MSA Research Travel Grant
2018 Research Reports
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
With the generous support of an MSA Research Grant, I was able to complete two research trips: to Wauseon, Ohio and to the National Archives in College Park, Maryland. These trips have allowed me to complete research on the introduction to my book, Old-Fashioned Modernism: Masculinity and Midwestern Literature, which is forthcoming in 2019 from Louisiana State University Press.
Old-Fashioned Modernism offers a theory of rural modernity that is informed by national narratives of masculinity and rurality. By examining Midwestern literature, artwork, and material texts, it shows how regional modernism both opposes and absorbs the prevailing models of twentieth-century manhood. In so doing, it rethinks one of the dominant narratives of twentieth-century America: the simplistic opposition between the cosmopolitan city and the parochial, backwards countryside. In the introduction, I study a mural that hangs in the Wauseon Post Office. Painted by Jack J. Greitzer in 1938, Cooperative Planning and Development of Wauseon was created as part of a New Deal initiative, the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP). It portrays both conflict and cooperation between local farmers and industrialists, featuring a farmer tending cabbages and three men engaged in building some kind of concrete structure. In the background there is a railroad depot, water tower, and several houses.
In the National Archives, I accessed the correspondence between Greitzer and Edward B. Rowan, Superintendent of the Section of Painting and Sculpture in the Treasury Department’s Public Buildings Branch. The National Archives file on Wauseon includes the critical feedback of the PWAP, Greitzer’s defense of his choices, and several letters of praise from Wauseon community members. I also found images of two sketches, the full-size cartoon, and the completed mural, as well as a technical questionnaire detailing the paint colors, canvas quality, and hanging specifications. I will cite many of these documents in my introduction. From the letters at the National Archives, I was able to determine Greitzer’s models for the images in the mural, including the Wauseon Water Works Pumping Station and Filtration Plant and the freight depot for the Detroit, Toledo, & Ironton Railway (DT&I).
When I visited Wauseon, I viewed the mural (while I have been writing about it, this grant allowed me to see it in person for the first time) and was given a tour of the post office, which was built in 1937 with Treasury Department funding. At the public library, I did research on the mural and the railroad in local newspapers, and when I visited the Fulton County Historical Museum, I looked through their archives for images of the mural’s main structures. A local historian gave me a tour of the town, helping me find many of the mural’s main sites, including the former location of the DT&I depot and the likely location of a farm co-op. We also took a quick, illicit ride down the DT&I tracks.
Thanks again to the Modernist Studies Association for their support, which will measurably strengthen my manuscript.
With the generous support of an MSA Travel Grant, I was able to complete a research trip to the Women’s Library of the London School of Economics to examine their extensive and rare archival materials on prostitution and human trafficking. This research is integral to a book chapter I am writing on the response to white slavery (forced prostitution) in A.R. Orage’s New Age magazine. Tales of girls duped, drugged, and abducted to brothels circulated widely in Britain in the years leading up to the passage of the 1912 White Slave Act, as part of the international crusade against involuntary sex trafficking; such narratives also played a key role in women’s suffrage propaganda, providing a sensational rationale for enfranchisement. Although there was scant evidence of systematic entrapment of British girls into prostitution, the image of the white slave was a powerful tool to galvanize women for the cause. The New Age writers that I am investigating—Ibsenite actress Florence Farr, militant suffragette Teresa Billington-Greig, provocateur Beatrice Hastings, and emerging modernist Katherine Mansfield—express diverse views on the subject, while generally challenging the rhetoric of victimhood that surrounds the figure of the white slave. This research spotlights debates on women’s suffrage that were central to women’s modernity, yet remain marginal to the field of modernist studies; and it enriches our knowledge of the complex sexual politics of the period.
Among the LSE’s rich holdings, I examined several white slavery periodicals (The Awakener, The Vigilance Record, and The Shield), as well as the executive minutes and other materials from two Social Purity Organizations, the National Vigilance Association (NVA) and the Travelers’ Aid Society (TAS), in order to better familiarize myself with the rhetoric surrounding the figure of the white slave and the tropes of white slave narratives. I was able to locate and scan or save a wide range of white slave narratives (The Awakener, in particular, was replete with fiction as well as pertinent reviews), handbills warning young girls about the danger of solitary travel, court case summaries, and commentary on the White Slave Bill. I also located several published and unpublished responses to Billington-Greig’s highly critical article on the white slave panic, which will figure directly in my chapter. Social Purity Organizations are easy to caricature for their puritanical work promoting censorship, cloaking nude statues, and combatting “indecency” in music halls. Yet I came away with a more nuanced understanding of their day to day work: the NVA provided legal counsel to victims of sexual assault and the TSA assisted solitary female travelers who were genuinely in distress (as letters from these women and their families attest). The Awakener, likewise, is more complex than I could have appreciated without spending many hours browsing its pages: avidly pro-suffrage as well as active in the campaign against white slavery, its first issue featured a biting analysis of the economic causes of prostitution by George Bernard Shaw, which prompted animated discussion in the magazine’s correspondence, setting the tone for a magazine that did not eschew controversy. This research will significantly enrich my chapter on the New Age response to the white slave panic of 1912-1913.
Alexandra J. Gold
The recent death of Robert Indiana (May 2018) – one of the last great remaining visual artists of a generation that included Robert Rauschenberg, James Rosenquist, and Ellsworth Kelly – was especially poignant for me. For the past few years, I’ve delighted in learning about the late painter’s work while researching him for my dissertation, in which I dedicated a chapter to his 1968 collaboration, Numbers, with Black Mountain poet Robert Creeley. Second only to his iconic “Love” painting and its many iterations, Indiana’s numeral works are among his defining themes. For him, every number had a personal resonance: the number 6, for instance, he often associated with his father, 8 with his mother. In their collaboration, Robert Creeley’s poems respond in kind. Each poem – a meditation on a single digit 0-9 provoked by Indiana’s screenprints – examines the various meanings we ascribe to these figures. Together in the volume, Creeley and Indiana probe the ways in which numbers pervade our individual and collective consciousness: how they become measures of our human lives.
Though never studied in its original form – in part because most of the 2500 copies now reside in special or private collections where access to them is limited – Numbers is a remarkable visual-verbal collaboration. Not only is it a beautifully printed and sumptuously colored book, but it is a deeply affective exploration (in both verse and print) of what might otherwise seem the most routine or mundane of forms. My goal in writing about the volume has therefore been twofold: first, to bring greater recognition to the project and, second, to afford a protracted account of its creation and message. With access to one of the copies from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and a few other available resources, I could offer a preliminary account in my dissertation. Missing from it, however, was vital information about how the collaboration came about and the relationships between its key players: Creeley, Indiana, and perhaps most crucially, the artist, designer, and sometime Indiana assistant, Bill Katz, who came up with the idea for the book in the first place.
Thanks to the MSA’s generous support, I have been able to fill in those gaps. With my research grant, I travelled to Stanford University, home of Robert Creeley’s collected papers and archive. While there, I was able to access dozens of letters exchanged between Creeley and Indiana and Creeley and Katz that shed light on Numbers generation and the artists’ sense of the project. The long letters I found from Katz to Creeley proved especially revealing, offering insight into his studio work with Indiana (a sometimes inscrutable artist) and displaying his relentless enthusiasm for Numbers, in particular. I also got to peruse Creeley’s proofs for his ten poems, a hard to find copy of 5 Numbers (a trade edition of the poems published by the Poets Press), and other project-related ephemera. The collaboration came to life for me in a totally new way, even though I’ve already been studying it for some time.
Most important, the research I completed at Stanford will help me revise my existing chapter on Numbers for my new book project: Reckless, Beautiful Things: Contemporary American Poetry and the Artist’s Book. Alongside Numbers, the book will feature three other contemporary poet-painter collaborations: Frank O’Hara and Michael Goldberg’s Odes, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge and Kiki Smith’s Concordance, and Anne Waldman and George Schneeman’s Homage to Allen G (based on Allen Ginsberg’s photographs). Fortunately, Stanford holds one of 145 folio copies of Homage, and being able to study and photograph while I was there will allow me to begin writing a chapter on it. The book aims not just to further enliven the visual-verbal relationships that galvanized postmodern artistic innovation but to demonstrate how the collaborative artist’s book after 1945, a seemingly peripheral form, indices major advancements in both visual art and poetry, including the use of serial forms, the advent of photography as a significant book medium, and the proliferation of concrete and other “anti-lyric” verse. Indeed it is “Here” in these collaborative works – as Creeley writes in “Three” – that “forms have possibility.”
Black Extras and Performances of the Real
I applied to the MSA to support research for a new chapter of my manuscript Cruel Modernism. Pulling from fan magazines, film performances, and Hollywood novels, Cruel Modernism argues that celebrity served a pedagogical function, as difficult characters appeared alongside the rise of more traditional Hollywood star culture in the 1920s-1930s, thereby providing Americans spectacular test cases for empathy’s limits. Attending to oddball as well as marginal cases of celebrity (and non-celebrity) allows us to see how celebrity is constructed and also how certain identity groups are able to make only partial claims on the privileges that come with such spectacular subjectivity. To index celebrity’s pedagogical function for ethical and affective modes such as empathy and aversion, the book considers contested, problematic, and unlikely sites for audience identification across three sections: The Babies, The Nobodies, and The Unhappy.
The MSA grant supported research for a chapter in “The Nobodies” section that focuses on the use of black extras and supporting characters following the collapse of black independent film production after the coming of sound. In particular, I narrow in on filmic treatments of black singing as, on the one hand, a signifier of the real in plantation pictures and, on the other, as spectacle. To do so, I am analyzing the production history of King Vidor’s 1929 all-black cast musical Hallelujah and the 1934 John Stahl-directed Imitation of Life, which features significant scenes of black vocal performance framed around the death of the black maid Delilah, as well as a lesser known film which also features a deathbed sequence—the relatively late black independent production Spencer William’s 1941 The Blood of Jesus. I am arguing that while mainstream (white) productions featured black vocal performance as alternatively realistic background detail—a kind of local color—or a two-dimensional spectacle, the black independent productions that survived into the sound era deployed song as a mode of exploring individual subjectivity.
With the MSA research travel grant, I visited two libraries to support research on the different reactions to these films in both race papers and in Hollywood industry publications. First, I visited the John Henrik Clarke Africana Library at Cornell, where I met with librarians. Together, Together, we were able to pinpoint a number of black periodicals with reviews and cultural commentary about white Hollywood’s investment in black actors and storylines. The reactions ranged from hopes for improved employment for African-American performers to complaints of stereotype. Most interesting for my purposes was the fact that the terms of the debate often appeared relative to questions of “realism.” Next, I visited the George Eastman house, where I was able to work with the holdings in films studies, including materials on posters for black cast films, and to tour the Moving Images department, which includes studio production stills I plan to use in the chapter. I am very grateful to the MSA for supporting this work.