Introducing Dr. Louis Porter!

Photo of Dr. Louis Porter

We are excited to welcome Dr. Louis Porter to Texas State this semester! He studies studies Russian and Eastern European history.

After getting my PhD in Russian History at the University of North Carolina, I am stoked to be joining the Texas State University Department of History to teach Russian and East European History.

I am often asked why I study Russia and never have a pithy answer. However, my background provides a couple of reasons. In…. West Philadelphia (“born and raised”), I grew up living in a bunch of different worlds, kind of like the Fresh Prince. My parents split so I went to school in the suburbs where my mother lived while visiting my Dad in Philly on the weekends. With a Black father from the Cleveland projects and a white mother from a working-class family in West Virginia, I had to negotiate a range of racial and class settings from as far back as I can remember. This made me eager to learn how hierarchies of class and race structure history and how various people have struggled to overcome these hierarchies.

But, as a bit of a cynic, I decided to study the greatest failed experiment in overcoming these hierarchies––the Soviet Union. I am fascinated by Marxism (in theory and practice) and its historical contexts. I am also passionate about recruiting students of all backgrounds to join me in studying Russian and European history. When not in the classroom, I am writing a book that examines how Soviet citizens reacted to the idea of international organizations.

My courses at Texas State will cover a range of topics in Russian and East European history. If you want to learn about medieval Ukraine, the Russian Revolution, or why Putin…is the way he is, I got you covered! For now, I am teaching surveys of Russian history (HIST 4333 in the Spring and 4334 in the Fall) as well as Western Civ. But I hope in the future to teach classes on the Russian Revolution, Marx and Marxism, and the Cold War.

In my free time, I chase a skedaddling nine-month old, LJ, around my house with my wife. Apart from that, I love swimming, running, hiking with my dog, canoeing, watching basketball (Sixers or whatever team Lebron is on), and listening to music (everything from DaBaby to My Bloody Valentine to Bruce Springsteen). My favorite movie is Disney’s Robin Hood.

Meet the Chairs: Dr. Murphy and Dr. Helgeson reflect on the History Department and its future

Photo of Drs. Murphy and Helgeson

Dr. Angela Murphy, who has served as chair of the department since 2017, reflects on her time as chair and shares some of her upcoming research. Incoming chair, Dr. Jeffrey Helgeson, gives us a glimpse into his vision of the future of the department.

Join them both on 9 March 2020 from 5:30-6:30 PM in Taylor-Murphy Hall 101 for a discussion sponsored by Phi Alpha Theta History Honors Society.

Murphy and Helgeson FlyerA Note from Dr. Angela Murphy

It has been rewarding serving as chair of the History Department for the past few years. It has given me a chance to get to know students on a different level, beyond the classroom, and to help further the vision of my fellow faculty. Students should know that they are front and center in that vision. I am proud to say that although the department is made up of world-class researchers, student success has remained one of its highest priorities.  This can be seen not only in the way in which faculty interact with students both in and out of the classroom, but also in the type of people we have hired over the past three years, in the efforts that have been put into modernizing the curriculum, and in the accomplishments of our students both while they are enrolled with us and afterwards.

While I am grateful for the experience of serving as chair, I am very much looking forward to stepping back into to my old faculty role in which I get to teach more (hands down my favorite part of my work) and engage more heavily with my research. Next year I will return to teaching the first half of the U.S. history survey and upper level and graduate courses on the history of the United States during the Antebellum, Civil War, and Reconstruction Eras. I also will be able to dedicate more time to writing a monograph that has been long in the making – a biography of 19thcentury African American activist, Jermain Loguen, who was one of the primary Underground Railroad operatives in New York State.

I am excited to pass the torch to Jeff Helgeson, who is a natural leader in the department already and whose dynamism and commitment will surely take the department to new heights!

A Note from Dr. Jeffrey Helgeson

It is an incredible honor to be able to say that in September 2020 I will be beginning my eleventh year here at Texas State in a new role as chair of the department of history. Over the course of the past decade, I have had the great good fortune to learn from, and have the support of, our previous chairs: Dr. Frank de la Teja, Dr. Mary Brennan (now Dean of the College of Liberal Arts), and Dr. Angela Murphy. To a great extent, as leaders of the history department, they have created the foundation for my success here as a scholar and a teacher, and they have helped guide the energy I have put into helping to foster the growth of Texas State as a whole (the kind of work academics label, “service,” that includes not just serving on committees, but, among other things, making decisions about how we will teach our classes, who we will hire, and how the university can live as a community of inclusiveness and student growth in difficult times). I hope to follow in the footsteps of the previous chairs, to support my colleagues in their work.

The history department has a reputation for being a well-run department. This means that the chairs who have come before me have been highly successful at doing the work of managing the department. They lead the way on the work that happens behind the scenes to make sure that students have the classes, advising, and academic support they need. They work to ensure that our faculty has the resources they need to develop their research, as well as coursework and extracurricular programs (study abroad, study in America, student clubs, teacher training programs, etc.) that make the Texas State history department such a vibrant place.

The Department of History is a dynamic living community, the health of which depends upon the dedicated work of dozens of people. Our academic counseling and teacher training leaders are amongst the leaders in Texas and the nation. Our public history program has established itself as a national leader, placing graduates in internships and jobs with institutions like the National Park Service, the Smithsonian, and dozens of museums, archives, and history enterprises nationwide. Our undergraduate major in history prepares students to be leaders in the professional worlds of education, the media, public service, the arts, and much more. Moreover, through our connections with vibrant areas of study across campus—including, but not limited to, the Center for International Studies, the Center for Texas Music History, the Center for the Study of the Southwest, the Center for the Study of Gender and Diversity, and minors in African American and Latino/a Studies—the history department opens doors for students to have a grounding in sophisticated historical thinking while pursuing academic and career paths that could take them literally anywhere in the world. None of this wide-ranging work would be possible if not for the department’s outstanding administrative staff—I know I am going to learn so much from Madelyn Patlan, Roberta Ruiz, Adam Clark, and the student staffers in the office.

As you can see, I am a big believer in the ongoing work of the Department of History. I have seen my colleagues dramatically transform the lives of thousands of students over the years. I want to do nothing that will slow down those achievements. Indeed, one of my goals is to sustain the department’s record of continuous excellence, and to build upon recent gains we have made in funding graduate student research and travel, in creating resources to foster undergraduate research, and to support our faculty in their awe-inspiring research on historical themes that span thousands of years of global history.

In addition to maintaining our ongoing success, I also pledge my energies to the tasks of making the Department of History a place where even more students—undergraduate and graduate, alike—can find a path for themselves, while gaining the kinds of skills and worldview that will give them the power to constantly reinvent themselves in the face of life’s inevitable challenges. This means that I am committed both to the fostering of a community of scholars, even as I show up day in and day out to ensure that the nitty gritty work of making the department run well gets done.

Looking forward, I have to admit that I find my new role to be somewhat daunting. Yet I return to advice I received years ago from none other than my own mom. She said, if you want to take on big challenges in life, be sure to surround yourself with people whom you respect and who are doing interesting things. The Department of History is a complex institution, it is also my academic home—a place where I look forward to learning from, and working alongside, fellow faculty members, deeply competent and friendly staff, as well as curious and profoundly interesting students.


“Chasing Slavery” Participant Spotlight: Dr. Robert T. Chase

Photo of Dr. Chase

In preparation for the upcoming symposium, Chasing Slavery: The Persistence of Forced Labor in the Southwest, to be held at Texas State University from 24-26 October, in Flowers  Hall 230, we will be running a series of posts focused on the conference participants and organizers. The conference will bring together dozens of scholars, with a keynote from Ambassador Luis C.deBaca (ret.). See the conference website for more details.

Today, conference participant Dr. Robert T. Chase, Associate Professor of History at Stony Brook University, shares with us a bit about his forthcoming book. 

We are Not Slaves coverTell me in four sentences why I should read your book.

Dr. Robert T. Chase: We Are Not Slaves will be the first study of the southern prisoners’ rights movement of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s and the subsequent construction of what many historians now call the era of mass incarceration. By placing the prisoners’ rights movement squarely in the labor organizing and civil rights mobilizing traditions, my work reconceptualizes what constitutes “civil rights” and to whom it applies.  My book shows that this prison-made civil rights rebellion, while mounting a successful legal challenge, was countered by a new prison regime – one that utilized paramilitary practices, gang intelligence units, promoted privatized prisons, endorsed massive prison building programs, and embraced 23-hour cell isolation—that established what I call a “Sunbelt” militarized carceral state approach that became exemplary of national prison trends.  In this two-part narrative of resistance and punitive reconstitution, prison labor is treated as more than work; rather, prison labor constituted a regime of carceral discipline and power that ordered prison society, sexuality, white privilege and racial hierarchy.   By drawing on newly released legal documents and over 80 oral histories with prisoners, this book considers the intersectional nature of prison labor as a cite of power that intersected with spatial control, gender identity, sexuality and sexual violence, and race and racial privileges.  Rather than consider prison rape as an endemic feature of individual prisoner pathology, my study uses legal testimonies to excavate a changing prison society centered on labor division that controlled an internal sex slave trade that amounted to what what I call “state-orchestrated prison rape.”

What was the most surprising thing you encountered when researching your book?

Dr. Chase: The most surprising thing I encountered is the degree to which our criminal justice system relies on prevarication and outright lying to craft false narratives that incarceration offers modernization and rehabilitation, when, in point of fact, incarceration is, at its base, a system of state violence and coerced labor that ultimately eliminates people as citizens and as human beings.  As a civil rights scholar, I expected to find in these civil rights cases the all-too frequent allegation of corporal punishment and physical abuse.  But I never expected to find a system where fellow prisoners operated as guards over other prisoners where these “convict-guards” engaged in torture, maiming, daily abuse, and the sexual assault of other prisoners in a system that was sanctified by state power.   By drawing on legal testimonies and by conducting oral histories with the incarcerated, I learned that prison rape was a system of state-orchestrated sexual assault as a state reward for those prisoners who acted as guards.  As I shifted through personal papers, diaries, letters, and affidavits from the incarcerated, I became astounded at how these people who had so little formal education, learned to educate themselves, to become what are known as “jail house attorneys,” and how deeply these self-taught prisoners read philosophical and political treatises, and how such individual acts of “mind change” lent themselves to inter-racial political organizing in a racially segregated prison system that constituted a twentieth century “prison plantation” system that rendered these prisoners as literal “slaves of the state.”

What do you hope people will take away from our conference on trafficking, forced labor and labor exploitation? 

Dr. Chase: I really appreciate the thematic approach of this conference that has taken normally separate fields of study – sexual trafficking, mass incarceration, and coerced labor – to instead put these fields in dialogue with one another to show how taken together these topics all too often operate as overlapping systems of oppression and dehumanization.   Too often we think of “labor” as merely “work,” rather than the more comprehensive role that labor plays as a critically constitutive system that tends to divide society along strictly policed lines of race, ethnicity, class, gender, and sexuality.  When we think about labor as more than work and as a constitutive process of division, we can better reimagine our collective “work” as crossing these socially constructed divides to build bridges and collective communities to combat such societal divisions.

What challenge(s) raised by your research are you still trying to reconcile?

Dr. Chase: When I started this research in the early 2000s, there were relatively few historical studies of twentieth-century prisons and almost none of the prisoners’ rights movement. Despite the development of a “long civil rights movement” historiography, I found that the literature simply did not discuss the ways in which what we now call mass incarceration has turned the gains of the civil rights revolution into another age of racial disparity.

My contribution to this rethinking of post-1965 narratives is to demonstrate that the civil rights rebellion reached prisoners as well and that their collective efforts extend the struggle for civil rights into the decades of the 1970s and 1980s.  Moreover, my use of oral histories, legal depositions and affidavits, and courtroom testimony provides an example to students of the ways in which they can uncover the voice and agency of the prisoners themselves.  Despite winning the nation’s largest civil rights victory against unconstitutional prison systems, however, the Texas prisoners’ rights movement found that the ground had shifted underneath their feet and that just as the southern prison plantation fell, the new “Sunbelt” militarized prison arose from its ashes like a carceral phoenix.

When activists, abolitionists, policy makers, and reformers attempt to curb mass incarceration, they must seek redress not only at the federal level through national legislation but perhaps more importantly they must encounter the ways in which policing and mass incarceration are governed at the local and state level where the American state is indeed strong. One suggestion that my book offers is that social justice movements against mass incarceration should continue to focus as much attention on changes in local and state government as the civil rights movement once did when it sought civil rights as a matter of national and federal intervention. To dismantle this encompassing thicket of mass incarceration, we must utilize the spade of history to reveal just how deep we must cut to reach the roots of intertwining carceral states.

Also check out:

“Chasing Slavery” Participant Spotlight: Dr. William S. Kiser

William Kiser photo

In preparation for the upcoming symposium, Chasing Slavery: The Persistence of Forced Labor in the Southwest, to be held at Texas State University from 24-26 October, in Flowers  Hall 230, we will be running a series of posts focused on the conference participants and organizers. The conference will bring together dozens of scholars, with a keynote from Ambassador Luis C.deBaca (ret.). See the conference website for more details.

Today, conference participant Dr. William S. Kiser, Assistant Professor of History at Texas A&M University-San Antonio, shares with us a bit about his research. 

Book coverTell me in four sentences why I should read your book.

Dr. William Kiser: This book broadens our historical understandings of slavery during and after the Civil War era by examining two relatively obscure forms of involuntary servitude:  Indian captivity and Hispanic debt peonage.  It focuses on American legal and political understandings of slavery and free labor in the 19th century, and the impact that the Hispanic Southwest’s alternative slaveries had on abolitionist ideology and jurisprudence.  People should read this book because it challenges prevailing conceptualizations of slavery and free labor by emphasizing the expansion of Thirteenth Amendment jurisprudence to include peonage and captivity in addition to the more familiar chattel slavery of the Old South.

What was the most surprising thing you encountered when researching your book?

Dr. Kiser: The most surprising thing to me was just how little had previously been written about debt peonage in the American Southwest. In the past 20 years, historians have increasingly taken notice of Indian captivity and slavery in North America, but peonage in the Hispanic Southwest has somehow managed to linger in the shadows of public and academic awareness until very recently.

What do you hope people will take away from our conference on trafficking, forced labor and labor exploitation? 

Dr. Kiser: The main takeaway that I’d like to see is a better understanding of just how complex and complicated slavery is in the modern world and that, contrary to popular belief, forced labor remains prevalent but largely invisible throughout parts of the United States.  In this sense post-Civil War Reconstruction truly is, to borrow Eric Foner’s words, an unfinished revolution that continues to impact modern America.

What challenge(s) raised by your research are you still trying to reconcile? 

Dr. Kiser: The paper I am presenting at this conference actually address this very issue.  In Borderlands of Slavery, I took the story of peonage into the late 19th century, but I did not follow it into the 20th century.  I am currently researching the persistence of forced labor—particularly the peonage and partido systems–in the modern American Southwest and attempting to reconcile the national ban on debt peonage in 1867 with the ongoing existence of the system, in disguised forms, into the late 20th century.


Also check out:

“Chasing Slavery” Participant Spotlight: Dr. Manu Karuka


In preparation for the upcoming symposium, Chasing Slavery: The Persistence of Forced Labor in the Southwest, to be held at Texas State University from 24-26 October, in Flowers  Hall 230, we will be running a series of posts focused on the conference participants and organizers. The conference will bring together dozens of scholars, with a keynote from Ambassador Luis C.deBaca (ret.). See the conference website for more details.

Today, conference participant Dr. Manu Karuka, Assistant Professor of American Studies, and affiliated faculty with Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Barnard College, shares with us a bit about his research. He can also be found on Twitter.

Tell me in four sentences why I should read your book.

Dr. Manu Karuka: Empire’s Tracks situates the history of the transcontinental railroad within an international history of imperialism. This framework helps dispel U.S. exceptionalism, as it has constrained historical imaginations. It also clarifies the relationships between processes occurring in North America, and those occurring elsewhere in the colonized world. Such insights can solidify internationalist understandings of North America in the past, and in the present.

What was the most surprising thing you encountered when researching your book?

Dr. Karuka: Working through the archives of Indigenous life in relation to the railroad, I came across records that have been cited in scholarship, and in Congressional testimony, often to deny or dismiss the collective land claims of Indigenous nations. I was surprised to consistently find records that scholars have cited as facts, which actually appear as rumors or questions in archival documents. Thinking about this pattern, I came to call it the “prose of counter-sovereignty.”

What do you hope people will take away from our conference on trafficking, forced labor and labor exploitation? 

Dr. Karuka: I believe that unity and solidarity are the primary tools to fight these forms of social suffering. I hope that participants in the conference can build their understanding, and their confidence, towards the necessary work of forging unity and solidarity in our historical moment.

What challenge(s) raised by your research are you still trying to reconcile? 

Dr. Karuka: Empire’s Tracks is driven by the question: What does a genuine anti-imperialism look like, from the vantage of North America? I continue to grapple with finding an answer to that question.

Also check out:

“Chasing Slavery” Participant Spotlight: Dr. Annie Isabel Fukushima

Dr. Annie Fukushima photo

In preparation for the upcoming symposium, Chasing Slavery: The Persistence of Forced Labor in the Southwest, to be held at Texas State University from 24-26 October, in Flowers  Hall 230, we will be running a series of posts focused on the conference participants and organizers. The conference will bring together dozens of scholars, with a keynote from Ambassador Luis C.deBaca (ret.). See the conference website for more details.

Today, conference participant Dr. Annie Isabel Fukushima, Assistant Professor in the Division of Ethnic Studies with the School for Cultural & Social Transformation at University of Utah, shares with us a bit about her research. She can also be found on Twitter.

Tell me in four sentences why I should read your book.

Dr. Annie Isabel Fukushima: Migrant Crossings examines the experiences and representations of Asian and Latina/o migrants trafficking in the United States into informal economies and service industries. It is an interdisciplinary analysis through sociolegal and media analysis of court records, press release, campaigns, filmic representations, performance and the law.  The book is an invitation to readers to query how readers will bear witness to migrants who experience violence in these migratory times. Anyone interested in issues regarding migration, citizenship, law and society, race, gender, transnational processes, and security should pick up this book. Readers encounter ghosts, notions of victimhood, court-performances and translation, zombified figures, and technologies of violence.

What was the most surprising thing you encountered when researching your book?

Dr. Fukushima: Part of the work was informed by my own work in community organizations. I found that a contradiction occurred. That as migrants navigated a range of institutions, they were bound to being seen in dualities of victim/criminal, legal/illegal, and citizen/noncitizen. I focused on a range of informal labor, however, informal labor cannot be disaggregated from formalized industries. And that in the campaigns and movement efforts to eradicate trafficking, the complex personhood migrants embody has been historically, socially and legally, reduced to nonhuman. And to see people for the complexity requires new modalities of witnessing. What I call, an “unsettled witnessing”.

What do you hope people will take away from our conference on trafficking, forced labor and labor exploitation? 

Dr. Fukushima: I hope people will see the significant role of history and the history of the present as central to our lived realities. That while we may not be laboring in the very industries where we see as ripe for exploitation, and that we not see trafficking as “everywhere” even our “neighbor.” But instead, we see how institutions and everyday realities structures the lives and conditions that create trafficking. A complex issue, it requires a complex response from multiple fronts—social, political, legal, historical, environmental, and cultural.

What challenge(s) raised by your research are you still trying to reconcile? 

Dr. Fukushima: I was left with the hauntings of how militarisms in the form of sexual slavery during war and militarized peace and (in)security served as the backdrop of my book. Additionally, Migrant Crossings is a book about labor. Therefore, I am currently working on my next book project which will dig deeper into militarisms and trafficking—however, with a particular interest in the role of contract workers. Amazing work has been done already, on sexual economies and militarized contexts. There is more to be understood regarding other forms of labor beyond sexualized industries.

Also check out:

Introducing Dr. Casey Nichols!

Photo of Dr. Nichols

We are excited to welcome Dr. Casey Nichols to Texas State this semester. She studies African and Mexican American history, urban history, and social movements.

Growing up in Long Beach, California (often referred to as “The LBC”) piqued my interest in Black/Brown relations. The relationship between African Americans and Mexican Americans was fundamental to debates about urban space, education reform, and local politics in my majority people of color community on the Eastside of Long Beach. Earning a PhD provided an opportunity to construct a scholarly profile that focused on a set of issues that shaped the world I grew up in and would allow me to play a leadership role in narratives designed to tell our history.

Graduate school mentors encouraged me to cultivate an identity as a historian through my Long Beach background and inspired me to embrace my unique perspective as a historian. Thus, I turned inward and wrote a dissertation about the relationship between African Americans and Mexican Americans in Los Angeles within the context of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty. My current book project in progress, Poverty Rebels: Black and Brown Protest in Post-Civil Rights America, is a love letter to the Eastside of the LBC. <3

Teaching students from similar backgrounds as myself has always been central to my goals as an academic historian. I had the wonderful privilege of teaching students at CSU, Long Beach, Dickinson College, and CSU, East Bay before making my way to Texas State. As an undergraduate student at CSU, Long Beach, Ethnic Studies and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies courses taught me to understand education as a gateway to freedom. As a professor, my courses focus on themes of race, ethnicity, social justice, and diversity, including my U.S. history surveys. This year I am teaching History 1320: U.S. Since 1877. I plan to offer additional courses in African American history and U.S. social justice history in the near future. My primary goal as a history professor is that students walk away from my courses with an understanding that their history matters.

Outside of research and teaching, two of my favorite activities are watching movies at the theater and baking cookies. Popcorn and a cherry Coke make any movie worth watching. Fun fact: I’ve also had Beyoncé’s Lemonade album on repeat in my car since 2016 and lost count of the how many times I’ve watched Homecoming.

Who was Retta Murphy?

Who was Retta Murphy?

One hundred years ago, in 1919, Retta Murphy arrived to San Marcos, Texas to teach history on the faculty of what is now Texas State University. Although she did not have her PhD when she arrived, she eventually went on to become the first Texas State University woman faculty member to hold a Ph.D. (Latin American History from U.T.-Austin in 1938.) Thousands of people have taken classes in the building that bears Dr. Murphy’s name, Taylor-Murphy Hall—the home of the Texas State Department of History.

In his book, Up the Hill, Down the Years, Dr. Ronald Brown writes: “When the History Department moved into the old Fine Arts Building, the faculty requested that the building be renamed to honor James Taylor and Retta Murphy, who had shaped the modern History Department and were early advocates of gender equity.” Dr. Murphy certainly left her mark on the University.

Dr. Emmie Craddock—a history professor, former mayor of San Marcos, and the founder of what is now the Texas State University Honors College—shared an office with Dr. Retta Murphy for a time. She called Dr. Murphy “one of the great legendary figures” of Texas State University.

Many years after Dr. Murphy’s death, Dr. William C. Pool said of Murphy, “She was a tower [of] strength… in the department…[She had] a fine dry wit that was almost unbelievable. Yes, we all loved Retta Murphy.”

Describing Dr. Murphy at a commencement address, Dr. Craddock said, “For years on end Dr. Murphy arrived at her office every morning at nine and left at five, except on Saturdays when she went home at one; and she studied as diligently on the last day she ever taught as she had from the first day of her teaching.”

Dr. Craddock continued, “Literally thousands of students who were lucky enough to have a course with her felt the clarity of her mind, the absolute integrity of her life in all of its aspects. She had no time for preten[s]e or sloppy thinking and she dearly loved to deflate the arrogant, a feat she could accomplish instantly with a comment both cryptic and deadly.”

Although she was known for “a rather brusque exterior” Dr. Craddock said underneath that “lay a heart as malleable as a child’s and a generosity of spirit which knew few bounds.” For Dr. Craddock, “[Murphy] never demanded more of others than she asked of herself, and few ever left her classes without feeling the rapier thrust of her mind and the breadth of her learning. She also had a quick and wonderful wit.”

Although, as a woman, Dr. Murphy certainly faced her obstacles. Despite temporarily serving as chair of the Division of Social Sciences, Dr. Murphy was not offered the position permanently. When asked why she was not named chair herself, she replied, “Because I wear my pants on the inside instead of the outside.’”

“She was a marvelous Presbyterian, a wonderful history teacher, straight as a die, and not afraid of anything, the devil included,” Dr. Craddock said of Dr. Murphy.

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of Dr. Murphy coming to San Marcos, we wanted to share with you her 1909 travels through Europe, 110 years ago, which lasted from 14 June-4 September 1909. Her entire scrapbook is available online through Texas State University Archives. 

Here is a sneak peek:


Introducing Dr. Dwonna Goldstone!

Photo of Dr. Dwonna Goldstone

We are excited to welcome Dr. Dwonna Goldstone who joins Texas State to launch the new African American Studies minor!

After 18 years at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee—where I taught African American literature and coordinated their African American Studies program—I am super excited to join the history department at Texas State, where I will also be coordinating the new African American Studies minor.

I am originally from Moline, Illinois, home of the John Deere Tractor, and I did my undergraduate degree in American Studies at the University of Iowa. After finishing my M.A.T. at Brown University, I taught high school English for three years in Fairfax County, Virginia, where I also coached 9th-grade girls’ basketball and boys’ and girls’ track. I wasn’t a very successful basketball coach, however; the team went 1-15 the first year and 7-9 the second year. In spite of that record, I enjoyed coaching and learned a lot—like losing is okay if we’re having fun.

I finished my PhD in American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, and my dissertation about black student integration eventually became my book—Integrating the Forty Acres: The Struggle for Racial Equality at the University of Texas (University of Georgia, 2006). I have written several articles about African American history and culture, including “Home Economics,” a memoir about growing up poor and black in a midwestern town and “Stirring Up Trouble,” an article about teaching race at a PWI.

I am currently working on three essays—one about Barbara Conrad Smith, a black undergraduate student at the University of Texas in its first year of integration (1956-7) who was removed from the school’s opera; a second titled “Teaching While Black: A Black Professor in Trump Land”; and a third on teaching feminism in a men’s prison. This past year, I taught a class at the Lois DeBerry Special Needs prison in Nashville, Tennessee, and my students read feminist novels such as Kate Chopin’s The Awakening and Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie. My goal is to create an inside/out program at a prison in Texas, where Texas State students will take a class with students who are incarcerated.

This fall, I am teaching AAS 2310: Introduction to African American Studies. In the spring, I will teach AAS 2310 again and “Black Women. Black Protest.” I also plan to create new classes for the AAS minor, including “Race, Gender, and Sexuality”; “Blacks, Film, and Society”; “Negotiating the Color Line”; and “The Black Power Movement.” Please email me ( or come by my office (THM 205) if you have suggestions for classes or programming you would like to see offered in the minor or if just want to chat about your interests. You can also follow me on Instagram at dwonnanaomi.

When I am not teaching, writing, or creating programming for the African American Studies program, I train for half marathons, do CrossFit, and walk my dogs—Lena Horne, Ernie Banks, and Ralph Ellison. I also love to watch Judge Judy, so please come by my office and see my autographed picture of her!



Alumni Profile: Jennifer Ruch on the Past, Future, Cowpunk, and Grad School

A new academic year is starting and we were excited to hear from Jennifer Ruch. Not only did Jennifer give us a little bit of background on where she’s been and where she’s going, but she also tells us about her doctoral research, and leaves us with a few tips for first year graduate students!

Can you tell us a bit about your path so far?

Jennifer Ruch: I received my B.A in history from Texas State in 2014 and I continued on with the Public History Program and earned my M.A. in 2016. I wrote my thesis on Austin music in the 1960s and 1970s with particular interest in the narrative’s intersection with cultural heritage construction. I was lucky enough to publish my M.A. thesis in the Journal of Texas Music History through the Center for Texas Music History. I worked closely with Dr. Jason Mellard, Dr. Lynn Denton, and Dr. Gary Hartman. I began my PhD at Middle Tennessee State University last fall and specialize in American popular music, museums, popular culture, and material culture. I am continuing my research to analyze the intersection between popular music, the museum, and the music industry. My dissertation will explore the genre dubbed “cowpunk” in the Nashville during the late 20th century. I am a year away from qualifying exams, but currently have a dissertation committee that includes the State Historian of Tennessee, Dr. Carroll Van West. I work as a doctoral research assistant for the Oral History Association and I also work part time at the Grand Ole Opry House. My hope is that my PhD and the research I am conducting will broaden the field’s understanding of music and popular culture in the academic & museum spaces.

So, what is cowpunk?:

Jennifer Ruch: I am exploring a regional intersection of punk and country music that originated in the UK in the 1980s and gained popularity in L.A.  as well as Nashville. It was a brief moment in time, but its importance has more to do with the presence of an underground scene in Nashville adjacent to mainstream country music. Think bands like Jason & the Scorchers, Rank & File (actually out of Austin), Social Distortion. Dwight Yoakum even dabbled in cowpunk early on.

What are few tips you have for first year graduate students?

Jennifer Ruch: 

  • Get to know your faculty and your centers! They can be your biggest help while you acclimate to graduate school life. Don’t be afraid to reach out!
  • Know when to take a breather. Breaks are healthy. Running yourself into the ground and losing sleep doesn’t produce quality work. Get your sleep, eat smart, and never apologize for a mental health day!