Semester Project 1: Intro to American Studies

For each of my classes this semester, I’ve been working on a larger project synthesizing the major ideas of the course with my own research interests. This week, I’ll tell you what I’ve been working on, beginning with my Intro to American Studies project.

This class has focused on laying the groundwork for our future theses and dissertations, depending on whether we’re MA or Ph.D. students. As a result, each week we’ve been sharing our project ideas with the rest of the group, along with some articles relating to the theme, and listening to feedback or suggestions from our classmates. From there, we take those ideas and work them into the larger project. Since our professor wants these projects to be something we can use in the future, they’ve been taking on different forms reflecting each student’s needs. For some, it’s a paper that will build into a thesis, others might compile an annotated bibliography, and so forth.

My project is essentially an overview of the materials I currently have (ie the Roswell Museum archive), a list of sources or archives I can begin consulting, and potential research questions to guide me in the future. The first part of the project consists of a research paper summarizing the work I’ve already done, and what I need to do in the future. The bulk of this paper focuses on the Roswell Museum archive, which is the information I have available. Rather than make a specific argument about the archive, I’ve compiled my observations about it, including what’s represented, what isn’t, and what I might need to take another look at should I return to Roswell for a research trip.

The map in my study. I’ve been using stickers to mark out each of the art centers.
Now you know where the cover image on my website came from.

I also talk about the broader community art center program, or at least what I know of it. Over the course of the semester, I’ve been mapping out art center locations on a giant map in my study, which has really helped me reframe the project. Florida, for example, had the most art centers (with 18, compared to New Mexico’s 3),  which has encouraged me to reframe my geographic thinking on the south. Being a segregated state, I’ve also learned that several of these art centers were established specifically for black communities, which makes me wonder whether or not they showed the same traveling exhibitions that served white art centers. While I’ve had to accept that I can’t write about all of the art centers, seeing them on a map is helping me to rethink how to approach this massive topic.

Beyond the paper itself, I’ve also been putting together a bibliography and a list of resources. Since several art centers still operate as museums today, I’ll most likely target these first, as they’re likely to have their archives intact. I’ve also been thinking about how to access the art centers that did close, whether it’s through contacting state archives, reading period newspapers, or other alternative sources.

The number of Florida art centers really helped me recenter my focus away from New Mexico exclusively. Just look at them all!

Most significantly, perhaps, I’ve been thinking about the guiding questions I can use to help frame the dissertation when it comes time to write the prospectus. I’m still interested in travel infrastructures, but I’m also considering moving into reception theory and learn more about how local communities responded to these art centers and their national exhibition programs. I’ve also been thinking about how to narrow down case studies. Obviously the Roswell Museum and Art Center will be one, but I’d like to consider different geographic areas such as Florida or Oregon. Another way to approach it is to focus on art centers that still operate in one form or another, a focus that would give me the benefit of arguing ongoing relevance.

In essence, this project has no definitive answers or arguments, but that’s beside the point. My real objective here is to stay focused on the dissertation and lay the groundwork for prospectus writing in another year or so, and I’m grateful to have the opportunity to get a head start on that.

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