About Me

Headshot photo of Morgan Gates

I am a Ph.D. student in the Literature Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Primarily, I specialize in twentieth-century American literature with attention to book history and auditory culture.  I find myself here by way of Brookdale Community College in Lincroft, New Jersey; Southwestern College in Chula Vista, California; the University of San Diego, where I earned my Bachelor’s; and San Diego State University, where I began graduate work and research that has led me to the University of California, Santa Cruz.  Each of these communities, the mentors and fellow students with whom and from whom I learned, have contributed significantly to the trajectory of my academic career as a researcher and instructor.  Thank you for your friendship, wisdom, and support!

What kind of research do I do?

I do what I call literary sound studies.  I investigate the ways sound is used, represented, and theorized in literature and American culture.  I bring together methods and materials from sound studies and literary studies.  This means I listen to texts. I analyze  how listening happens in texts, how they make sounds or represent them and why.  I am interested in the cultural histories of sounds, for example music or silence.  I approach sound with a particular methodology, by thinking sound through the material body of a literary text–often by looking at a book as an object not just looking at its narrative. I focus on the twentieth century because I am interested in the cultural, social, and political transformations of this period.

What does my research look like, more specifically?

My work is more specifically interested in the relationship between sound, book history, and cultural expressivity in African American literature of the twentieth century.  My work is frequently archival.  I have been digging both the UCSB Cylinder Audio Archive and the Library of Congress National Jukebox to listen to recordings from the late 1890s to the 1940s.  I have written on silence as a risky but powerful anti-authoritarian mode of resistance for black female figures in  twentieth-century American literature.  My latest project considers the transformations in audio culture of the 1910s, particularly the rise of synchronous sound in cinema, as a contested site for expressions of white supremacy and black aural historical resistance.  Scouring the publications and archives of Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois and looking to his lesser known creative work in pageantry, I consider how listening and musicking functioned in his pageant, The Star Of Ethiopia, as a form of historical thinking and agency in direct response to D.W. Griffith’s film The Birth of a Nation. I will also be engaging in an archival listening project through Marxist historian Frank Kofsky’s interviews with avant garde jazz musicians.

More than books!

Obviously, I am bookish and have an unusual relationship to books and literature.  Though my work in literature is necessarily tied to books, my training as a humanities research specialist branches out in multiple directions. I have worked on digital-born scholarly projects including a scholarly essay built on Twine, a twitter-bot that posts verses from Walt Whitman’s poetry and translates it into emojis, and a digital archival exhibition using TimelineJS.  I have been a dramaturg for a Shakespearean repertory company, an assistant library archivist, and curated a museum exhibition.  And, of course, I am a college level instructor, primarily in literature but also in other allied humanities disciplines, such as theater arts, sociology, and Latin American and Latino studies.

I am looking forward to my continuing my professional, academic, and personal development (all with the help of my loving partner, Chris, and my faithful chihuahua, Cowboy) here in Santa Cruz.  You can find updated and detailed information on more of my research and professional activities under the “What’s New” page of this site.