Everything But the Kitchen Sink?

     Well, almost. In this, the eighth edition of Cultural Objects you'll find projects on music and advertising, professional wrestling, Saturday morning cartoons, science fiction, politics, dance crazes, contemporary folk art, 19th C. female Morman diarists, boosterism in the 19th C. American West, and the cultural construction of the Grand Coulee Dam -- and more! Quite a range! And there may actually be a kitchen sink in there somewhere.

     Some of this diversity -- and richness -- is in some sense accidental, the result of my teaching an unusually large number of web intensive courses in 2001-2002. Some of it is the product of the wide topic areas in those courses, American Popular Culture, for example, and The American West. In the main this simply reflects the diversity of the authors interests and talents. None, I think, of these projects is "merely academic." Each arises out of some personal connection with the topic, some genuine curiosity about how, whatever it is, actually "works" as part of the larger process by which we continually write and re-write our own culture.

     And the quality of the projects strikes me as being unusually high, not alone in the original research that they reflect and the quality and imaginativeness of the analysis they bring to bear on their subject, but also in the author's ability to utilize the full range of tools available to someone writing for the web. Where their subject requires it, the authors have used audio, video, images, and a variety of design strategies to create works that are far more than illustrated essays.

     As the "managing editor" of this enterprise, I'm particularly proud of the work -- and the individuals -- represented in this volume. I confess that putting this volume of Cultural Objects to be makes me a trifle sad. Not only does this bring home to me the fact that the people who have contributed to it must soon leave the University, it may also be that this will be the last issue of this, The Electronic Journal for American Studies at the University of Virginia.

     The American Studies undergraduate program has hived off, changed from an area concentration within the English and History Departments to become a stand-alone major in the College of Arts and Sciences. And with that change comes a change in the director and in the program's direction. I welcome the change; it was time for the program to be opened up to participation by more students and more faculty throughout the University. But it's uncertain that we'll be able to maintain the commitment to integrating work in the new media with teaching and scholarship in American Studies that has been one of its hallmarks.

     If that turns out to be the case, it will be a loss. But my own association with the Program for the last 27 years -- and with some hundreds of the most remarkable students -- has been a extraordinary privilege and pleasure. What a trip!

Alan B. Howard



last update 11/21/02