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Melissa Cooper to Speak at Georgetown County Library

Dr. Melissa Cooper, historian at the Institute, will speak on Sunday, 14 December 2014 at 2:30pm at the Georgetown County Library, where her talk will be "Gullah-Geechee Folk in the American Imagination." Her talk is one in a series hosted by the library and funded in part by the South Carolina Humanities Council.

Melissa Cooper Joins Southern Studies

Dr. Melissa Cooper joined the Institute for Southern Studies in fall 2013 after receiving her Ph.D. in history from Rutgers University in 2012.  She is the author of Instructor's Resource Manual--Freedom on My Mind: A History of African Americans with Documents (Bedford/St. Martin's Press, 2013) and “Selling Voodoo: The 1920s and 1930s Voodoo Craze and the Imaginative Voodoo Industries that it Inspired,” in an edited collection titled, Race and Retail(Rutgers University Press, forthcoming).

Dr. Cooper’s dissertation and current book project focuses on the 1920s and 1930s intellectual and cultural trends that inspired researchers’ and writers’ interest in Sapelo Island, Georgia, residents relative to their African past.  Dr. Cooper’s exploration of the history of Sapelo Islanders in published works reveals a complex cast of characters, each one working through ideas about racial distinction and inheritance; African culture and spirituality; and ancestral legacies relative to the black American slave past during the most turbulent years in America’s race-making history.  Feuding social scientists, adventure seeking journalists, amateur folklorists, and other writers, initiated and shaped the perception of Sapelo Islanders’ distinct connection to African culture during the 1920s and 1930s and labeled them “Gullah.”  Her study interrogates the intellectual and cultural motives of the researchers and writers who have explored Sapelo Islanders, and argues that the advent of American Modernism, the development of new social scientific theories and popular cultural works during the 1920s and 1930s, and other trends shaped (skewed) their depictions.  Cooper’s study also charts the 20th-century legacies of 1920s and 1930s Sapelo Island research which underscores the fact that the “discovery” and “re-discovery” of Sapelo Island’s Gullah folk is more a sign of times that signals shifts in the nation’s construction of racial categories than an anthropological discovery.  Ultimately, Dr. Cooper’s research tells a larger story about race in American history by examining the ways in which Sapelo Island’s “Gullah folk” have served to fill the needs of various groups’ race fantasies for generations.      

Before coming to the University of South Carolina, Dr. Cooper taught social studies in a New Jersey public high school for more than a decade and African American Studies at Columbia University during the 2012-2013 academic year.  As an instructor and mentor, Cooper is interested in developing a course that thinks about the “South” in the national imagination, using history to frame how that imagination was constructed.

Courtney Lewis Joins Southern Studies

Dr. Courtney Lewis joined the Institute for Southern Studies in fall 2013 as a joint appointment between ISS and the Department of Anthropology.  Lewis’s current book project, “The Business of Being Cherokee: The Transformative Power of Eastern Band Small Businesses” explores how economic stability impacts political practices from an anthropological perspective.  She asks important questions:  What are the political and historical roots of Cherokee small businesses and for broader issues of economic stability?  How are these roots manifest in the modern Cherokee economy?  The questions imply a deeper historical question about continuity and change as well as political economy, which considers the dynamic interconnections between production, consumption, law, and custom.

Lewis conducts field research on the Qualla Boundary, the homeland of Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in western North Carolina, using ethnographic research methods to examine the history of Cherokee businesses inside and outside the Boundary.   She contextualizes this ethnographic evidence through tribal and U.S. government policies and a theoretical framework emphasizing economic hegemony.   Support mechanisms of tribal government to counter this form of hegemony, for example, include investment and training programs, such as “Indianpreneurship.”

Central to this study of Cherokee small businesses is the question of sovereignty.  Just how, exactly, does a “domestic dependent nation” exercise its sovereignty during an economic crisis like the Great Recession in 2008?  Lewis identifies an important, and perhaps cyclical, problem.  Historical and political factors destabilize Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian’s economy and small businesses.  This instability, in turn, has a negative impact on the ability of the Eastern Band Cherokee to exercise tribal sovereignty. 

Also of importance in Lewis’s research are different types of physical and nonphysical boundaries, including geographic, citizenship, and representational boundaries.  The Qualla Boundary itself is a historically shifting political line that intersects with issues of land use, politics, and taxation.  Another contested boundary is that of citizenship.  As part of tribal sovereignty, the Eastern Band sets citizenship qualifications and is currently in the process of a self-audit of citizens.  Lastly, Lewis draws on settler-colonial theory to explain issues of representational authority and authenticity in an economy based largely around heritage tourism and, since 1997, casino tourism.

Lewis’s research interests is as interesting as her intellectual career from her early degrees in economics (B.A. at Michigan in 1996, M.A. at Wayne State in 2001) to a Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2012.  After working in the financial sector, Lewis decided that while economics was intellectually fulfilling, she wanted to emphasize more applied work with the people in her research.  She is an expert on economics and anthropology as well as a talented teacher.  One of her teaching goals at the University of South Carolina is to develop a southern studies class that examines native nations.

New era in Southern studies begins

By Peggy Binette, peggy@mailbox.sc.edu, 803-777-7704

A scholar of contemporary Southern literature and culture has been selected to lead the Institute for Southern Studies in theCollege of Arts and Sciences at the University of South Carolina.

Robert Brinkmeyer, who joined USC’s faculty in 2000 and is the Emily Brown Jefferies Professor of English and College of Arts and Sciences Distinguished Professor of Southern Studies, has been named director. Brinkmeyer succeeds Walter Edgar, who retired May 31 and led the institute since its founding in 1980.

A scholar of early-to-mid 20th century writers who include William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy and Eudora Welty, Brinkmeyer has spent much of his career helping to shape an international understanding of Southern studies by establishing university exchange programs and lecturing extensively throughout Europe and Russia.

“In the last decade or so, the field of Southern Studies has changed dramatically. Many scholars are now looking at the South through a lens that is simultaneously local and international,” Brinkmeyer said. “Scholars often talk about ‘the many Souths’ rather than ‘the South,’ examining the many vibrant subcultures operating within operating within Southern culture. In other words, the South’s diversity is now at front and center in scholarly research.”

Building on the institute’s strong foundation set by Edgar, Brinkmeyer said he wants to create a broad understanding of the South while offering faculty and students new ways of studying the region.

His plans call for joint projects with other disciplines, including programs in women’s and gender studies, African, Latin American, Jewish and African studies; opportunities for interdisciplinary team-teaching of courses; yearly themes to guide speakers, colloquia and public events; and collaboration with other Southern studies-focused centers on research and symposia that would provide a comparative look at the South.

Brinkmeyer said students can expect more course offerings this year.

Rob Gilmer, a new faculty member whose research areas is Native American history and environmental history, will teach a new course this fall titled, “Native Americans in the Contemporary South: ‘Indian Princesses,’ Tribal Recognition and Gaming.” Next spring, faculty from a variety of departments will teach a special topics course, including one on Piedmont music. Plans call for the hiring of two more faculty this year, one a research professor in Southern Studies and a joint hire in anthropology.

“These are exciting times for the Institute for Southern Studies,” he said.

Mary Anne Fitzpatrick, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences agrees.

“The work conducted by the scholars and students in the Institute demonstrates that the local has strong and powerful connections and implications for global understanding,” Fitzpatrick said.

Before joining USC’s faculty, Brinkmeyer was chairman of the English department at the University of Arkansas. He previously had taught at the University of Mississippi, Tulane University and North Carolina Central University. A native of Washington D.C., Brinkmeyer earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Duke University and a doctoral degree in English from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.

An expert in modern and contemporary Southern literature and culture, Brinkmeyer is the author of five books, including his most recent, “The Fourth Ghost: White Southern Writers and European, 1930 – 1950,”which earned the 2010 PROSE Award by the Association of American Publishers for the best book published in literature, language and linguistics and the 2009 Warren-Brooks Award for Excellence in Literary Criticism.

His research, which has earned him a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Fulbright appointment, includes the study of and writing on a wide variety of writers, which include Mark Twain, Erskine Caldwell, Bobbie Ann Mason, Jean Toomer, Katherine Anne Porter, Lillian Smith, Carson McCullers, Darcy Steinke, Frederick Barthelme, James Agee, V.S. Naipaul and Richard Ford, in addition to Faulker, O’Connor, Percy and Welty.

His editorial experience is extensive. He serves on the editorial boards of “The Mississippi Quarterly” and “The Flannery O’Connor Review” and is a board member of the USC Press. He is series editor for USC Press’s new series, “Southern Revivals,” which reprints contemporary Southern fiction, and is an editorial member of UNC Press’s series, “New Directions in Southern Studies.” He is a former longtime executive board member of the Society for the Study of Southern Literature.