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July 1, 1999 - VOL. 26, NO. 16
Rick Cherwitz and Stefanie Sanford, Office of Graduate Studies
Editor's note: Arete is an ancient Greek word for virtue, describing the quest for individual excellence. In this regular feature of On Campus, the University salutes its graduate students--whose considerable contributions to the academy and larger community are truly virtuous. These features will be framed and posted in the lobby of the Office of Graduate Studies, Main 101.
Name: Carolyn de la Pena
Hometown: Riverside, Calif.
Department: American Studies
Advisor: Jeffrey Meikle
Carolyn de la Pena's dissertation is titled "Energizing the Modern Body." It looks at how Americans attempted to use technological resources -- mechanical muscle-producing machines, electric therapies, and radium cures -- to increase the amount of physical energy available at the turn of the century.
She is interested in exploring why most Americans were eager to adopt new technologies, and why we remain, as a nation, the largest energy consumer on the planet. Her findings led her to believe that much of our enthusiasm for new energy sources came from a belief in the mutuality of technology and human power.
Because physiology was a young science, and as a result of the idea of a malleable "vital force" stemming from popularized Mesmerism, it seemed probable that technologically produced energies were identical to the body's internal energy, and might make the latter infinitely expandable, de la Pena said.
She contends that these energy building approaches served a two-fold purpose: they encouraged Americans to see new energy sources as benevolent, and they helped shape a modern conception of the body.
Weight machines, for instance, made possible a technologically generated muscularity known as "physical culture." It had not previously been possible to equalize the weight lifted, thereby building the body's muscles as a balanced and particularly visual system.
Electric devices also played a role in defining the modern body. Whether it was pseudo-scientific belts, brushes and cabinets or medically endorsed faradic battery treatments, electricity redefined the healthy body as constantly energized. Additionally, electric treatments helped retrench changing gender roles, as men were given treatments to cure impotence and restore vigor, while women's doses remained restricted primarily to repairing childbirth injury.
De la Pena said her hope for this study is that it might better illuminate the constant give-and-take between technological and cultural change. By stepping into a particular American moment, the technologies of machinery, electricity, and radium redefined our notion of the healthy, and gendered body for the modern age.
Her university honors include: Fletcher Jones Foundation Fellowship, Huntington Library, California; Research Fellowship, Bakken Library Minneapolis, Minn.; Smithsonian/Dibner Library Resident Scholarship; and the University Continuing Fellowship, UT Austin, 1998-99.
NOTE: Nominations (including self-nominations) for ARETE should be sent to Stefanie.Sanford@bus.utexas.edu (232-1613).
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