

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - Many people may call themselves Bruce Springsteen’s biggest fan, but Louis Masur has legitimate claim to that title.

This fall, the Distinguished Professor of American Studies and History at Rutgers–New Brunswick will share his admiration for the music icon in his course, “Springsteen's American Vision.”

Masur said the class will explore how Springsteen’s vision illustrates a generation’s fight for personal growth and political and social change. Author of "Runaway Dream: Born to Run and Bruce Springsteen's American Vision" and co-editor of "Talk About a Dream: The Essential Interviews of Bruce Springsteen," Masur reflects on how music can shape and be shaped by the political and social climate.


232-041504 Rtgrs1