Carnegie Mellon University
September 13, 2012

Press Release: Carnegie Mellon's Literary and Cultural Studies Program Celebrates 25 Years With Two Days of Events, Sept. 20-21

Highlights Include "Cultural Studies and Real Life" Panel Featuring Seven Accomplished Alumni and Talk by Acclaimed Author Larry Grossberg

Contact: Shilo Rea / 412-268-6094 /

PITTSBURGH—Everyday life is intertwined with cultural messages. From advertisements and literature to the media and films, we are constantly faced with political, economical and social messages — but what do they mean in a broad, cultural context?

Carnegie Mellon University's Literary and Cultural Studies Program within the Department of English focuses on the interpretation of these individual cultural artifacts — films, novels, plays, music — and how their meanings are created, distributed and impact different cultures. Founded in 1986 as one of the first programs of its kind in the United States, the Literary and Cultural Studies Program is celebrating its 25th anniversary with two days of events Sept. 20-21. The events will showcase the program's faculty, alumni and students' wide range of expertise in using the field to understand the world's cultures.

"Since it was founded, our Literary & Cultural Studies program, which combines scholarly interpretation of novels, plays, films and music with the study of the wider social conditions in which art gets produced and interpreted, has contributed in a vital way to the Carnegie Mellon vision of interdisciplinary collaboration around critical issues of society," said Chris Neuwirth, head of the Department of English.

The program in Literary and Cultural Studies offers Masters and Doctoral degrees. The program trains students to interpret a wide variety of cultural texts — everything from Shakespeare, Jane Austen and William Blake to Ralph Ellison, Marilyn Monroe and John Sayles. The program also trains students to incorporate feminist studies, gay and lesbian studies, post-colonial studies, and historical approaches, as well as media studies, theories of race, post-structuralism and discourse studies. Students may study 19th/20th century American literature and culture, British romanticism, African American literature, Early Modern studies, Hollywood cinema, and modern/postmodern fiction, among others.

"As we reflect on our first 25 years, we may wonder — is it incongruous that cultural studies, a British import rooted in historical materialism, New Left politics and working class studies, would have survived and thrived this long at a university founded by Andrew Carnegie, who established CMU in order to incubate pragmatic, useful careers, like engineering? Perhaps not," said Kathy M. Newman, associate professor of English who organized the anniversary events. "At its core, the premise of cultural studies is that literature should be studied in its contexts, and that there are material connections between literature and the real world."

Newman added: "Not surprisingly, then, many of our graduates have taken their cultural studies training and gone out into the real world. Their accomplishments range across a wide variety of careers, but they are all impressive."

25th Anniversary Schedule of Events

Thursday, Sept. 20

  • 3:30 p.m. in Wean Hall 5415
    Premiere of "Tributaries: 25 Years of Literary and Cultural Studies at Carnegie Mellon University," a film by Ph.D. students David Haeselin and Sheila Liming
  • 4:30 p.m. in the University Center's Danforth Lounge
    "Cultural Studies and Real Life" panel featuring alumni talking about how they use the ideas of cultural studies in their everyday work lives. Panelists include Carl Davenport (DC'07), former federal government consultant and current manager at BNY Mellon; Rachel Delphia (DC'03), assistant curator of decorative arts at the Carnegie Museum of Art; Michael Scotto (DC'04, '05), children's book author and creator of an iPad version of his picture book, "Be a Buddy, Not a Bully;" Regina Anderson (DC'05), senior associate at Independent Sector in Washington, D.C.; David Pass (DC'09), Ph.D. candidate at Brandeis University; and Luke Niebler (DC'11), an English instructor at the Community College of Allegheny County.
  • 6 p.m. in Wean Hall 1300 Corridor

Friday, Sept. 21

*All events will take place in the Erwin Steinberg Auditorium, Baker Hall A51
  • 1 p.m.: Panel of Ph.D. alumni, including Charles Cunningham (DC'01), Bill Blake (DC'11), Thora Brylowe (DC'09), Courtney Maloney (DC'06) and Michael Rectenwald (DC'04).
  • 2:45 p.m.: Panel of current faculty and students discussing their work as it relates to cultural studies
  • 4:30 p.m.: Talk by Larry Grossberg, author of "Cultural Studies in Future Tense"

The Literary and Cultural Studies Program is one example of Carnegie Mellon University's excellence in the humanities. Within the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences, world-class faculty use fields within English, History, Modern Languages and Philosophy to solve real-world problems. For example, philosophers are working to improve medical ethics practices and food marketing tactics geared towards children; historians are developing policy recommendations for forensic DNA profiling and drug policy; and English professors are creating social networking tools to improve education. Dietrich College humanities students have the opportunity to follow their interests and cross disciplines, leading them to varied yet successful careers.