Past Danky Fellows

2015 Danky Fellow: Kera Lovell

Kera Lovell is a PhD Candidate in American Studies at Purdue University.  Her research focuses on how visual and material culture shape the relationship between activism and identity, particularly within the context of post-World War II urban protest.  Titled, “Radical Manifest Destiny: Urban Renewal, Colonialism, and Transnational American Identity in the Urban Spatial Politics of the Postwar Left,” her dissertation examines how activist groups used environmental and performance art, public green space, and food to anarchically reimagine urban space as political territory.

Her dissertation traces a unique tactic of civil resistance in which coalitions of activists permanently occupied vacant lots by converting those spaces into public parks, called “People’s Parks.”  Influenced by the civil disobedient tactics of labor strikes and civil rights movement sit-ins that challenged urban power structures by staking claim to public and private space, People’s Parks drew countercultural crowds and incited police violence by blending art installations with public performances of political theater and declaring newly-created green spaces “liberated” territories.  Having unearthed more than two-dozen People’s Parks, from their Northern California origins to Madison, WI, British Columbia, Denmark, and South Africa between 1969 and 1999, her dissertation analyzes the image and impact of these green spaces as sites for building and imagining cross-cultural coalitions across national borders.  In turn, differences in race, location, class, occupation, and nationality greatly impacted critical reception and regulation of these spaces.  Ultimately, by analyzing how activists equated urban power structures with global imperialism and insurgent place-making with radical historical preservation, she argues that People’s Parks became visual and rhetoric tools for constructing coalitional, transnational, and transhistorical narratives of urban space that united disparate activist groups.

Because the Midwest is home to a majority of activist-created People’s Parks, the Wisconsin Historical Society serves as an invaluable site for conducting research on social movements, print culture, and urban history in the region that comprise the core themes of her project. In particular, the museum holds essential resources that shed light on the importance of Madison’s own People’s Park to the city’s countercultural movement.  In addition, the museum’s collections of social action posters and newspapers will be consulted to analyze how activists constructed these green spaces as cross-cultural.

2014 Danky Fellow: Ashley Farmer

Ashley Farmer is a historian of African American Women's intellectual History. Her research interests include women's history, gender history, radical politics, and black feminism. She earned a BA in French from Spelman College, an MA in History from Harvard University, and a PhD in African American Studies from Harvard University. She is currently a Provost Postdoctoral Fellow in the History Department at Duke University. In August 2016, she will be an Assistant Professor in the Department of History and the African American Studies Program at Boston University.

As a postdoctoral fellow, she is completing her manuscript What You’ve Got is a Revolution: Black Women’s Movements for Black Power (forthcoming, UNC Press). The first comprehensive history of African American women in the black power movement, this book analyzes African American women's intellectual production to uncover their pivotal role in shaping the black power movement.

Farmer's scholarship has appeared in numerous venues including Gender News, The Black Scholar, The Black Diaspora Review and The Journal of African American History. The Center for American Politics at Harvard University, the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University, The University of Texas-Austin, the Wisconsin Historical Society, and the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Research on Women and Politics at Iowa State University have supported her research.

2013 Danky Fellow: Ian Blechschmidt

Ian Blechschmidt is a PhD candidate in the Rhetoric and Public Culture program at Northwestern University. His major interest is the social role of print, popular, and visual culture. His project, tentatively titled “Comix and the middle-class family: Underground comix as cultural resistance in Cold War America,” explores how underground comix were a response to the consolidation of middle-class domestic and family values and consensus ideology during the Cold War.

Part of the underground publishing scene that helped to fuel the countercultural revolution, underground comix gained a following in the late sixties and early seventies with their scathing critiques of American culture, their psychedelic style, and their depictions of sex, drugs, and outrageous violence. One of their favorite targets was domestic, suburban, “boosh-wah” family life. At a time when the American family was promoted as a “bulwark” against dangers such as communist expansion and nuclear proliferation (May), the comix responded with taboo-busting depictions of, among other things, sexually adventurous Disney-esque cartoon characters and incestuous nuclear families.

This project uses a multidisciplinary approach to investigate both the rhetoric of the comix themselves and the wider practices surrounding their production and reception. It seeks to understand how comix attempted to critique and unsettle dominant systems of cultural production, distribution, and taste and how these were an attempt to disrupt the mechanisms by which suburban, family-oriented domesticity was enforced as the definitive model of normality, respectability, and the “good life” in the Cold War USA.

Ian takes a particular interest in larger questions about how gender was being constructed through this model of normality and how the comix resisted such constructions. He is particularly interested in how comix attacked dominant ideals of masculinity and femininity, though rarely together, and rarely unproblematically.

The collection of comix and other underground prints and newspapers at the Wisconsin Historical Society presents valuable archival material for examining the ways that underground comix challenged mainstream ideologies during the Cold War. Such an examination is an opportunity to better understand how American family values have been contested through the production, distribution, and consumption of popular print culture.

Works cited
May, Elaine Tyler. Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era. 20th Anniversary Ed. New York: Basic Books, 2008.

2012 Danky Fellow: Sarita Alami

Sarita is PhD Candidate in the History department at Emory University. She is interested in the way print culture has affected the lives of prisoners and the development of institutional policy. Her dissertation, tentatively titled “Life Sentences: The Rise and Fall of Prison Journalism in the United States, 1912-1980,” explores the interpersonal, national, and legal conversations that have taken place within the nation’s penal publications.

Recent state and federal budget crises have reinvigorated conversations about mass incarceration in the United States. The sweeping expansion of the nation’s carceral system in the last thirty years has resulted in both a surge in the number of prisons and a redefinition of the prison experience. Scholars have detailed how changes in prison policy, along with overcrowding and the stigmatization of “convicts,” have corroded many of the small freedoms that prisoners have traditionally possessed and caused many inmates to surrender their sense of individuality, autonomy, and civic engagement.

Before the rise of mass incarceration in the late 1970s, many prisoners were afforded the freedom to write and publish newspapers. While their frequency and structure varied, the number of prison publications at any given time from 1912 to 1980 ranged from a dozen to well over a hundred. While most studies of twentieth century prisons have focused on laws and policy or on instances of riots and violence, this project examines prison periodicals, which were generally written by prisoners for prisoners. The product of a collective endeavor, these documents provide a novel method for tracing the history of institutional culture from the inside out.

The penal press is a remarkable example of the give and take that has characterized institutional life in the United States. Operating under circumstances that were heavily censored and highly constrained, inmate-journalists discussed national and international politics, engaged each other and the public, and reflected a dynamic, oppressive, and often-controversial penal culture. The Wisconsin Historical Society houses the most diverse collection of prison publications in the nation, including issues of 14 African American prison periodicals that arose during the Prisoner’s Rights Movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Examining the form and content of prison newspapers illuminates how inmates managed to create an increasingly vociferous penal press despite heavy institutional censorship.

2011 Danky Fellow: Josh Mound

The winner of the 2011 Danky Fellowship was Josh Mound. Josh is a PhD candidate in the departments of History and Sociology at the University of Michigan. His dissertation – tentatively titled “Inflated Hopes, Taxing Times: The Politics of Economic Crisis in the Long 1970s” – examines the contested economic politics surrounding the intertwined issues of taxes and inflation from the mid-1960s through the mid-1980s.

Recent “tea party” protesters and candidates have once again put the specter of high taxes and government-stoked inflation back onto the front pages of newspapers. Looking for a historical gloss on the phenomenon, many commentators have pointed to the “tax revolt” of the 1970s as the root of modern conservatism’s hold on tax politics. However, Josh’s research demonstrates that this history is misleading. 

By the late 1960s, “squeezed” had become a keyword used by the press to describe both Americans’ psyches and pocketbooks. Polls showed that – even in an era marked by war, assassinations, and civil strife – rising taxes and prices dominated the concerns of all Americans across lines of race, class, and gender. Americans were angry not only at their own economic situations, but at what they saw as the system’s unfairness. As inflation pushed Americans into higher income tax brackets and spiked their property taxes, the era’s press provided a constant drumbeat of stories about millionaires, large corporations, and prominent politicians who escaped taxation altogether. Surveys soon showed that most Americans believed that the tax code was stacked against them, and many began to organize for tax reform and economic assistance at the local and national levels.

These grassroots groups produced publications with names like Tax Back Talk and People & Taxes charting their successes and failures. Now housed in the collections of the Wisconsin Historical Society, such publications have provided Josh with an invaluable window into this forgotten movement. They demonstrate that activists with roots in the black freedom struggle, labor unions, consumer organizations, and other left-leaning groups not only pioneered the modern tax protest, but also organized around inflation-related issues like soaring utility and food prices.

With public opinion – and many prominent mainstream supporters – on their side, it seemed to many observers in the early-1970s that the decade’s economic issues would be a boon for the left. Josh’s dissertation seeks to solve the puzzle of how such auspicious beginnings for progressive economic politics at the beginning of the decade eventually culminated in what is now seen as a conservative triumph. 

2010 Danky Fellow: William Sturkey

William Sturkey is an assistant professor in the Department of History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he teaches Modern American and African American History. Currently, he is finishing a book project about the relationship between race and modernization in the Jim Crow South that will be published by Harvard University Press.

As a Danky Fellow in 2010, Dr. Sturkey examined documents related to the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer. More specifically, his research focused on the newspapers produced by the young African American student-activists who attended Freedom Schools. The Wisconsin Historical Society has one of the world’s best collections of documents related to the modern American Civil Rights Movement, and the Danky Fellowship enabled Dr. Sturkey to spend two weeks in Madison examining documents.

This research not only informed Dr. Sturkey’s current book project, but also numerous aspects of his scholarship, including academic lectures, student workshops, conference papers, and two major publications. The first publication resulting from this research in Madison was entitled “‘I Want to Become Part of History:’ Freedom Summer, Freedom Schools, and the Freedom News” and appeared in a special issue of the Journal of African American History. The second, To Write in the Light of Freedom: The Newspapers of the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Schools, is an edited collection of the newspapers written by students in the Mississippi Freedom Schools. Published by the University Press of Mississippi, To Write in the Light of Freedom is a unique document collection that helps bring the voices of young activists to the forefront of the history of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement. It also closely aligns with the mission of the James P. Danky Fellowship and the lifelong research agenda of its namesake by highlighting the importance of print culture within the black activist tradition.

2009 Danky Fellow: Julia Guarneri

The winner of the 2009 Danky Fellowship was Julia Guarneri, for her project, “Urban Culture and Print Community in U.S. Newspapers, 1880-1930.” Julia is a doctoral candidate in history at Yale University, writing about mainstream daily newspapers between 1880 and 1930. Historians of journalism primarily have studied the political news of the day; Julia is instead studying the contents of the newspaper beyond the front page, such as the Sunday magazine, the women’s pages, sports articles, and advice columns. Her work looks at how newspapers created and then taught a new kind of urban culture to the millions of people moving to cities in this era.

At the Wisconsin Historical Society, Julia will research the newspaper industry of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and its impact on Wisconsin residents’ daily lives. She is especially interested in the way that syndicated content and chain newspapers brought nationally standardized content to Wisconsin readers. This kind of content often edged out locally-written articles in newspapers, homogenizing regional journalism and regional culture. But syndicated and chain news also expanded the type of material a small paper could afford to print. Syndicated science columns, opera reviews, or cricket match reports all likely broadened Milwaukee residents’ horizons and offered them a new level of connection to a culture beyond their own region. Milwaukee will make a valuable case study because it both imported news from Chicago and New York and exported news to smaller surrounding towns. The collection of daily newspapers, publishers’ manuscripts, and Wisconsin small-town papers at the WHS will help Julia to reconstruct this history.

Julia was raised in Oakland, California, and moved to the east coast to dance and study cultural history at Cornell University. She spent three years in the work world—at an Oakland deli, teaching English in South Korea, and working for the oral history project Storycorps in New York City. Her fields of study in graduate school are US social and cultural history since the Civil War, and East Asian history since 1750. She initiated and now runs an urban history working group for graduate students at Yale.

2008 Danky Fellow: Derek Seidman

Congratulations to Derek Seidman on being awarded the first Danky Fellowship! Derek received his Ph.D. from Brown University in May 2010. His dissertation was entitled: "The Unquiet Americans: GI Dissent during the Vietnam War." He is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor of History at Brown University and is revising The Unquiet Americans into a book manuscript. While at Brown he learned about the then-recently formed Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW). With his exposure to IVAW and his longstanding interest in the protest movements of the 1960s, he became fascinated with the antecedent to current troop antiwar activism: the Vietnam era GI and veterans' movement. 

Derek Seidman's project, "The Unquiet Americans", examines the history of Vietnam era GI dissent. Using a variety of original sources and oral histories, he looks at the issues that dissident troops rallied around, how they organized and articulated their grievances, the success and failures of their efforts, and the impact that troop dissent had on the military. From organizing around issues of civil liberties, anti-racism and protesting the military hierarchy and war policies, to forming GI coffeehouses and newspapers, Vietnam era soldiers and their allies built a widespread but decentralized movement that challenged conventional military policies and decorum and gave strategic leverage to the broader antiwar movement. Other forms of GI unrest and revolt-- less overtly political, less organized, but more frequent-- also took their toll on military morale and effectiveness. Derek's project aims to illuminate this significant yet largely understudied story, to understand it on its own terms while also placing it in the larger context of postwar American history.

The Danky Fellowship will help Derek use the vast array of resources at the Wisconsin Historical Society relating to the topic of Vietnam era GI dissent. These include scores of underground antiwar newspapers published by GIs and their allies, collections of troop, civilian and legal organizations connected to the GI movement, and oral history collections. These sources, says Derek, are indispensable to his research and will allow him to tell the history of GI dissent during the Vietnam War with much greater detail, clarity and richness.