Graduate Theses & Dissertations

American Acropolis, American Ruins
Since 1979, photographer and sociologist Camilo José Vergara has taken repeat photographs of American cities in decline, focusing on evolving landscapes of postindustrial decay. Vergara's images subscribe to an aesthetic of ruin while providing a record of America's crumbling ghettos rooted in social documentary concerns. Vergara's work diverges from the ahistorical tendencies of contemporary ruin porn photography: by challenging the photograph's temporal stasis Vergara bears witness to the ongoing reality of disenfranchisement, assembling an archive that takes up the Benjaminian task of doing history in images. Vergara's photographs challenge standard photojournalistic portrayals of violence, particularly the ways in which `violent' African American and Hispanic inner city populations have been erroneously cast as the cause of their own economic misfortune. The Invincible Cities website assists Vergara in drawing attention to forgotten places but also complicates his mandate to engage outside viewers by distancing them from the real-­world environments his photographs portray. Author Keywords: Camilo José Vergara, imagistic history, postindustrial decline, repeat photography, ruin porn, Walter Benjamin
Phantoms of Mars
My analysis of twentieth century Mars science and fiction outlines how the ongoing dialogic between Mars science and fiction publics influences the American frontier dialectic and how Mars serves as the arena where this debate comes to life. It examines connections between myth, science, and fiction by tracing the evolution of historical and literary representations of the American frontier and understandings of Mars spanning the twentieth century. To illustrate these findings, I investigate the fictional visions of the planet in the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Ray Bradbury, and Kim Stanley Robinson. Ultimately, Mars is revealed as a fictional frontier where a better way of living may be achievable by transforming the planet and ourselves. Finally, the planet’s physical site holds a haunting potential value that inspires further research and new narratives, which informs the future use of Mars in American culture. Author Keywords: Bradbury, Burroughs, Frontier, Mars, Myth, Robinson
Alien Imaginaries
This dissertation offers a cultural analysis of UFOs and extraterrestrials in the United States. In it I look at what I call real aliens — extraterrestrials believed to be real and interacting with humans on Earth. Beliefs in real aliens are often denigrated and dismissed in official discourse, yet they continue to not only persist, but thrive, in American society. Hence, this dissertation asks: Why do so many people believe that extraterrestrials are visiting our planet? Part One begins by tracing the invasion of real aliens in the United States using Orson Welles’s 1938 radio broadcast “The War of the Worlds” as a starting point. Here, I look at how and why the broadcast registered with listeners’ anxieties and created a fantastic and uncanny effect that made it possible for some to conceive of aliens invading the United States. In Part Two, I trace the rise of ufology, which involves the study of extraterrestrials currently interacting with humans on Earth, and I consider how the social and political climate of the Cold War, as well as the cultural environment of postmodernity, provided the necessary conditions for stories about aliens to be made believable. Part Three explores the case study of the Roswell Incident, a conspiracy theory about the origins of an alleged flying saucer crash and government cover-up. I look at the reasons for why many individuals have come to believe in this conspiracy theory and I reflect on the tensions between “official” and “unofficial” discourses surrounding this case. I also consider how and why Roswell has become such an important site for ufology, and I examine the performances given by ufologists at the annual Roswell International UFO Festival to appreciate how ufologists offers seductive explanations of why things are the way they are; for many, their stories offer a better version of events than the purely rational and positivist explanations offered by official sources, especially since they tap into the disillusionment and mistrust that many Americans feel about contemporary politics. Author Keywords: aliens/extraterrestrials, America, conspiracy, official and unofficial, storytelling, ufology

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