Our Faculty/Students in News

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.


NJ Folk Fest Promo 2019

Raising a Black Boy Not to Be Afraid

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By  Nicole R. Fleetwood

One evening last spring, my son packed his backpack for school the next day and sighed. “Mom, it’s weird walking around near my school,” he said. His somber tone made me afraid of what would come next—confessions of bullying, peer pressure, or, as had been reported about the eighth-graders, witnessing kids drinking or making out near the campus.

“Why?” I asked, trying to sound calm.

“All the white people move away from me when I’m walking to school. The white women grab their bags or cross the street. The only people who say hi are black women pushing strollers with white children in them,” he said.

At the time, he was barely five feet tall and weighed under 100 pounds. He was a 12-year-old in the sixth grade at a fairly diverse but majority-white middle school on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Since starting there, he had been insistent about going to school on his own, a 20-minute journey from our home in Harlem. His father and I had set up a system: one of us would track his journey to school until he sent a text message confirming arrival. I watched the little dot that represents his movement along the city grid, but what that phone app could not show was the people he encountered along the way and how they treated him.


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Black leisure travel during the Jim Crow era is an overlooked and under-researched topic. When researchers examine African American travelers during this time period, they tend to view their mobility through the lens of politics or as a precursor to the Civil Rights Movement. This is an incredibly limited view of Black mobility, and viewing African American travelers as solely political travelers means that researchers miss out on understanding their full experiences. Researchers render them heroes or martyrs rather than families and individuals, and they strip them of their joy.

pdf "Wherever We Please, and Without Embarrassment”: Black Leisure Travel During the Jim Crow Era (130 KB) examines Black leisure travel during the Jim Crow era, with a specific focus on Victor Hugo Green's The Negro Traveler's Green Book. The Green Book treated black travelers as travelers, contributing to the normalization and enjoyability of travel. This thesis emphasizes leisure over politics, as much of the research surrounding this era fails to do so. The major sources used in writing this thesis include archived versions of The Negro Motorist's Green Book from 1937 to 1964, archived editions of the NAACP's magazine The Crisis, archived issues of The Defender, and a number of secondary sources on the automobile, sundown towns, the Great Migration, leisure, segregation, and mobility. 


I stumbled across The Negro Motorist Green Book my freshman year. Junot Diaz had shared an article about the New York Public Library's acquisition of the nearly-complete run of the guidebook. I knew right then that if I ever wrote a thesis, that would be my focus.As my junior year came to a close, Professor Masur asked me if I had any subject in mind for an honors thesis. I immediately remembered The Green Book. Holding a facsimile of the guidebook in my hands this year, I finally realized that this was more than a year-long writing project. The book that I held in my hands had literally saved lives, and I wanted to do it justice in my writing. For the better part of a year, I poured over The Crisis, The Chicago Defender, The Green Book itself, and sources concerning black leisure travel, segregation, the automobile, and sundown towns. I am so incredibly proud of what I've done this year.


Old Ways in NJ States of Incarceration

Angus Kress Gillespie speaks with Andrew Urban about the "States of Incarceration" exhibit at the Douglas Library at Rutgers University.

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