Institute for Historical Studies

Laurie Green, history associate professor and published author, discusses her new book project about hunger in America in the 1960s at Garrison Hall on Monday afternoon. Green’s book examines how media, politics and photojournalism have portrayed race and starvation.

Photo Credit: Michelle Toussaint | Daily Texan Staff

According to Laurie Green, associate history professor and published author, hunger played a much larger role in the politics of the 1960s than previously believed.

As part of the Institute for Historical Studies’ workshop series, Green discussed a newly drafted chapter of her book project, revealing political attitudes and injustices in relation to hunger in America in the 1960s.

Green’s new book, to be titled “The Discovery of Hunger in America: The Politics of Malnutrition, Poverty and Race from 1967-1977,” examines many aspects of the issue of poverty. The chapter she discussed during her lecture today focused on photojournalism as a means of making the public aware of hunger in the U.S.

“Coming off of my last book … it was a surprise to me that [hunger during this period] had not been discussed much in literature,” Green said. “There was this incredible explosion of hunger and the politics of hunger in 1967.”

Seth Garfield, history associate professor and director of the Institute for Historical Studies, said Green’s research poses unprecedented questions about hunger in America.

“Green seeks to historicize the politics and technologies that converged on the mass taboo of hunger in the United States,” Garfield said. “It raises provocative questions about the formation of subjectivities linked to historical injustices and bodily deprivation.”

According to Green, the work of photojournalist and activist Al Clayton in the 1960s played a large role in the portrayal of hunger through photography.

“His photos were used in civil rights hearings and television documentaries,” Green said. “But I didn’t want to examine the actual impact of the pictures but why contemporaries perceived these photos as having such a large impact.”

Green said one challenging aspect of the chapter on photojournalism was trying to understand how suffering is perceived through photography.

“It may seem self-evident when you look at a photo, ‘Oh, that person is suffering,’ but it’s not,” Green said. “Photos are constructions. It’s hard to make visible the invisible qualities of life, like pain and suffering.”

Randy Lewis, professor of American studies and lead responder during the discussion, said research such as Green’s can be relevant to today’s political and social issues.

“Without question, there is a need for this sort of research, which implicitly speaks to the ongoing cultural amnesia about food, race and suffering in the United States,” Lewis said. “America keeps discovering poverty and its appetites.”

Religious rituals, such as saint veneration and exorcisms, are still widely practiced in Latin America, despite western tendencies to believe them to be outdated, said UT History Professor Virginia Garrard-Burnett.

Garrard-Burnett discussed her work of researching religious practice in Latin America at a roundtable workshop Monday with fellow UT professors and colleagues.

Hosted by the Institute for Historical Studies, these bi-weekly workshops allow professors and visiting fellows to submit their work to be discussed by a panel composed of professors with a wide range of academia background.

Garrard-Burnett said her research findings include dependencies on the supernatural and demonic aspects of the spiritual world in relation to religious practices.

When discussing her goals for this current publication, Garrard-Burnett said she wants to convey to everybody that these religious rituals are very real and practiced commonly today.

She said she understands that religion can be viewed as a metaphor or taken as a marker for something else, but ultimately there are many religious groups who do what they do simply because they believe wholeheartedly in their practices.

Garrard-Burnett wants to have her work translated into Spanish so that those who she spent time with in Central and Latin America will also be able to read her work.

When asked about any difficulties she encountered while in tribal cities of neighboring countries, Garrard-Burnett said there were people who simply did not want to talk to her or share any insight. Because some of her work concerns the supernatural and demonic spirits, a few of the areas she ventured into simply “freaked her out” as well, she said.

Having a large number of distinguished professors making countless suggestions to her work can be overwhelming, but she believes it is necessary to have thick skin because this is all to help better her work, she said.

Due to their diverse background, comments and questions made by professors directed at Garrard-Burnett allowed her to see how her work will be perceived by people outside of her field of study, said Julie Hardwick, workshop organizer and IHS director.

Hardwick said she praises Garrard-Burnett work, however daunting it may be.

“It’s necessary because it promotes curiosity in all aspects of the academia world and it is a great project because it not only applies to Mexican and Latin American areas, but it links how religion is practiced even here in America,” Hardwick said.

She said a roundtable discussion can be beneficial to a writer still in their developmental stage because it promotes creative and constructive criticism from a variety of sources.

Graduate student Valerie Martinez said while it is clear how these workshops can benefit the writer, she enjoys these workshops because they also provide her with a new way to analyze her own work.

Although Martinez’s work centers more around 20th century U.S. and neighboring Mexico, she believes that even Garrard-Burnett’s work on spiritual ways of Guatemalans can somehow lead to new ways of continuing her own research.

U.S. Founding Father Benjamin Franklin wrote: “Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a colony of aliens who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them?”

The question of “who belongs in the U.S. and who doesn’t” is a centuries-old debate, history professor Neil Foley said.

“The U.S. has been reluctant to acknowledge for most of its history [that it] has always been a thoroughly composite culture of racially blended people and it defies some normative or static understanding of what it means to be an American,” Foley said to a group of UT students, faculty and community members Monday during a roundtable discussion hosted by UT’s Institute for Historical Studies.

Foley presented a chapter from his upcoming book, “Latino USA: Mexicans and the Remaking of America,” which will be released fall 2012, to the group in order to get feedback and facilitate conversation about his new book.

The U.S. continues to struggle with issues of racism and immigration, Foley said, citing the recent 700-mile border fence between the U.S. and Mexico and treatment of migrants.

Foley argues that in order for Latinos and other marginalized groups to belong in America it would require remaking of American culture into one more egalitarian and accepting of differences and therefore “more American.”

Foley told the group that Benjamin Franklin believed only the English were “purely white” and that “swarthy” Europeans could not make good Americans.

“He would probably have a lot to say about Asian-Americans and Mexicans and other Latinos today not making good Americans either, I suppose,” Foley said.

College of Liberal Arts Institute for Historical Studies hosts biweekly discussions, inviting professors to present a work-in-progress in exchange for feedback.

“The best scholarship is not produced in vacuum,” said Julie Hardwick, director of UT’s Institute for Historical Studies. “Faculty that sit in an office and are not engaging with anyone else aren’t really very fruitful. It’s very important for faculty to get feedback on their work.”

History graduate student Sarah Steinbock-Pratt, who attended the discussion, said the workshops are an essential part of her education at UT.

“There are a lot of very, very smart people around the table who are all asking very astute questions,” Steinbock-Pratt said. “Participating in that dialogue is extremely beneficial.”

Foley, said he plans to take the feedback to heart. He said just like his book, the United States is a work in progress.

“[Americans worry that immigrants] are going to change the culture of America into something else and to that I would argue that American culture is always changing. That the United States is a work in progress,” Foley said. “To identify an American culture and go back to 1965 — it is vastly different from what it is today.”

Printed on September 20, 2011 as: 'Latino USA' addresses ethnic tensions