Faculty Publications

Creating Carmen Miranda: Race, Camp, and Transnational Stardom

Kathryn Bishop-Sanchez

Carmen Miranda got knocked down and kept going. Filming an appearance on The Jimmy Durante Show on August 4, 1955, the “ambassadress of samba” suddenly took a knee during a dance number, clearly in distress. Durante covered without missing a beat, and Miranda was back on her feet in a matter of moments to continue with what she did best: performing. By the next morning, she was dead from heart failure at age 46.

This final performance in many ways exemplified the power of Carmen Miranda. The actress, singer, and dancer pursued a relentless mission to demonstrate the provocative theatrical force of her cultural roots in Brazil. Armed with bare-midriff dresses, platform shoes, and her iconic fruit-basket headdresses, Miranda stole the show in films like That Night in Rio and The Gang’s All Here. For American film audiences, her life was an example of the exoticism of a mysterious, sensual South America. For Brazilian and Latin American audiences, she was an icon. For the gay community, she became a work of art personified and a symbol of courage and charisma.

In Creating Carmen Miranda, Kathryn Bishop-Sanchez takes the reader through the myriad methods Miranda consciously used to shape her performance of race, gender, and camp culture, all to further her journey down the road to becoming a legend.

book cover showing Carmen Miranda smiling and hands up, fruitbowl hat of green and pinks
Vanderbilt University Press, 2016

Video Captions Benefit Everyone

Morton Ann Gernsbacher

Abstract: Video captions, also known as same-language subtitles, benefit everyone who watches videos (children, adolescents, college students, and adults). More than 100 empirical studies document that captioning a video improves comprehension of, attention to, and memory for the video. Captions are particularly beneficial for persons watching videos in their non-native language, for children and adults learning to read, and for persons who are D/deaf or hard of hearing. However, despite U.S. laws, which require captioning in most workplace and educational contexts, many video audiences and video creators are naïve about the legal mandate to caption, much less the empirical benefit of captions. Published in Improving Society, 2015

Book cover image show a number of hanging test tubes against a red background
New York University Press, 2014

Fantasies of Identification: Disability, Gender, Race

Ellen Samuels

In the mid-nineteenth-century United States, as it became increasingly difficult to distinguish between bodies understood as black, white, or Indian; able-bodied or disabled; and male or female, intense efforts emerged to define these identities as biologically distinct and scientifically verifiable in a literally marked body. Combining literary analysis, legal history, and visual culture, Ellen Samuels traces the evolution of the “fantasy of identification”—the powerful belief that embodied social identities are fixed, verifiable, and visible through modern science. From birthmarks and fingerprints to blood quantum and DNA, she examines how this fantasy has circulated between cultural representations, law, science, and policy to become one of the most powerfully institutionalized ideologies of modern society.

Yet, as Samuels demonstrates, in every case, the fantasy distorts its claimed scientific basis, substituting subjective language for claimed objective fact. From its early emergence in discourses about disability fakery and fugitive slaves in the nineteenth century to its most recent manifestation in the question of sex testing at the 2012 Olympic Games, Fantasies of Identification explores the roots of modern understandings of bodily identity.In the mid-nineteenth-century United States, as it became increasingly difficult to distinguish between bodies understood as black, white, or Indian; able-bodied or disabled; and male or female, intense efforts emerged to define these identities as biologically distinct and scientifically verifiable in a literally marked body. Combining literary analysis, legal history, and visual culture, Ellen Samuels traces the evolution of the “fantasy of identification”—the powerful belief that embodied social identities are fixed, verifiable, and visible through modern science. From birthmarks and fingerprints to blood quantum and DNA, she examines how this fantasy has circulated between cultural representations, law, science, and policy to become one of the most powerfully institutionalized ideologies of modern society.

American Lobotomy: A Rhetorical History

Jenell Johnson

American Lobotomy takes one of the most infamous procedures in the history of medicine as its subject. Through a close study of representations of lobotomy in a wide variety of cultural texts, American Lobotomyoffers a rhetorical history of the infamous procedure and illustrates its continued effect on American medicine. The development of lobotomy in 1935 was heralded as a “miracle cure” by newspapers and magazines, which hoped openly that the “soul surgery” would empty the nation’s perennially blighted asylums. However, the miracle cure soon began to fall from favor with the American public, as the operation became characterized as a barbaric practice with suspiciously authoritarian overtones. Only twenty years after the first operation, lobotomists initially praised for their “therapeutic courage” were condemned for their barbarity, an image that has only soured in subsequent decades. Taking on previously abandoned texts like science fiction, horror film, political polemics, and conspiracy theory, Johnson employs these discarded texts to write a rhetorical history of the operation, showing how lobotomy’s entanglement with social and political narratives contributed to a powerful image of the operation that persists to this day. In a provocative challenge to the history of medicine, American Lobotomy argues that lobotomy’s rhetorical history is crucial to understanding lobotomy’s medical history, offering a case study of how medicine accumulates meaning as it circulates in public culture, and it stands as an argument for the need to understand biomedicine as a culturally situated practice.

Book cover image shows a gray sketch of a a brain against a white background.
University of Michigan Press, 2014

Diverse Brains

Morton Ann Gernsbacher

Ernest R. Hilgard’s Award Lecture, 2014

Abstract: Humans differ. Most read with their eyes, but some read with their fingertips. The majority communicates by speaking and listening, but a minority communicates by signing. Humans are diverse, and so are our brains. When should neuroscientists accentuate these differences – and when shouldn’t they? Why should individuals, themselves, accept their brain differences? And how can we, as a society, accommodate those brain differences?

Book cover image shows a white woman in elaborate Renaissance clothing resting her hand on a stag’s head.
University of Toronto Press, 2011

The Emblematics of the Self: Ekphrasis and Identity in Renaissance Imitations of Greek Romance

Elizabeth Bearden

The ancient Greek romances of Achilles Tatius and Heliodorus were widely imitated by early modern writers such as Miguel de Cervantes, Philip Sidney, and Mary Wroth. Like their Greek models, Renaissance romances used ekphrasis, or verbal descriptions of visual representation, as a tool for characterization. The Emblematics of the Self shows how the women, foreigners, and non-Christians of these tales reveal their identities and desires in their responses to the ‘verbal pictures’ of romance.

Elizabeth B. Bearden illuminates how ‘verbal pictures’ enliven characterization in English, Spanish, and Neolatin romances from 1552 to 1621. She notes the capacity for change among characters — such as cross-dressed Amazons, shepherdish princesses, and white Mauritanians — who traverse transnational cultural and aesthetic environments. Engaging and rigorous, The Emblematics of the Selfbreaks new ground in understanding hegemonic and cosmopolitan European conceptions of the ‘other,’ as well as new possibilities for early modern identities, in an increasingly global Renaissance.