Academic journal article Americana : The Journal of American Popular Culture, 1900 to Present; Hollywood

Conversations with Scholars of American Popular Culture: Peter C Rollins

Academic journal article Americana : The Journal of American Popular Culture, 1900 to Present; Hollywood

Conversations with Scholars of American Popular Culture: Peter C Rollins

Article excerpt

Each issue of Americana: The Journal of American Popular Culture (1900 to present) we feature an interview, or a conversation, with a preeminent scholar in the field of American popular culture studies. This spring 2003 edition, we are featuring Professor Peter C. Rollins, Regents Professor at Oklahoma State University, who was associate editor of the Journal of Popular Culture and the Journal of American Culture, first Vice-President then President for the Popular Culture Association, and Director of Development for the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association. He has published myriad articles and books including The Columbia University Press Companion to American History and Film, Television Histories: Shaping Memory in the Media Age, and Vietnam and Popular Culture. In addition to being a prolific writer, Professor Rollins has also made many films, including a three part series Television's Vietnam and Will Rogers' 1920s: A Cowboy's Guide to the Times which won first place at the Oklahoma Film Festival, the Bronze Medallion at the Himisfilm International Film Festival, the Bronze Hugo at the Chicago Film Festival, the Chris Award at the Columbus Film Festival, and the CINE Golden Eagle, the highest award for a documentary film. Indeed, many of you have probably caught Will Rogers' 1920s on the Discovery channel or WTBS. Currently, Professor Rollins continues his activities with the Film and History League, and he is editor-in-chief of the league's journal, Film and History.


This spring, we talked to Professor Rollins who, despite several health concerns, endeavored not only to answer our questions but to weave entertaining stories about his life into American history while doing so. As you read on, we think you'll be reminded that all great scholars are, first, foremost, and after all, great storytellers.

When you were an undergraduate, you transferred from Dartmouth to Harvard. Tell us about that decision.

My family has attended Dartmouth College since the early years of the nineteenth century. Initially, the Rollins clan came from New Hampshire and Dartmouth was not too far away. The next stop for the college-bound Rollins men was Harvard Law School where they prepared to be future Daniel Websters. The lovely H.H. Richardson-designed chapel on the Dartmouth campus in Hanover, New Hampshire, is the Rollins Chapel. In the 1920s, when my grandfather, Daniel A. Rollins, drove his Cadillac North from Brookline, Massachusetts, to Hanover, he would stop the automobile at a critical point near the school and say to his family: "Now we are on the sacred soil of Dartmouth College." That reverence was passed on to us with great solemnity.

I grew up singing Dartmouth songs and visiting the Hanover campus for football games during the fall season. My brother, Philip, was a lead fullback on the football team, so we had special reason for attending the games during that glorious season in New England. There was no other choice for me and Dartmouth was most agreeable, accepting me in the spring of my junior year in high school under an "early admissions" program.

I loved the courses offered and I loved the library. My music appreciation courses were particularly informative as was my experience of singing in the Rollins Chapel Choir. Unfortunately, the all-male atmosphere at the school fostered a locker room atmosphere: I have nothing against locker room discussions and language, but I do have objections to that style carrying over into every other aspect of campus life--discussions in class, arguments in the dormitories, even essays written in slang and accepted by professors. On one occasion, I received a paper back from an anonymous grader in Dartmouth's "Independent Reading Program" in which I was told to "take pipe." This comment reflected an anti-intellectual dimension to campus life--it was not the entire atmosphere, but it used up a lot of oxygen.

The fraternity system was irritating. …

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