Film scholar wins Guggenheim fellowship for research on placelessness in American cinema

Author: Carrie Gates

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Pamela Wojcik, a professor in the Department of Film, Television, and Theatre, has been awarded a 2020 fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation in support of her book project, Unhomed: Mobility and Placelessness in American Cinema.

Wojcik is among 175 scholars, artists, and scientists to be awarded fellowships this year from a pool of nearly 3,000 applicants. Faculty in Notre Dame’s College of Arts and Letters have won 18 Guggenheim fellowships in the last 20 years. 

“I’m thrilled that Pam has received one of the world’s most prestigious and competitive fellowships,” said Sarah Mustillo, the I.A. O’Shaughnessy Dean of the College of Arts and Letters. “This award is a strong endorsement of the quality of her research and continues our tradition of excellence with these awards.”

Wojcik, who will begin serving as chair of FTT in July, said she is honored to receive the fellowship, particularly because her colleague Donald Crafton, the Joseph and Elizabeth Robbie Professor Emeritus of Film, Television, and Theatre, also won a fellowship in 2014

“Historically, it has not been given to many film scholars, so it’s wonderful to be honored and to have film studies recognized in this way,” said Wojcik, a past president of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies. “It’s a real honor to follow in Don’s footsteps, in particular.”

Wojcik’s book project will explore America’s ambivalent and shifting attitude toward placelessness through marginalized figures — including tramps, hitchhikers, the homeless, and contemporary youth. 

Through an examination of film cycles from the 1920s to the present, she suggests that genres of precarity have been central to American cinema all along.

“In America, we have fantasies about mobility and success,” said Wojcik, also a concurrent professor in the Department of American Studies and the Gender Studies Program. “I think that all along, we’ve had things that have troubled those fantasies and have shown us that it’s actually a much more complicated and difficult relationship.”

Wojcik, who is currently completing a book about the 1959 film Gidget as a transmedia phenomenon, said that Unhomed stems from two of her previous books — The Apartment Plot: Urban Living in American Film and Popular Culture, 1945 to 1975 and Fantasies of Neglect: Imagining the Urban Child

“Writing about contemporary films and youth started me thinking about the pliancy of mobility,” she said. “It can sometimes seem like progress or freedom or opportunity, but it can also be tied to shiftlessness or deviance. I began thinking about more negatively viewed modes of mobility related to homelessness, nomads, and exile.

“In the current climate, there is a sort of hostility and fear toward placelessness, in relation to immigration and mobility across borders — and, now, in relation to the coronavirus. I think we need to think historically about these issues and also own the ways in which we have marginalized figures who don’t fit into our fantasy.”

“In the current climate, there is a sort of hostility and fear toward placelessness, in relation to immigration and mobility across borders — and, now, in relation to the coronavirus. I think we need to think historically about these issues and also own the ways in which we have marginalized figures who don’t fit into our fantasy.”

Originally published by Carrie Gates at al.nd.edu on April 17, 2020.