Friday Faculty Focus: Tammie Kennedy


December 23rd, 2016


On this week’s version of Friday Faculty Focus, KVNO’s Brandon McDermott speaks with Dr. Tammie Kennedy. Dr. Kennedy is associate professor in the English Department at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. She is also an editor of UNO’s Women’s Archive Project.

Brandon: Thanks for joining me, Dr. Tammie Kennedy, on the episode.

Dr. Tammie Kennedy: Thanks for having me.

Brandon: Talk about your involvement with the Women’s Archive Project.

Dr. Kennedy: Well the Women’s Archive Project was originally called the Women’s Centennial Project and that was developed by Dr. Sue Mahr. That was for UNO’s centennial celebration. At that time students were writing very brief profiles, they were targeting one hundred UNO affiliated women to be included in that celebration. Sue Mahr left and then I came in and inherited the project. I decided to develop it more into a sort of memory project and a student-produced archive. So I developed a class that goes along with the archive called Writing Women’s Lives. In that class students study how to interview, they study feminist rhetorics, how marginalized voices have been recovered, how marginalized women – specifically – learn to speak and find a space to speak. So they learn all these different kinds of research methods, they learn about women’s history and that sort of thing. So the end project is to develop or write their own profile of some woman who is affiliated with UNO.

Brandon: Talk about the importance of this project to UNO.

Dr. Kennedy: Well, I think for UNO it’s important because again – it’s a record of all kinds of lives that have been here. So you have the famous women who have names on the buildings, but we also have a lot of women that may not be recognized. So for example the very first graduate of UNO just happened to be a woman. No one really knows that. She had committed suicide too, so it was a story that people didn’t necessarily want to tell because of that legacy for her but for us and the student in my class who did the profile – we thought well, that’s pretty important story to try and recover the best we can. So we didn’t find a lot of information, but what we did find is she had gone to a Seven Sisters school out east and then, somehow, ended up back in UNO and then was our very first graduate. So, that’s interesting in what was happening at that time period. So, we could kind of construct – what we call “historiography“ where you have to make some guesses or make some context because you don’t have a lot of facts about the person. So, that’s an example of a film that someone has made.

Brandon: You’re an associate professor in the English Department here at UNO. What are some misconceptions about English from students who take your classes?

Dr. Kennedy: Well I think English is a very broad field. Even within English, we have very different ideas and different methodologies and etc… So, one divide is do you receive literature, meaning are you a reader, so if you take literature courses. The other side of it is production – do you write? So my study is more about writing, how we write, what writing can do and rhetoric. With rhetoric people always sort of have a negative connotation, especially after the election, but rhetoric is simply how we use language and how language uses us. In that way, it’s very useful for both reception and production of language and that’s kind of why I’m drawn to it, I also do creative writing instead of just academic writing. I think that’s the thing about English studies there’s a lot of different subfields within it. But most people just kind of think of literature or maybe they took English Comp I and that’s pretty much all they know.

Brandon: You co-edited were “Rhetorics of Whiteness: Hauntings in Pop Culture, Education and Social Media,” talk about your work there.

Dr. Kennedy: Well that project has been interesting because every time we thought we were done, something horrific would happen. We had put out the call for chapters about white privilege, white studies and white rhetorics and had a lot of great chapters come and then Ferguson happened. We felt that there was too much more to talk about. So we went back to the drawing board and sent back the chapters to all the authors and then rewrote our intro and rewrote our epilogue and those kinds of things to try and capture how much was happening at the time with Ferguson and then all the events after that. Ironically, or sadly, we had to stop because things just kept getting worse and worse and worse. Donald Trump was, for example, on the horizon then but he – at that point – was still a bit like the joke. So, since then “white” actually has I think taken on even newer meanings. It’s not so much “whiteness” as often this “invisible entity”, everyone else has race and white people are just “white” or “normal” or “natural” or the “default.” But now we see that that shifted again and “white” as an identity has taken on a lot of characteristics. So, I think our book will be timely, but it’s also time to write another, a kind of follow up, just because after the election things have shifted again.

Brandon: Dr. Tammy Kennedy, thanks again for joining me.

Dr. Kennedy: You’re welcome. Thank you.


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