American Studies Theses and Dissertations

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    Lucy Stone: Speaking out for Equality
    (1995) Kerr, Andrea Moore; Diner, Hasia; American Studies; Digital Repository at the University of Maryland; University of Maryland (College Park, Md)
    This dissertation attempts a cultural, political, and traditional biography of the abolitionist and feminist leader, Lucy Stone, (1818-1893). It also offers a major revision of nineteenth-century historians' treatment of the schism that occurred immediately after the Civil War in the woman suffrage movement. The issue that divided Stone from Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony was whether woman suffragists should work to prevent passage of the Fifteenth Amendment. Stone led the majority of suffragists in supporting the enfranchisement of freedmen; Stanton and Anthony actively campaigned to defeat black suffrage. The schism that resulted lasted for more than twenty years. During this time, Stone forged the American Woman Suffrage Association into an effective, politically savvy lobbying machine. Its work and its methods formed the model for the organization that would eventually attain woman suffrage in 1920. The dissertation also focuses on Stone's private life, seeing in it both the extraordinary triumph of a singular "public" woman over the restrictions of her time and place, and the desperate personal struggle of the "private" woman, trying to balance marriage, motherhood, and career. Rising from humble, yeoman stock in western Massachusetts, Stone became internationally famous. From her pre-nuptial marriage agreement of 1855 to the unusual conditions of her will written as she lay dying in 1893, Stone attempted to thread her way through a legal, political, and social minefield.
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    (2022) Sessoms, Christina Simone; Williams-Forson, Psyche; American Studies; Digital Repository at the University of Maryland; University of Maryland (College Park, Md.)
    Out of 104,953 doctoral degrees earned by women within the United States in 2019-2020, Black women obtained 10,576 PhDs across the span of academic disciplines, equating to 11.1%, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (2021). However, research has not done its due diligence of parsing through the data to understand the stories of the women who make up those 10,576 PhDs granted. This dissertation study explores the lived experiences of Black women who specifically transitioned from their undergraduate institutions into doctoral programs at predominately white institutions (PWIs) and how Black joy may be employed as a persistence mechanism toward degree completion. Because no literature exists to understand this community of doctoral students, this groundbreaking study begins with the question of what are the lived experiences of Black women who transition directly from their undergraduate to doctorate at PWIs? The dissertation continues to push further to then question how Black women in doctoral programs understand, experience, and sustain their joy and in what ways does joy inform persistence and resistance amongst these sista scholars. Utilizing Patricia Hill Collins’ (2000) Black Feminist Thought as a theoretical foundation and Black feminist-womanist storytelling as the chosen methodology, I argue that this specific transition is one that must be deeply explored because of unique components and that Black joy does, in fact, serve as a positive mechanism for persistence. Life stories were collected through two interlocking methods of semi-structured interviews and focus groups amongst 14 Black women spanning 12 different academic fields in PhD programs across the United States. By sharing life narratives of Black women in doctoral programs, in-depth insight is gathered concerning reasons for going to graduate school, academic and socialization transitions, three primary barriers to success - age being a salient identity, mental health challenges, and perceived & real pressure, and, lastly, understanding and experiencing joy through self, community, and work. Through this research project, Black women in doctoral programs created space to critique and disrupt the Ivory Tower while producing joy amongst each other.
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    (2022) Perez, Christopher J; Sies, Mary; American Studies; Digital Repository at the University of Maryland; University of Maryland (College Park, Md.)
    Persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution is the impetus for asylum seekers to flee their home countries and seek protection elsewhere. Much of the scholarly literature and published legal cases correlate persecution with trauma and approach traumatic events of asylum seekers as always living with barriers or as a “victim.” Additionally, while there is extensive research and scholarly work on LGBTQ immigrants, there is little work specifically on LGBTQ asylum seekers, which suggests these stories matter and have value but often go unheard. Whose stories are told, heard, and valued with immigrants, and specifically asylum seekers? And, what are the risks or advantages of telling stories? For asylum seekers, making a credible case of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution places their trauma in an exchange of capital that advances neoliberal governmentality in the U.S. The nation-state benefits when resourceful “victims” of persecution ask for protection. Neoliberal governmentality can be traced to Michel Foucault’s notion of “biopower” where the body is viewed as a laboring machine, disciplining the body to optimize its capabilities and extort its forces. Biopower is literally having power over other bodies in “an explosion of numerous and diverse techniques for achieving the subjugations of bodies and the control of populations.” Although neoliberal governmentality is a necessary component in discussions of political asylum, its reductionist aim leaves little room for agency for asylum seekers or those with asylum status. How might political asylees use their identities and trauma to subvert neoliberal governmentality? I argue that LGBTQ asylum seekers use their own tactics and techniques in an “art” of self-determination or what I call queer resilience to navigate and negotiate systems and structures of power. While there is no doubt that trauma exists for asylum seekers, using trauma to categorize asylum seekers as lacking, weak, defective, or even victims is a reductionist approach in understanding asylum seekers’ identities and agency. Trauma is operational in how one negotiates structures and systems of power, different spaces, building networks, and obtaining resources. Trauma offers both a useful entry into the legal aspects of political asylum processes and also advances discussions of subjectivity and epistemology. Using narrative analysis, grounded theory, poststructuralist theory, and queer theory, this dissertation unpacks the creative agency of LGBTQ asylum seekers as they make sense of their lives, form their identities, navigate spaces, and negotiate systems of power to “queer” political asylum processes. More specifically, using interviews and examining published cases and other published archival materials, this dissertation details the story of a gay man from a Latin American country who successfully gained asylum in the U.S. and how his asylum process, his trauma, and his racial, gendered, and sexual identities contributed to his agency, which subverts political asylum and offers new ways to consider the operation of biopower, governmentality, and self-determination.
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    "Lovers on a Mission": Black Intimacies in Popular Culture and Digital Social Media Fandom
    (2022) Adams, Brienne Amaris; Lothian, Alexis; American Studies; Digital Repository at the University of Maryland; University of Maryland (College Park, Md.)
    Social media provides a way to study Black people’s relationship to the raced and gendered ways that they contend with their intimate lives with friends, family, and their romantic partners through studying their relationship to contemporary cultural productions. Digital Black fandoms constitute Black digital intimacies through affective fandom engagements on social media. Guiding this dissertation are two research questions: How do Black fans grapple with the intimate aspects of their friendships, family, and romantic lives by engaging their fandom objects on social media? How does social media provide a platform to build community through creating new discourse about the romantic and intimate lives of Black people? Utilizing theories from Black Studies, Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies, Fan Studies, and Digital Studies, this dissertation analyses web series, television, film, and music. Autoethnography, close reading, and participant observation guide the methods and methodologies for the dissertation. First, the fandom of the queer web series Between Women (2011-2017), which depicts Black lesbians in Atlanta and their romantic, friendship, and family relationships. Next, this dissertation chronicles the journey of the web series The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl (2011- 2013) to Insecure (2016-2021), which features two Black women best friends and their rollercoaster romantic relationships in Los Angeles. Finally, Beyoncé’s album Lemonade (2016), her husband JAY-Z’s album 4:44 (2017), and her sister Solange’s album A Seat at the Table (2016) as they each explore themes of racial injustice, love, and family. Through this process, “affirmative transformative” fandom demonstrates how digital Black fandom works of Black cultural productions affirm and transform the interior ways Black fans reflect on their interpersonal relationships. “Affirmative transformative” fandom is an amalgamation of traditional definitions of affirmative fandom, where fans affirm that they like a cultural production, and transformative fandom when fans create a new work inspired by their fandom object. The combination of “affirmative transformative” fandom intervenes in how Black fans affirm their fandom objects and themselves while simultaneously creating new fandom works and explaining the ways their interpersonal lives are transformed. The artists’ production and fans’ relationship to these cultural productions demonstrate that the quotidian aspects of the intimate are necessary to keep in conversation with other forms of resistance to self and world-make for themselves as an act of agential labor for and by Black fans.
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    (2021) Hufnagel, Ashley Marie; Padios, Jan; Hanhardt, Christina; American Studies; Digital Repository at the University of Maryland; University of Maryland (College Park, Md.)
    In the spring of 1968, over six thousand poor people—black, chicano, white, Puerto Rican, and Native American from rural areas to urban centers—converged on Washington, D.C. to call attention to poverty and inequality in the wealthiest and most powerful nation in the world. This six-week demonstration was part of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s final and oft-forgotten Poor People’s Campaign. Fifty years later, thousands of people in over forty states have taken part in reviving this movement as the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival (PPC 2018+), co-chaired by Bishop William Barber and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis. From low-wage workers’ fight for $15/hour minimum wage in the South to the Apache struggle to protect sacred land from copper mining in Oak Flat, Arizona; from the battle to stop emergency managers from poisoning and privatizing water services in Michigan to the urgent demands to abolish the criminalization of black, immigrant, and poor communities, “Learn as We Lead” investigates how local and national organizers are utilizing the vehicle of the campaign to build a broad-based movement across lines of identity, geography, and issue, while centering the leadership of the poor. Drawing on participant observation within the campaign, interviews with over forty grassroots leaders from twenty-seven states, and archival research, this dissertation uncovers how movement practitioners are reproducing and reformulating a long history of multiracial and multi-issue class politics—from the welfare rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s to the National Union of the Homeless of the 1980s and 1990s, from the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign (PPEHRC) of the early 2000s to the Moral Mondays and low-wage worker movements of recent years. In a time of deepening political, economic, environmental and health crisis, leaders with the PPC 2018+ offer critical insights on forging class consciousness and solidarity across difference.