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The College of Arts Sciences

Two PhD students receive grants from American Studies program

By: Julian Robison,  Department of Performing and Media Arts
May 12, 2017

Nick Fesette and Erin Stoneking, PhD students in the Department of Performing and Media Arts, have received grants from Cornell’s American Studies program. The grants are awarded each semester to graduate students whose research is in disciplines related to American Studies.

Fesette received the grant for his study “Arts and Punishment on the California Landscape.” The study involved visiting and photographing prisons, including Alcatraz, the notorious prison-turned-tourist-attraction. Besides visiting in order to evaluate the penal system’s position in American society, Fesette also studied California’s Arts-in-Corrections program. One of the most robust programs of its kind in the country, Arts-in-Corrections offers inmates skills for therapeutic self-expression and rehabilitation.

California has the nation’s second-highest prison population despite being a politically liberal state, therefore contributing valuable insights for Fesette’s dissertation Bloody White Cells: The American Performance of Carceral Subjectivity. Bloody White Cells examines the intersection between twentieth-century performances and the American penitentiary, and how cultural works can influence socio-political action. “How do theatre and performance contribute to the creation of a world that in turn creates [penal] violence? How can they contribute to its transformation?” These are the questions Fesette explores through his study and dissertation.

Southern studies are among Stoneking’s research interests, and the grant supported a trip to Louisiana in April. By visiting four plantation-museums along New Orleans’ Old River Road, Stoneking was able to see how these sites allow tourists to relive the past through a veil of Southern nostalgia. “The trip allowed me the invaluable opportunity to observe firsthand the language and interpretive techniques used to educate and guide tourists,” Stoneking said.

The trip provided invaluable research for Stoneking’s dissertation Reenactment: Southern Nostalgia, Race, and the Performance of Memory. Besides plantation tourism, Stoneking will also look at how Civil War and lynching reenactors, as well as theatre artists, present diverging visions of Southern past, showcasing both “the magnolia-strewn nostalgia of antebellum romance and the violent trauma of race-based discrimination, forced labor, and violence.”

Additionally, Stoneking received the Southeastern Theatre Conference’s 2017 Young Scholars Award for her paper “(Re)Performing the American Civil War: Time, Memory, and Nation-making in Paula Vogel’s A Civil War Christmas.” Stoneking’s paper examines how Vogel, MA ’76, PhD ’16, reinterprets the story of the Civil War with anachronistic progressivism in order to celebrate the United States as “a nation that, though forged in blood, can achieve peace.”

Julian Robison '20 is a communications assistant for the Department of Performing and Media Arts.

Nick Fesette and Erin Stoneking