STS Faculty Profile: Bryce Tellmann

STS Faculty Profile

Bryce Tellmann is Instructor of English.

What’s your area of expertise? What do you primarily research and/or teach? And what drew you to this field?

My field is rhetoric, by which I mean the study of how we use discourse (usually words, but not always) to make stuff happen. I’m mainly interested in rhetoric and space/place, especially at the regional level. A lot of my research comes back again and again to the Great Plains, maybe because it’s my home, but also because it perennially faces difficult questions about what it means to consider a place a region and how that regional identity is leveraged in civic life. These themes of place and community almost always worm their way into every course I teach.

Like a lot of communication scholars, I think I wound up in the field by accident. The nice thing about rhetoric is that you can use it as an excuse to study just about anything. My initial dissertation proposal was on ancient Irish rhetoric, but some of those same themes led me yet again to studying the Great Plains.

What’s one of your favorite courses, topics, or specific texts to teach? Why?

Over the past couple of semesters I’ve realized that I cherish teaching Introduction to Humanities. Part of it is the flexibility of the course—“Introduction to Humanities” is a broad mandate, so it gives both my students and me the opportunity to play with ideas and explore possibilities. I use the idea of “place” as a central theme of the course. We read historians, geographers, communication scholars, poets, and more, but we use the place as a locus to see how different approaches ask different questions and yield different results. All of my students have something to say about place, so it’s a great tool to make connections between fields, including STEM fields. And, of course, because it’s so broad, if I read something interesting and want to talk about it in class, it’s pretty easy to find an opportunity to make it relevant!

What’s something you’ve done that you’re really proud of?

An article I published a couple years ago was cited in a book that was just published this month. The author, a geographer, called my a piece “a thoughtful analysis,” which is about as high a compliment as I can ask for.

Book cover of Famine Pots, featuring an image of a mortar and pestle by a window.

What is a book, movie, or another work of art or media you’ve enjoyed recently that you would like to recommend?

I’m just finishing a book titled Famine Pots: The Choctaw-Irish gift exchange, 1847-present. It is a series of essays, poems, and meditations on one of the most profound gifts in history: in 1847, members of the Choctaw Nation took up a collection to send to Ireland to provide relief during the Irish Famine. They ultimately sent $172 (some sources say $721), or about $5,000 today. This happened just a few years after the Choctaw were forcibly relocated to Oklahoma from their homelands in the south-eastern US, an act of ethnic cleansing commonly called “The Trail of Tears.” It’s a haunting read and raises a host of interesting questions about what connects people and places.

Tell us something about yourself outside of work. What do you enjoy doing? What’s a detail about you that your students might not already know?

Over the past year or so, I’ve taken up woodworking, using almost exclusively hand tools. Since January I’ve been working on a traditional English-style woodworking bench, which I’ll hopefully complete by the end of this semester. It has been a good reminder that the first step to being good at something is to be quite bad at it for some time.

A wood bench in progress, with a pile of wood shavings beneath it.
Woodworking bench in progress.

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