Clifton-Morekis Successfully Defends Doctoral Dissertation

Posted July 23, 2021

Alice Clifton-Morekis, a Ph.D. student in the School of History and Sociology, successfully defended her doctoral dissertation Manning the TVA: White Masculinities and Engineering at the Tennessee Valley Authority, 1933-1953. Her committee was made up of:

  • Steven Usselman (Chair) H. Bruce McEver Professor of Engineering and the Liberal Arts, School of History and Sociology, Georgia Institute of Technology

  • Amy Bix, Professor, Department of History, Iowa State University

  • Carol Colatrella, Professor and Associate Dean for Graduate Studies and Faculty Development, School of Literature, Media, and Communication, Georgia Institute of Technology

  • Doug Flamming, Professor, School of History and Sociology, Georgia Institute of Technology

  • John Krige, Kranzberg Professor Emeritus, School of History and Sociology, Georgia Institute of Technology

While closing out her time in the HSTS program, Clifton-Morekis also published Front-Line Fowl: Messenger Pigeons as Communications Technology in the U.S. Army in the Spring 2021 issue of History and Technology and was awarded the annual 2021 Graduate Student Legacy Award from the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts. 

Read her abstract below, and then discover what the rest of our graduate students have been up to in our 2020-2021 timeline!

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This dissertation seeks to address the use of gender and race in constructing U.S. engineering identity. It analyzes individual and institutional identities at the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) between 1933 and 1953 through a model of multiple white masculinities. Predominantly drawing on oral histories, autobiographical text, and correspondence by and involving TVA engineers and administrators, it shows how these men combined and exhibited various white masculinities to communicate what they believed ‘a TVA engineer is’—and, by implication, what such an engineer ‘isn’t.’

The first part of the dissertation identifies patterns in the institution. It organizes these patterns into four archetypes: white-collar masculinity, physical masculinity, frontier masculinity, and military masculinity. The second part of the dissertation applies the same organization to one individual: Harry A. Curtis, who worked as TVA’s chief chemical engineer, engineering consultant, and director.

The dissertation finds that TVA engineers between 1933 and 1953 performed multiple white masculinities that resembled larger contemporary trends. These actors valued certain white masculinities more than others. For example, they lauded and performed traits of white-collar and frontier masculinities more often than those distinctive to military masculinity. They were notably consistent across time.

Further, TVA performances of multiple white masculinities functioned as a hybridized hegemonic bloc, which appropriated traits of various masculinities to maintain hegemony. Such hybridization obscured the strong association of engineering identity with masculinity and whiteness while strengthening boundaries around it. Because the multiple masculinities were associated with varied and often contradictory traits, actors selectively focused on lauded traits that specific ‘insiders’ successfully performed and those that specific ‘outsiders’ failed to perform. In doing so, they judged the same traits positively or negatively depending on the subject, showing the powerful flexibility of hybridization.


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