Great Influences on Scholarship

Last week, I discussed some of the most influential general fiction and creative nonfiction I’ve read. In response, I was asked about scholarship that made as significant impact on my work, and that list is significantly easier to narrow down.

This is NOT an exclusive list, but these were the first books that popped into mind as in some way pivotal to my thinking and scholarship.

William Holtz, The Ghost in the Little House.

Holtz’s work has been roundly criticized by Laura Ingalls Wilder scholars because of its central theme. His assertion is that Rose Wilder Lane truly wrote the Little House books. While I disagree with that claim, Holtz raised important issues in the book and opened up an entirely new discussion that needed to be held about the role Lane played in the construction of her works. It also unveiled Lane’s role behind the curtain and taunted scholars with the notion that Lane, herself, needed scrutiny. Since I’m one of those scholars, I consider this work hugely important for my scholarship. It helped give me direction.

Elaine Tyler May, Homeward Bound.

Full disclosure: I studied under May at the University of Minnesota. This book identifies the concerted cultural effort made in the 1950s to confine women to the home for their own “safety” in the face of the Soviet threat. A later follow-up work shored up some holes in the original narrative with regard to race and class, but it was truly an eye-opener for me.

Linda Gordon, The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction.

Gordon’s work is an historical case study about forty orphans who were brought by nuns from New York to Arizona to be placed with Catholic mining families. In New York, the children were undesirable because of their ethnic Irish and Eastern European roots; in Arizona, white mining families were incensed that “white” children were being placed with Mexican families. It artfully illustrates the idea that race itself is a social construction that is variable among populations, and not a fixed thing. It’s a brilliantly written book that I highly recommend.

Stuart Hall, “Encoding, Decoding.”

Ok, so this isn’t a book. It’s a white paper that became foundational to the construction of cultural studies theory. Some might say it’s a bit dated now, but it was frankly the best explanation for how people interpret the meaning of media content to that point, and an excellent starting point for further discussion. The key point of understanding here is that media producers do not have the tools to reach all aspects of their audiences, and that they fail to account for race and class, in particular. Hall’s three-point discussion about how audiences and producers work together to build a shared understanding of content remains a key part of my own theoretical arguments.

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