“I was a stand-up comic in San Francisco in the early 1980s, and once got bumped off the stage by an unexpected appearance by the late Robin Williams at the height of his fame! So, I bring a humorous and absurdist point of view to the contradictions that are sometime inherent in American culture, especially our often over the top popular culture.”
– Professor Michael Hummel
I’ve been teaching 22 years, the last 16 at UMBC. I have an M.A. in English Literature from the University of Arkansas, and a Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Maryland, College Park.
I love teaching at UMBC. The students are a special group—hard-working, committed, well-rounded and diverse. This may sound corny, but I also think UMBC students are among the nicest students I’ve ever worked with. They are respectful of each other and of their professors and really work well together. It’s always fun to listen in on my student’s group discussions.
From Stand-Up Comedy to the Classroom
As I already mentioned, I was a stand-up comic in the early 1980s, so I bring a humorous and absurdist point of view to my lessons. However, I also encourage students to take these issues seriously and try to make connections between media and contemporary, real-life issues.
I find my students are also very witty and have many interesting stories to share that illustrate key issues we are discussing. They are often aware of new media trends before I am, so I think we learn from each other. There are almost too many funny moments to recount, but I also find that when we talk about our personal experiences of what it means to live in America, the honesty and self-awareness of students can be really powerful.
My other interests include news media, ethnicity and gender in media, and ethnography. I am also a singer-songwriter, so I’m also a creative artist and bring that lens to my analysis of popular culture. I respect the creative process even as I analyze it. I’m not a media critic who hates media.
I also have two young daughters who keep me up on the latest media trends, whether it’s harassing me to finally get an iPhone, making me take them to the latest animated movie, or getting me to watch a cutting edge show like Steven Universe (I’m at 95 episodes and counting). As with my students, we learn from each other!
AMST: Life Skills that Go Beyond the Classroom
I think AMST can make those in science, math, and technology add an ethical dimension to their thinking. My students come away from my classes with a number of important life skills – critical thinking, self-awareness, organizational skills, ability to make connections across disciplines. If you are going into education, psychology, marketing, law, journalism, business, game design, or really any field, the ability to see connections between and among supposedly separate concepts (like gender and ethnicity and consumerism) will make you a better teacher, therapist, lawyer, marketer, salesman, etc.
No one is just their ethnicity or just their gender or just their age or job, and cultural studies gives us a way to allow people to express their own point of view about the complexity of American life.
Winter Session 2018
During the regular semester, people are juggling so much—work, internships, family, AND a full schedule (not to mention the many student athletes who have their own special workloads and pressures). I find students do better work in winter, when they have less to distract them. Plus, we are meeting longer and more often; the ideas are easier to retain when you get such concentrated reinforcement. There’s also a nice camaraderie that builds up when you work together so much for a short time.
This winter, I am teaching AMST 100 – Introduction to American Studies. It’s a fun course that deals with a lot of different ways American culture can be analyzed. If you want to have a good overview of various flashpoints of American culture—personal identity, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, globalization, social class, popular culture, news media, sports, etc.—AMST 100 is the place where you can learn about many of these hot button topics and the various ways they’ve been analyzed and if you like one of them, you can then find other courses in AMST that focus particularly on one aspect or another.