Special Issue: Oil Culture

Journal of American Studies

Historical & Philosophical Studies: History, Human & Social Geography

Deadline: 01/09/2010 (Closed)

Web site: http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayJournal?jid=AMS

"...the blazing oil leaped heavenward, and falling over on all sides from the fiery jet, formed a magnificent fountain of liquid fire...The scenes of terror and woe accompanying such a catastrophe can better be imagined than described." Harper's New Monthly Magazine (1865)

As this report on an early oil well fire suggests, petroleum has long been recognized to be a dangerously volatile commodity whose illuminative and propulsive capacities are inseparable from its destructive potential. Oil's catastrophic power has been reaffirmed by the succession of environmental disasters that have accompanied the global expansion of oil extraction, a series culminating in the devastation produced by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon blowout. These ecological tragedies have been matched by the array of social antagonisms, global political conflicts, and boom-and-bust economic cycles that have developed around the oil industry since its beginnings. Despite its disastrous implications, however, oil came to be embraced over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as a central and unassailable "fact" of everyday American experience, a core issue of national political platforms, and a reliable pillar of industrial and financial capitalism in the U.S. While much work has been done to track the material and political processes that made the dominance of oil capitalism possible, relatively little scholarship has addressed the rise of oil as a cultural problem. And yet as the Harper's quote above suggests, petroleum has inspired a wide range of imaginative efforts to comprehend its terrifying power and the bewilderingly expansive social, political, and economic systems that it has engendered.

For this special issue, we seek essays that explore the wide field of "oil culture" that has emerged around the American petroleum industry in the 150 years since its inception in northwestern Pennsylvania. More specifically, we are looking for articles that examine how literature, art, film and photography, television programming, the print and digital news media, advertising and industry publicity, legal argument and theory, political rhetoric and imagery, academic and corporate research, and other forms of public culture have contended with the volatile material of oil and the systemic shifts that it has produced, and in so doing contributed to, or contested, the reorientation of modern American life around oil capitalism. We hope, ultimately, to assemble a roster of essays that elucidate the complex role that imaginative representations have played in the establishment of oil as the primary commodity underpinning modern economic expansion and a fundamental ontological construct shaping social, economic, and political life in the United States and beyond.

Papers might address a range of subjects and problems, including:

  • artistic engagements with oil, the petroleum industry, and petro-carbon consumption
  • art, environmentalism, and sustainability
  • documentary photography and oil
  • cinematic and televisual interpretations of oil
  • oil in popular imagery and music
  • oil companies and cultural patronage
  • museums and the oil industry
  • oil advertising and marketing
  • petroleum at World's Fairs and Oil Expositions
  • architecture and the oil industry
  • the material culture of oil consumption
  • oil and the culture of automobility
  • race, class, and gender in the oil fields
  • oil, mobility, and subjectivity
  • oil advertising and marketing
  • trade and popular periodicals devoted to petroleum
  • Hubbert's Peak and theories of oil's end
  • oil and the left: critiques of oil capitalism
  • oil and the Progressive press: reformism and muckraking
  • oil and political scandal

Proposal Process:

Authors are asked to electronically submit an abstract of 500-1000 words and an abbreviated cv (two pages) to Ross Barrett (rbarre@email.unc.edu) and Daniel Worden (dworden@uccs.edu) by September 1, 2010. Abstracts should articulate the central arguments, theoretical and/or historical implications, and methodological approach of the proposed essay, and situate the essay within relevant scholarly conversations. The abstract and cv should be sent as Word documents or PDFs.

After reviewing the proposals, the editors will notify the selected authors and submit chosen abstracts to the Journal of American Studies by September 8, 2010. Upon acceptance by the journal, authors will be asked to submit a full copy of their article to the issue editors by January 2011. The full version of the article should not exceed 6000 words, and should be accompanied by a short abstract (200-300 words). All articles will go through the peer-review process, and it is on the basis of these reviews that articles will be selected for publication in the special issue.

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