AMST Graduate Daniel Liebman’s Commencement Speech

May 22nd, 2012

Our congratulations to Daniel Liebman, American Studies major and 2012 graduate, for his outstanding work as commencement speaker for the 61st Commencement exercises at Brandeis on May 20, 2012.

A full video of his speech is featured on BrandeisNow. Watch it here.

“Cine Qua Non: The Political Import and Impact of The Battle of Algiers”

May 19th, 2012

Professor Stephen Whitfield‘s new article, “Cine Qua Non: The Political Import and Impact of The Battle of Algiers,” appears in the LISA e-Journal, a peer-reviewed online journal for scholars “interested in pluri-, trans- or inter- disciplinary studies in fields including cultural ‎studies, literature, philosophy or the history of ideas, the visual arts, music, media studies, ‎sociology, history and anthropology within the English-speaking world although comparative ‎studies with other geographical areas will also be considered.”

An excerpt from his article:

“This is the day of the guerrilla,” Malcolm X confidently announced in 1964. “Algerians… took a rifle and sneaked off to the hills, and de Gaulle and all of his highfalutin’ war machinery couldn’t defeat those guerrillas. Nowhere on this earth does the white man win in a guerrilla warfare. It’s not his speed.”1

The generalization did not take into account the success of the British in defeating the insurrection in Malaya in the 1950s, or the evidence that even the French had won the military phase of their counter-insurgency in Algeria, only to lose politically in an era of decolonization. But “the day of the guerrilla” that Malcolm X perceived as having dawned was to inspire its most important cinematic realization the following year, with the release of La Battaglia di Algeri, an Italian-Algerian co-production (in French and Arabic). In portraying the struggle of urban insurgents (though not revolutionaries fighting in the mountains and hills), The Battle of Algiers has become in retrospect a work of exceptional prescience. In depicting the willingness of terrorists to murder civilians to pursue political goals, this film constituted a preview of a world of sudden, disruptive, and shocking violence, the world that we in the twenty-first century now inhabit.

But foresight is not the only claim that The Battle of Algiers can invoke. If an unscholarly but defensible opinion may be offered, this is quite simply the greatest political movie ever made. One criterion is the breadth of the impact that this film has exerted, the sheer range of an appeal that continues to be felt. From left to right, and from 1965 until the present, the scale of that attraction is the primary focus of this essay. It seeks both to describe that political influence and to account for it in cinematic terms. Briefly banned in France in 1965, and then infrequently shown in that country for the next few decades, screened by groups of political incendiaries ranging from the Irish Republican Army to the Tamil Tigers, praised by the Palestinian intellectual Edward W. Said for “extraordinary… clarity and… passion,” even as units of the Israel Defense Forces were required to watch it,2 revived in the late summer of 2003 through the official sponsorship of the Pentagon’s Directorate for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict, The Battle of Algiers is peerless in the breadth of the fascination that it has continued to elicit.

Read the rest of the article here.

“Culture Hero: The Anthropologist as Public Intellectual”

May 19th, 2012

Professor Stephen Whitfield has published an article for First of the Month: A Website of the Radical Imagination, titled “Culture Hero: The Anthropologist as Public Intellectual.”

An excerpt:

The most famous line of the most famous book of one of the great American public intellectuals of the first half of the twentieth-century defines “the problem” of the coming century as “the problem of the color-line.” The Souls of Black Folk (1903) uses the sentence three times, and may not refer exclusively to the chasm that divided black and white. But prescient though W. E. B. Du Bois was, and salient though his legacy has been, he is not conspicuously associated with the defense of other racial minorities and ancestral groups. In the twenty-first century, the line looks more colorful than the one that Du Bois devoted his life to erasing; the primary colors have been extended into numerous variations. Even as he noted that the blood of several peoples flowed through his veins, African ancestry determined his identity. He therefore had very personal reasons for his opposition to racism, which the historian George M. Fredrickson defined as “a rationalized pseudoscientific theory positing the innate and permanent inferiority of nonwhites.”[1]

For members of the race that benefited from inequality, the struggle against white supremacy was presumably less compelling than it was for Du Bois, whose commitment to civil rights could be dismissed as special pleading. His friend Franz Boas was a Jewish immigrant from Germany. Among white public intellectuals he was also unsurpassed in making the crossing of that color-line — for the sake of justice — central to his vocation. Consistent in his defense of the very precarious rights of African-Americans, Boas also promoted understanding of the indigenous peoples of the New World. In the breadth of his critique of race, he can therefore lay claim to have vindicated even more decisively than Du Bois the ideal of the public intellectual in the United States. (And unlike Du Bois, Boas never did anything in politics as silly as becoming a Communist.)

The other apt comparison is to Thomas Jefferson, the most influential intellectual ever to hold the nation’s highest office. The notorious image of blacks presented in Notes on the State of Virginia (1783) helped form the color-line. And yet Jefferson’s record of disparagement has to be weighed against his insistence that “all men are created equal.” That credo led Herman Melville, speaking for the defense, to argue that “the Declaration of Independence makes a difference.” Jefferson was also fascinated with Native Americans, whose vocabularies he collected and wanted to have compiled.[2] He should thus be deemed a precursor to Boas, who really was an egalitarian. His academic legacy, as well as his personal and civic commitments, could be called Jeffersonian, in the sense that they were directed toward realizing the moral promise of the Declaration of Independence.

Read the full article here.

Three Generations at Brandeis: Alana Abramson ’12, American Studies Graduate

May 19th, 2012

BrandeisNOW features a story about Alana Abramsom, a 2012 graduate from the American Studies program and also a Gila Prize winner, and her mother and grandmother — all Brandeis graduates.

From the article:

Precisely because Brandeis was omnipresent while Alana growing up – she first visited campus as a nine-month-old for her mother’s 10th reunion and was back again five years later for her 15th – she wanted to be sure that she did not choose to attend Brandeis just for tradition’s sake.

“When Alana was younger, I always told her that she would go to Brandeis. I was just joking of course but she thought I was serious,” Naomi remembers. “It certainly was not preordained that she would attend the university.”

As a high school student, Alana visited several elite colleges and universities around the Northeast before deciding to apply to Brandeis as an early-decision candidate in November 2007. “It turned out that Brandeis had everything I was looking for,” Alana says.

Although they arrived on campus 32 years apart, Alana and Naomi each took a class with longtime American Studies Professor Jerry Cohen. According to Naomi, that may have been the only similarity in their academic experiences.

“I wasn’t half the student that Alana is,” Naomi explains. “She understood all the resources available to her and was a much more mature student. She just exploded intellectually and had a tremendous experience.”

Alana learned that the centrality of the unique Brandeis student-faculty connection to the overall academic experience was more than just admissions marketing hype. A political science and American studies double major, she met frequently with her professors and developed a particularly close relationship with Stephen Whitfield, Ph.D.’72, the Max Richter Professor of American Civilization. She took three of Whitfield’s courses and he served as her senior thesis adviser.

“It only takes one teacher to inspire you and make you believe in yourself and give you the courage to pursue your potential,” Susan says of the first of her nine grandchildren, who will graduate Phi Beta Kappa and summa cum laude.

Congratulations to Alana and to her family. Alana moves on to the Columbia University School of Journalism in the fall for graduate school.

American Studies student Daniel Liebman to speak at Brandeis commencement

May 15th, 2012

Congratulations are in order for graduating senior and American Studies major Daniel Liebman. As BrandeisNOW reports:

Being the one student who will represent a graduating class of 825 may seem a daunting task, given that they hail from approximately 53 countries and 43 American states, and speak some 37 languages. But there are more similarities than differences among Brandeisians says Daniel Liebman, who has been chosen by his classmates to deliver the Student Address at this year’s commencement.

Students are already aware of what Brandeis has done for them, says Liebman — from teaching critical thinking skills and capacities for scholarly inquiry to forging enduring bonds of intellect and affection with professors and each other. It’s what the class of 2012 has done for Brandeis that Liebman will ask his classmates to ponder.

“You are not the same person you were four years ago; and as a result, this university is not the same place that it was four years ago,” he plans to say at commencement. “Think about what you have done for Brandeis. Indulge me for a moment. I guarantee that you have left your mark in some way or another.”

The honor of speaking at commencement is open to everyone in the graduating class. It begins with a call to write and submit a speech by the end of February. Usually there are 25 to 30 applicants; this year, there were 27.

BrandeisNOW on AMST Student Play for “History as Theater” Course

May 7th, 2012

Professor Joyce Antler’s “History as Theater” semester project, a full-length play about student radicalism on campus in 1970 is featured on BrandeisNOW:

“Stunning!” “Spectacular!” “Truly emotional and intellectual” were just a few of the responses from audience members following the dramatic reading of “When Rebellion Becomes Revolution: A Play of Protest, Murder, Denial and Atonement,” developed throughout the fall semester as part of Professor Joyce Antler’s American Studies course, “History as Theater.”

For 12 weeks, the eight students in the course investigated events at Brandeis in 1970 that led to the involvement of students Susan Saxe and Kathy Power in the robbing of the State Street Bank in Brighton, Mass., and the shooting death of Police Officer Walter Schroeder. Both women were on the FBI’s most wanted list in the 1970s; Saxe was captured and served seven years in prison, but Power remained at large until she surrendered in the early 1990s.

“Saxe and Power were part of a wider group of Brandeis students who passionately opposed the Vietnam War and other government actions,” says Professor Antler, Samuel Lane Professor of American Jewish History and Culture and Head of the Division of Social Sciences. “As the coordinating body of the National Strike Information Center, Brandeis played a special role in student activism. Unlike other Brandeis radical activists, Saxe and Power…resorted to violence.”

This issue of the shift from protest to violence is at the heart of the play itself, stimulating the students to examine the changing meanings of social justice. As Paige Lurie ’15 says in the play’s epilogue, a reflection on the students’ experience in researching and writing the play, “At the start of the semester, I had a very analytical definition about what social justice was. After learning about Power and Saxe I realized social justice is a personal thing—successful or not it cannot be limited by an outsider’s perspective. Even if I would never rob a bank to stop a war— and even though I still don’t believe these students went around it the right way— it doesn’t mean they weren’t advocates for social justice.”

The performance received such overwhelmingly-positive response that many in the audience urged Professor Antler to restage the play:

Sharon Feiman Nemser, director of the Mandel Center for Jewish Education at Brandeis, commented on the relationship between the two in her reaction to the performance.

“It needs to be part of the Brandeis legacy but also the legacy of the student protest movement and beyond,” Nemser says. “I think it would be moving and instructive to students involved in the Occupy movement.”

Audience reaction was overwhelmingly positive.

“What a powerful way to engage students with primary sources and how historians use them to construct narratives–which, if they are to engage readers, must have some kind of dramatic arc,” declared Gail Reimer, director of the Jewish Women’s Archive.

Scott Edmiston, director of the Office of the Arts at Brandeis, found the performance “so moving and meaningful. I would love to see the students more engaged with this work. Bravo!”

This theme of restaging and repeat performance was echoed by UMass-Boston History Department Chair Roberta Wollons, who told Antler, “I hope you will hold on to this work and consider presenting it again and again, maybe each time given over to the vision of different directors or acting ensembles…It was an amazing accomplishment.”

Read more here: Joyce Antler’s class writes its own ‘History as Theater’

American Studies alum ’76 awarded Howard University doctorate

May 3rd, 2012

American Studies Brandeis alumna Julieanna Richardson ’76 received an honorary doctorate from Howard University at its 2012 commencement exercises.

Julieanna L. Richardson is the founder of the largest national collection effort of African-American video oral histories on record. She has a diverse background in the humanities, corporate law, television production and the cable television industries and a passion for American Studies and history.

She founded The HistoryMakers, a national, non-profit educational institution headquartered in Chicago, which is committed to preserving an internationally recognized archival collection of thousands of African American video oral histories.

Richardson graduated magna cum laude with a double major in Theatre Arts and American Studies from Brandeis University in 1976. It was during her studies at Brandeis that she first experienced the power of oral history, while conducting independent research on the Harlem Renaissance and poet and author Langston Hughes. Richardson received her J.D. degree in 1980 from Harvard Law School.

American Studies at Brandeis congratulates our own on her remarkable achievement.

American Studies Faculty News: Three Brandeis Professors at BAAS in London

May 3rd, 2012

American Studies Professors Tom Doherty, Maura Farrelly and Steve Whitfield all attended the British Association for American Studies Annual Conference in April 2012.

From left: Tom Doherty, Maura Farrelly, Steve Whitfield

Doherty, currently teaching in Singapore at the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, gave the keynote address, “The Only Studio with Any Guts”: Warner Bros. and Nazism, 1933-1941. Farrelly’s presentation was “There is Nothing in Sacred Writ against Indulgence in the Weed”: Tobacco’s Challenge to Methodist Asceticism, while Whitfield gave a presentation titled “The Theme of Indivisibility in the Postwar Struggle Against Prejudice.”

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