American Studies
American Studies

Emily Roehl

Doctoral Student
Emily Roehl



environmental humanities, environmental justice, oil culture studies, new media studies, history and theories of photography, social practice and activist art, performance studies, visual anthropology, cultural geography


Emily Roehl is a PhD candidate in American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin and the co-founder of Mystery Spot Books, an artist book publisher based in Minneapolis. Roehl's research is focused on the energy humanities, environmental justice, and new media studies. In her dissertation, Roehl looks at landscape photographs of extractive sites from upstream to down in the material life of oil, from the tar sands of Alberta to the proposed routes of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. Roehl is interested in the aesthetic strategies of artists and activists who use traditional and new media to address the unevenly distributed risks of energy development.

Roehl received her Master of Arts from Mills College in Oakland, California, where she studied American Literature, Performance Studies, and Dance History. Roehl also holds Bachelors degrees in Writing, Theater, and Theology. Roehl completed comprehensive exams in 2013 and passed with distinction in all four subjects: American Cultural History, Cultural Geography, Visual Anthropology, and Performance Studies. Roehl is a member of the American Studies Association, where she serves as Graduate Student Liaison for the Environment and Culture Caucus. Roehl is a member of the Ecomedia Studies Interest Group of the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment and is a member of the American Society for Environmental History.

Roehl has designed and taught courses in America cultural history, energy and environmental history, environmental justice, media studies, and performance studies in addition to teaching composition-focused classes in rhetoric, writing, and technical communication. Roehl has served as a teaching assistant for courses ranging from dance history to the history of architecture to women and gender studies.

Roehl is the recipient of a dissertation fellowship from the American Association of University Women Austin Chapter and was awarded the Susan K. Rollins Award for Best Paper in Museums, Archives, and Library Studies by the Southwest Popular/American Culture Association. She also received the American Studies Continuing Fellowship from the University of Texas at Austin and was a nominee for the Michael H. Granof Outstanding Graduate Student Award.

As co-founder of Mystery Spot Books, Roehl has edited and contributed to a number of artist publications. Since 2016, she has worked with Mystery Spot co-founder Chad Rutter on a series of publications inspired by her dissertation research on the energy landscapes of the Midwest. The project began with a residency at The Luminary in St. Louis and has continued in the Twin Cities with an all-night installation at the Northern Spark festival. The newest title in the Energy Landscapes series,Flood Plain Color Field, was published in August of 2017.


AMS 311S • Performing Identity

30820 • Fall 2017
Meets MWF 12:00PM-1:00PM BUR 436A


Culture is a shared, embodied process, and American cultural history is as much about dynamic events as written texts. Cultural performances reveal social conflicts, emergent political energies, and conflicting expressions of national identity. Performance can be a practice of resistance or a reactionary gesture. In this class, we will study cultural performances at key moments in American history, from the Election Day celebrations of the early national period to the nationalist displays of World’s Fairs to the public interventions of the Civil Rights Era to the mediated activism of the digital world. Focusing on the historical experience of race, class, gender, and sexuality, we will look at the cultural performances of marginalized communities, who are often omitted from official written histories but leave traces in performance. We will examine performance across genres, including parades and festivals, music and theatrical events, television and film, sports and fashion, digital culture and dance.


Possible texts:

David Waldstreicher, In the Midst of Perpetual Fetes

Susan Davis, Parades and Power: Street Theatre in Nineteenth-Century Philadelphia

Eric Lott, Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class

Phil Deloria, Playing Indian

Harding and Rosenthal, Restaging the Sixties: Radical Theaters and Their Legacies

Nicolas Lampert, A People’s Art History of the United States: 250 Years of Activist Art and Artists Working in Social Justice Movements

Suzan-Lori Parks, The America Play, and Other Works

Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton


Possible viewing: 

Mad Hot Ballroom


West Side Story

Free to Dance

In the Heights


Assignments (include % of grade):

Attendance and Participation 20%

Reading / Viewing Responses 20%

Performance Critique 20%

Presentation 10%

Creative Project  10%

Final Essay  20%

AMS 370 • Environment/Justice/Media

30802 • Spring 2017
Meets MWF 12:00PM-1:00PM BUR 436A

This course offers an interdisciplinary approach to environmentalism and the environmental justice (EJ) movement with a focus on media. In addition to considering the history of EJ activism, we will look at art, literature, and media created at the intersection of environmental ethics and social justice. The “environment” of environmental justice encompasses not only traditional ideas of nature but also the places where people live and work. As a class, we will assess the advantages and drawbacks of our current systems of production and consumption, consider the people who bear the burdens and enjoy the benefits of these systems, and survey a range of alternatives. EJ themes have contemporary relevance in both urban and rural landscapes: in the redlined communities where heavy industry is disproportionately located in communities of color; in the Dakotas, where Native American groups work to halt the Dakota Access Pipeline; in towns along the U.S.-Mexico border where manufacturing labor is exploited in maquiladoras. This course will track the work of EJ activists, artists, and scholars on issues ranging from toxic colonialism and e-waste to labor and energy justice. Ultimately, this course asks: What is the role of media (art, literature, photography, film, social media, etc.) in the struggle for environmental justice? Students will have the opportunity not only to analyze EJ media but to create EJ media on environmental justice issues in Texas.

AMS 311S • Cultures Of American Energy

30560 • Fall 2016
Meets MWF 12:00PM-1:00PM BUR 436A

Sources of energy are all around us—deep underground, blowing in the wind, stored in muscle and bone, mined and refined. The way we work, move, eat, and play is deeply connected to the histories and cultures of these energy sources. For this reason, energy is an important topic not only to engineers and economists but to humanities scholars as well. In this course, we will consider the histories and cultures of energy in North America from the mid-19th century to the present. We will dig into the question of energy by focusing on four themes: energy frontiers past and present, energy disasters fast and slow; energy in cultural memory; and energy media. We will look at representations of various energy sources (fossil fuels, human and animal power, wood, water, and wind) in film, television, literature, art, photography, museums displays, and industry archives while considering the role of energy in our everyday lives.

Students will complete four major assignments: an annotated bibliography that summarizes and synthesizes primary and secondary sources, a short essay that analyzes an energy exhibit at a museum, a presentation on archival materials from the ExxonMobil collection at the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, and a final paper. Students will also write short summaries of class readings and field trips.

Publications & Projects

"Logical Picture Books: The Marginal Landscapes of Mystery Spot Books" (forthcoming from Pastelegram)
"Signs of Welcome, Signs of the Possible: Public Practice in Rural California" (Community Arts Network)

Digital Projects:
Blog and social media platform for the Department of American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin.
Six Feet Wasted on the Not Yet Dead
Interactive digital narrative on settler colonial land use in the Great Plains.
The Performance Art Alphabet
Digital archive of major figures in 20th century performance art history.

Artist Publications (with Mystery Spot Books):
Energy Landscapes of St. Louis 3: Flood Plain Color Field
Energy Landscapes of St. Louis 2: The Forest
Energy Landscapes of St. Louis 1: Labadie
Mystery Spot Volume 2: Nature's Nation
Pacific Tourist Redux
Mystery Spot Volume 1