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!