Dr. Kit Hughes, one of three new Department of Communication Studies faculty, welcome to Colorado State University! Dr. Hughes is interested in how corporations use media to create identities. She is also working on a book about the hidden history of TV. In addition to the history of TV, she is a reality TV enthusiast– for credible reasons, including character critiques and audience analysis.
What drew you to Colorado State?
I believe deeply in public education and the land grant mission of the university. My doctoral institution was a public land grant institution that operated by the precept that the boundaries of the university are the boundaries of the state. This is how I understand the value of the university—as an institution that provides resources to develop and grow the community that surrounds it. CSU provides the ideal framework for me as I try to continually evaluate how my teaching and research serves broader constituencies.
Tell us about one of your most rewarding teaching moments.
I love to see the progress a student makes over the course of the semester. Last semester I had a student who was significantly struggling at the beginning of the course. We met and decided on a course of action to right the ship (pro tip: it included a lot of office hours), and I saw her redouble her efforts in the class. Her final grade was in the middle of the pack, but she worked harder for that mark than almost any of my A students did for theirs. I am really proud of her; it was exciting to see her succeed.
What’s the hardest lesson you’ve had to learn as a student?
Time management. I remember distinctly my first semester of undergrad. I loved hanging out with all of the new people on my floor, so I wouldn’t turn to my homework until everyone else had gone to sleep. I’d be up until 3:00 or 4:00 working on macroeconomics, of all things. Thankfully, I’ve gotten much better at figuring out when I work best (turns out it’s early morning). That helps me better organize and prioritize my time.
What are your current research interests?
Broadly, I’m interested in how some of the most powerful institutions of the twentieth century (corporations, schools, governments, hospitals, etc.) used media (primarily film and television) to persuade publics, manage their members, and develop their identities. I tend to focus most often on corporate uses of media and how film and television have been used to manage labor. I also like to read and write on issues of archiving and preservation (what media texts we decide to keep and why) and developing digital tools to assist in historical and humanities research.
What books or publications are you working on?
My major project is a book that looks at how American businesses used television as a labor technology to train and manage workers. It’s a hidden history of TV that incorporates a number of technologies and practices that we don’t often think about when we think about commercial entertainment television. I could tell you stories about CCTV used to defuse bombs in ordinance factories or private satellite TV news programs designed to boost worker morale during the wave of downsizing and mergers in the 1980s and 1990s. But you’ll have to wait for the book to find out more!
Where did you live before moving to Fort Collins?
I’m originally from York, Penn., (where the Articles of Confederation were signed), but I spent five years in Madison, Wis., (and a year in Oxford, Ohio) before moving here. Madison is similar to Fort Collins in that it offers elements of city living (restaurants and cultural programs) in the midst of a beautiful setting. Wisconsin has lakes and stunning prairies that I do miss. (Oh, and fried cheese curds. I miss those too.) That said, I’m excited to explore the Rockies and see what new kinds of flora and fauna await me here.
What’s your favorite guilty pleasure?
This is a hard one for me, because although I watch a fair amount of “bad” TV (Real Housewives, Vanderpump Rules), I feel zero guilt! These shows are often smarter and more critical than they’re given credit for, but they get a bad wrap (oftentimes because of assumptions about the kinds of people who watch them – young women – and the kinds of traits that have been historically associated with those audiences – overly emotional, frivolous, unintelligent). If you sit down and actually watch an episode of Real Housewives of New York (or RHONY, as the cool kids call it), you’ll see that the show is very savvy about critiquing its characters’ relationships to their class positions, calling out misogyny exhibited by men and women, and raising interesting questions about (what we might call neoliberal) labor, entrepreneurship, and identity.
Top pick for an all-expenses paid fantasy vacation?
Antarctica. Crossing the Drake Passage in a small research vessel, seeing masses of penguins unafraid of humans, following pods of humpback whales. It seems like the closest thing to adventuring to a completely different world.
Who is your favorite rhetorician (or theorist) and why?
It’s hard to pick just one, but someone who always gets me excited about doing history is Michel-Rolph Trouillot. His book Silencing the Past argues for the importance of considering historical silences and gaps as the products of power. In short, what and how we forget is shaped by forces just as complex as those that induce us to remember.