Thomas Hallock (Interview)
Transcript of an Interview between Marcel Hartwig (Dep. of English) and Georg-Bollenbeck-Fellow Thomas Hallock
Marcel Hartwig: Hi, Tom Hallock. We are very happy to have you here as a Bollenbeck Researcher. And maybe to start off with, you’re working basically at an intersection between literary and cultural studies, maybe you can briefly comment on how these two fields are relating to each other in the US and how you perceive that they relate to each other in Germany so far?
Thomas Hallock: That’s a really interesting question that I personally think needs to be understood within the history of the discipline. Beginning in the first decades of the twentieth century, there emerged something called the English major and it was basically equivalent to literature. From there, we split off in the 1950s and 1960s into literature and writing studies, and creative writing split off into its own [field]. I think literary criticism and cultural studies, especially informed by the counterculture, by the critique of society, and by the growth of American studies became its own field. And so literary and cultural studies began to see the tools of literary criticism used as a means to critique and imagine culture more broadly.
Marcel: Do you see a difference with regard to the significance of literary and cultural studies in the US and in Germany?
Thomas: That’s an impossible question for me to answer! I do know that when I talk to Professor Stein or Dr. Etter or you, we all seem to be on the same page, we all have equivalent answers and questions. I think we are all after the same basic thing. I think the main difference for me is actually that you as a German are studying American culture and I am an American studying American culture and that to me is the most interesting difference because you are on the outside looking in and you reach completely different conclusions. I find that very interesting in collaborating with German scholars about America because all the sudden I see things through a different cultural interpretive lens. Even if we are reading the same authors and criticism, we have different backgrounds and that leads to very different perspectives.
Marcel: You currently are researching sustainable environmental discourses. What is particularly attractive about this research field for you? Why are you doing this and what are your aims?
Thomas: It’s become increasingly interesting to me because in a hundred years the state where I live, Florida, will not exist. It will be underwater, and I think it’s important to remember and see this landscape while it is still here. How have we produced this landscape, as Henri Lefebvre would say, and how are we remembering and what stories are we telling about this produced landscape?
Marcel: You were offering a course here oon writing place. Maybe you can briefly sketch out what your plans were for this and what you have achieved with the students.
Thomas: It has been a lot of fun. I enjoyed working with the University Of Siegen students. We began by looking at several models of narrative scholarship which fuses the personal essay and traditional criticism. There was some resistance to that at first but we talked about breaking down the subject/object binary. That, of course, you have a personal stake in the study of culture and rather than pretending that your study’s objective, you should foreground what your position is in order to explain how your perspective was generated and from where it originated. So it’s not simply “this is what I think” —- it’s actually taking into account your own perspectival bias in order to explain the grounds of your interpretation.
We also used place and experience — I asked students, for example, to read and bring a text that they were familiar with, and then we walked around downtown Siegen. We went to different spots and talked about the mining history, the industrial history. We talked about why the cityscape of Siegen was shaped the way it is. We went to the museum and we talked about how the history explains the current day streetscape, the look of the buildings, all of these other things. What we did on the last class that we had together is write up a draft, and we actually had some pizza which the students appreciated very much and then we revised essays.
Marcel: A greater part of your work is also focused on locating Early America. Can you briefly say something about how you would like to deepen that research when you are here in Siegen with the colleagues that you are meeting, as you are also meeting colleagues who are focused on Early American studies.
Thomas: Yes, I’ve had the privilege of working with the illustrious Dr. Marcel Harwig on this project, “The Mobile Archive”, which grew out of an earlier conversation we had at a symposium in Sweden at Uppsala. We are continuing that conversation and we were thinking about what is the status of the archive in the age of digital media and in the age of a pandemic. And how does our understanding of Early America change when we uproot scholarship from this idea of the archive being fixed. What happens when we think about the mobility of the archive? Not only how archival materials travel to get into the archive or how we physically have to travel to visit the archive, but how now that things are digitalized particularly during the pandemic. How does that loosen up geographic boundaries? As we enter the archive, what is your personal stake? How is it uncomfortable for some? How does it make some stories possible and not others? And as we enter this space of discomfort, how do we translate that into our teaching?
Marcel: As a last question: Where do you see points of contact for further collaboration with the Humanities over here in Siegen and with the University of South Florida, St. Pete?
Thomas: We hope to write up as a memorandum of understanding the continued collaboration on “The Mobile Archive Project” There certainly is environmental concerns in the background and eco-criticism or environmental studies. Lastly, the strengths in the University of Siegen in popular culture and the arts. One of our staple courses in the English department at the University of South Florida is popular culture, literature, and the arts. I could absolutely see exchange. I have Siegen students in collaboration with University of South Florida students. They are going to trade their papers and they watched TV shows together. I would love to see that consumption of culture across cultures because I think everyone learns, everyone wins, everyone gains.
Marcel: Thank you so much!