Grad Studies: Representations of the American Vietnam War with Kerstin Tuttle

PhD student awarded an inaugural Early Career PhD Merit Grant from English
Head and shoulders image of person with dark hair gathered in back, light skin, wearing dark-rimmed large glasses and red turtleneck

Congratulations to Kerstin Tuttle, a doctoral candidate in English literature who received an inaugural Early Career PhD Merit Grant from the Department of English! This new award is meant to recognize "exceptional levels of academic engagement on the part of a beginning PhD student" and to encourage the student's future research agenda. Tuttle generously described the impact of the award.

What will this Early Career Merit Award make possible for you?

Applying for the Early Career Merit Award prompted me to take stock of my work and accomplishments and envision the path ahead of me. While these are somewhat routine activities for all academics, the timing of the award amidst the ongoing pandemic gave me a lot of encouragement. Staying motivated and focused on my studies during the ongoing pandemic has proved very difficult; it’s been easy to disregard successes along the way when everything is so different and more isolated. Earning this award demonstrated that I have come much farther in my studies than my pandemic pessimistic self-assessments led me to believe. 

Continuing graduate study during the pandemic made me realize that my technology was in greater need of an upgrade than I previously thought. In taking meetings and classes at home, I’ve needed to have more programs running simultaneously (Zoom, Word, Adobe, Zotero, a web browser, etc.) than ever before, and my last computer did not always rise to those challenges. With the Early Career Merit Award, I was able to purchase a new computer with better audio/video quality and processing speed. I can now transition smoothly from a Zoom window to a Word document to Google Drive to a PDF without glitches, freezes, and delays. I have more storage space, too—perfect for all of the documents and drafts I will be hoarding in the next few years as I approach the dissertation. 

Additionally, I will be using some of the funds to expand my personal library, both in books and storage. I am an on-the-page-underliner, a notes-in-the-margin magician, a sticky-note savant; I do my best reading when I can treat a book like my own (and have a place to put it when I’m done!). I’m honored to have been selected as an awardee and thankful for the opportunities that have come with it.

What drew you to study literature at the University of Minnesota? Have certain professors and/or peers significantly impacted your studies thus far?

I was drawn to the University of Minnesota because of the opportunities for interdisciplinary study. I’ve taken several classes in the American Studies department, which has significantly expanded my thinking and approach to my research. I’m currently exploring representations of the American war in Vietnam in the 1990s-2000s; specifically, I plan to investigate the aesthetic, political, and narrative priorities of these representations to understand the ways in which they function as blueprint-like precursors to representations of the global War on Terror. Dr. Scott Laderman, affiliate faculty in the Twin Cities American Studies Department and Professor of History at the University of Minnesota Duluth, has generously lent his expertise in the cultural history of the Vietnam war. Dr. Laderman’s interdisciplinary support has been invaluable in developing my studies.

My peers in the 20th & 21st Century Subfield research group and Graduate Student Organization have provided an incredible network of support and camaraderie, neither of which I could do without. Thank you all for sharing your time, efforts, and kindness with me.

COVID-19 has no doubt limited your exploration of the Twin Cities and Minnesota. But what has been your favorite discovery, living here?

Some of my favorite COVID-era surprises in the Twin Cities have been outdoor spaces. I consider taking in the dazzling fall colors on a walk through Lakewood Cemetery’s winding paths an annual must-do, paired with a stop for an amazing cinnamon roll from Isles Bun and Coffee after.

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