Faculty Profile: Dr. Matt Hooley
Dr. Matt Hooley is one of Clemson English Department’s latest hires. He began his role as a professor of Environmental Humanities and Native Studies at Clemson in the fall of 2017. Recently, I had the pleasure of getting to know Dr. Hooley when I spoke to him about his life and career, his thoughts on Clemson, and his plans for the future.
Dr. Hooley was born in Minneapolis. Though he moved away from the area, he knew he wanted to return, so he attended Carleton College in Minnesota for his undergraduate degree. The area had a lasting impact on his studies.
As a result of federal relocation initiatives to bring cheap wage labor to industrial cities in the 1950s and transform them into centers of finance, large amounts of indigenous populations were relocated to cities such as Minneapolis, leaving a still-discernible indigenous presence. It is apparent, in fact, that there are street signs in Ojibwe, where Dr. Hooley was raised. The Native American population there is very active in their political organization, so when he began to think through political issues such as prison reform, environment impacts, language and education, Hooley had to get to them through indigeneity. It became important for him to figure that out–especially what it meant for him as a Minneapolician.
Attempting to better understand his role in that environment, Dr. Hooley pursued graduate studies at the University of Wisconsin, one of only two universities that provided study in the Ojibwe language. Hooley was able to access that through the English department, from which he received his PhD in English and Native American Studies in 2011. He has since held positions at Texas Tech University and Tufts University before coming to Clemson.
What attracted Hooley to Clemson was its history, which he (correctly) claims is a history of violence that is apparent and visceral on campus. Dr. Hooley acknowledged that this was a strange quality to announce as a “favorite,” but he explained that there is often a hesitation toward thinking through problems of slavery and settler colonialism. He finds it’s different at Clemson. The students are already aware of the university’s history and that allows for more immediate discussions. That consciousness allows for professors and students to skip the naive innocence and directly begin the conversations that follow.
Dr. Hooley also expressed his admiration for fellow Clemson University English professor, Rhondda Thomas–specifically her “Call My Name” project. He explained that the way she is approaching the university’s history and calling attention to it is exactly the way it should be handled; many other universities with similar histories only push for administrative reform, but it’s more effective to approach wider reform with the mindset of continually grappling with the problem. He sees a similar approach in his own work, believing the entire nation needs to continuously confront its history in the repossession of indigenous land. The focus on the history of a specific geographic location also creates a platform for his work with environmentalism and ecology. Such a platform allows him to think materially about the land on campus as a link to settings of colonialism and indigeneity to a specific place.
In addition to currently teaching courses on Native American Literature and Contemporary American Literature, Dr. Hooley is also working on three book projects: Ordinary Empires: Native Modernism and the Ecologies of the Settlement, Scale Exhaustion: The Aesthetics of Settler Environmentalism and the third which he is referring to as a “Comparative History of Drought.”
Ordinary Empires is concerned with the relationship of everyday-life and colonialism in the context of US modernity. In order to target this relationship, the book focuses on the infrastructure essential to everyday life and points to it as something made possible by a really specific colonial history. The result is an experience of ongoing colonialism that unnaturally seems coherent and ordinary. Dr. Hooley pointed out that in traditional modernist studies, the “everyday” is valorized in a way that de-historicizes the ordinary apart from one that is produced outside of genocide and slavery. His goal is to reconceive modernism in a manner that specifically historicizes that in settler colonialism.
His most recent work is a comparative history of drought between Navajo Nation and Palestine. The book instrumentalizes the use of colonial photography in the process of land repossession. The project is interested in not only the control of water in order to enact violence or management against indigenous populations, but also the rhetorical power in the way we speak about water conditions and scarcity, which Dr. Hooley believes can have a similarly powerful effect on the forced migration of these indigenous populations.
Having the opportunity to speak with Dr. Hooley and hear about his work, it is clear that he is making a big impact on Clemson’s campus and looks to be promising more.
Written By: Raymond Henderson