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accents on english | spring-summer 16

A Tale of Two Texases

Travis Franks, Australian Fulbright

Beginning in February 2017, Department of English PhD candidate Travis Franks will spend 11 months in Queensland, Australia, funded by a Fulbright U.S. Student Award, studying country literature and music.

Franks will conduct research for his dissertation, tentatively titled “Rethinking Settler Nativism: Settler Colonial Origins of Anti-Immigrant Nativism.” He describes his project as "a comparative analysis" of U.S. and Australian literary representations that focuses on not only traditional genres of prose, poetry, and historiography, but on music and oral tradition as well.

"This work," he writes,   

"is the first of its kind to link anti-immigrant nativism to the elimination of native populations through the concept of settler nativism, a term that has previously only been used to understand how settler populations appropriate native symbols and customs in an attempt to see themselves as an indigenous population."

Franks' Australian research will begin with archival study at the University of Queensland/Brisbane, where he will intern with AustLit, recognized as "the premier digital archive of Australian literature." The archive will give Franks access not only to Anglo print literature but to the catalogued oral traditions of the continent's aboriginal peoples. During his internship, Franks plans to volunteer as a tutor for the Aboriginal Literacy Foundation.

Next, he will travel to the small town of Texas (yes, you read that right), three and a half hours southwest of Brisbane. Apart from the irony that Franks is a native Texan, he hopes to draw comparisons between the settler experience in Texas, Queensland, to that in Texas, U.S.A.

"Here," he writes, "I will explore how the axiom “The Spirit of Texas” came to be meaningful in both places and how that meaning results from similar origin stories."  Serving as an unpaid volunteer to a local historian will aid him in researching these stories, as will an especially interesting phase of his project: attending and performing at the Texas Country Music Roundup, held every September in Texas, Queensland.

Franks, a self-described "third-generation musician," sees the Roundup as a crucial phase of his project:

"The interviews and observations I am able to conduct at the Roundup will factor directly into one of my dissertation chapters. More importantly, I’ll gain firsthand exposure to Australia’s particular style of country music—which is thriving amongst settler and Indigenous communities there—by engaging with local artists as a researcher and taking part in an organized cultural celebration of art as a performer, both of which speak to my personal and professional interests."

This participant observer approach is reminiscent of the work of Department of English graduates Billy Cioffi (BA 2009; MA 2015) and Henry Quintero (MFA 1995; PhD 2010) who, as both performers and musicologists, supplement their scholarship with unique perspectives drawn from personal experience. It will be interesting to see how Franks brings his own background as a performer together with his research on Australian expressions of an American musical genre, and further, how he employs all of the texts he gathers in the exploration of a timely and important topic.

Larry Ellis

Image 1: A sign welcomes visitors to Texas, Queensland, Australia. Photo by Mattinbgn on Wikimedia Commons.

Image 2: Travis Franks participated in ASU's Night of the Open Door 2015, discussing and performing folk music. Photo by Bruce Matsunaga. See more pictures from English at NOD 2015 here.