As an undergraduate, former MAST director Dr. Rebecca Hill studied history at a small liberal arts college, and she describes her undergraduate years as being strongly influenced not just by the classes she took with her mentors, but also by the anti-apartheid movement with which she was heavily involved. She reflects, “I wound up writing my senior thesis on women in the Communist Party of the USA from 1941-1956, which would later wind up being the foundation of my first academic publication.” For part of that project, she analyzed gender in communism by studying the Communist Party newspaper, The Daily Worker’s weekly “women’s page” which included cartoons and cooking advice.
The intersection of politics and popular culture in her undergraduate thesis ultimately led Hill to pursue a PhD in American Studies at the University of Minnesota. Her thesis there became the basis for her book Men, Mobs and Law, about labor defense and anti-lynching activism, which was motivated by her participation in Minneapolis community organizations opposed to police and prisons in the mid-1990s. Right after she graduated, Hill taught for two years as an adjunct in New York City, dividing her time between English and history, until she got a tenure-track job at the Borough of Manhattan Community College teaching U.S. history. In recalling that time, she says, “I loved my students and colleagues at BMCC, but really wanted to work in American Studies, so when I saw the job advertisement for the director of the new American Studies program at Kennesaw in 2010, I was very excited.”
When reflecting on her accomplishments, Hill says that the role she played in the collective decision to create the Interdisciplinary Studies Department starting in 2011 is among the most impactful. This brought together American Studies, African and African Diaspora Studies, Asian Studies, Latin-American and Latinx Studies, Gender and Women’s Studies, Religious Studies, and Peace Studies with a department chair. Having a department instead of being several separate programs allowed them to make dedicated interdisciplinary hires, bringing a number of excellent faculty into the American Studies program, starting with our first Interdisciplinary Studies chair, Robbie Lieberman, as well as Dr. Rudy Aguilar and Dr. Miriam Brown Spiers.
Having American Studies in a department with a significant emphasis in ethnic studies also meant that the American Studies programs at both the graduate and undergraduate levels were more directly connected to faculty teaching in these programs and to the scholarship coming out of ethnic studies and gender studies. Changing the American Studies minor to a “Comparative American Studies” in 2017 was also about making this connection between American Studies and ethnic and gender studies stronger. Finally, she’s proud of working with colleagues to create the two new first-year graduate courses: History and Culture of the Americas and Literature and Culture of the Americas, which have made the program’s early vision of a hemispheric American Studies program much more of a reality.
The biggest highlights for Hill are mostly related to the student organization, AMSTO which she advised students in founding in 2013. In particular, she enjoyed the symposium that AMSTO put together every fall. She relates, “Seeing students and faculty gathered around tables in the atrium talking about research during ‘chat and chew’ to me represents the best of what grad school can be.” Hill admits, though, that the other major highlights have been attending thesis defenses for her students. “I feel very proud of my own advisees for the work they did on their projects and love to hear from them about what they are doing now,” she reflects. Finally, a highlight that sticks out for Hill came just last year: “This past fall we had a big alumni party to celebrate the program’s 10th anniversary and it was fantastic to have students from so many different classes together in one room.”
Hill’s mass incarceration is her favorite course to teach because “the topic is so urgent, and because it’s not a required course. There’s also just a huge amount of good academic work on the subject that is finally crossing over into popular discourse- which we can see in the current global uprising.” She continues, “On a more mundane level, it’s a really different experience to teach a course about a specific theme to people who chose that course rather than to teach required theory and methods courses. I’ve been teaching both those courses for the past ten years, and I have liked teaching both of them for different reasons.” She enjoys teaching theory because “I like working through complex ideas with students in real time,” and she enjoys teaching methods because “I enjoy seeing students developing their own research projects and trying to problem-solve with them.” That in particular — working with students on the more theoretical elements of research methods — was exciting for Hill. She explains, “For me, conversations about the way research methods shape thinking are central to the interdisciplinary mission of American Studies.”
Now that Dr. Stacy Keltner has taken the reigns of the American Studies program at KSU, Dr. Hill is going to be a regular faculty member and Professor of American Studies in the Interdisciplinary Studies Department. She’s teaching two graduate courses this fall because she’ll be on a research leave in the spring of 2021. She’s located down at the other end of the hall in the ISD suite, next to the conference room. During her leave, she’ll be working on a book she started when she was in her second year as director, which is about anti-fascism in U.S. politics and popular culture. She’s teaching both the graduate and undergraduate American Studies research methods courses as well as her graduate course on the geography of mass incarceration under the heading “Cities, Suburbs and Countryside.”
Hill is also working on a new course on the 2008 global economic crisis and ensuing social movements, under the general heading “Occupy” which she would like to teach at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. Finally, she’s currently one of three co-editors of a new book of essays called Teaching American Studies: State of the Classroom as State of the Field, which is scheduled to come out from the University Press of Kansas in Spring 2021.
Thanks for ten great years, Dr. Hill! We wish you all the best in your current and future endeavors.
Adapted Proust Questionnaire: Dr. Hill Edition
1. What is your favorite word? Important.
2. What is your least favorite word? Ugly.
3. What excites you creatively, spiritually, or emotionally? Social movements.
4. What doesn’t excite you? Grading Papers.
5. What is your favorite curse word? The f-bomb in any permutation. When not wearing my professor hat, I still talk like a line-cook.
6. What sound or noise do you love? Music.
7. What sound or noise do you hate? Traffic.
8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? Journalism. At one time I almost quit graduate school to go be an intern at the Nation – but my advisors talked me out of it.
9. What profession would you not like to do? Advertising.
10. If an ultimate “God” exists, what would you like to hear her say when it is your time? You did enough.