Student Spotlight: Matthew Malzkuhn Defends his Dissertation

Student Spotlight: Matthew Malzkuhn Defends his Dissertation

Matthew Malzkuhn defended his dissertation entitled "Preservation, Revitalization, and Validity of Home Movies: Deaf Folklife Films as a Case Study." She has worked with Dr. Debra Lattanzi ShutikaDr. Roger Lancaster, and Dr. Jessica Scarlata. Here is a brief interview with Matthew conducted by Severin Mueller in which he reflects on his trajectory.


How have your research interests changed from the time you began the PhD program to now, and in which direction do you envision your work moving upon graduating?

Well my interests definitely evolved over the years and I am grateful for the chances that I received along the way which helped me arrive at my current research focus. I began the program thinking I would conduct various Cultural Studies related analysis of existing American Sign Language (ASL) stories especially deaf humor. However my career journey brought me to Georgetown University where I was a research specialist at the Sign Language Research Lab focusing on historical changes in Signed Languages. This is when I first realized the viability of the object of my inquiry: Deaf made home movies. I kind of picked up what Dr. Ted Supalla started 30 years ago when he addressed the need for research on deaf folklife films and made it my main focus. It has been rewarding and this work will never be complete as there are many undiscovered home movies in private family collections that been stored away in attics, garages, storages, and etc. The main aim is to educate the deaf community and abroad about the viability of their artifacts and to provide ways for people to connect to their histories through digitization efforts to make it easier to view their footage. 

I am anticipating turning this dissertation into a book and publish it so more awareness can be made possible about the scope of this work. I have several projects I had put on hold to complete this so I look forward to restarting them and continue adding to the scholarship of Deaf Studies and Cultural Studies. 

What kinds of professional development did you pursue while a student and which do you think will best position you to get the job you want: publishing, presenting, teaching, service in the department, engagement in non-university service projects, acquiring particular research skills?

I was always fully employed throughout my time as a PhD student at Mason. I worked as a tenure track faculty at Gallaudet University teaching Deaf Studies, ASL Literature, General Studies, etc. After five years I decided to move on to Georgetown University to work at their sign language research lab and was assigned with the responsibility of doing extensive field work administering tests and interviews with different deaf folk in the U.S. especially the midwest (Iowa, Nebraska and Minnesota as the most frequent sites of my visits). The scope of the project was to track the historical changes in sign language and while the work was somewhat outside my area of interests; the contacts and information I learned from my work with many subjects and people proved to be essential in shaping my perspectives and motivations for the production and dissemination of knowledge. I was also given the responsibility to coordinate several conferences at Georgetown that spotlighted the pioneers in Sign Language research especially these who received their degrees from Georgetown. 

While at Georgetown I, along with my sisters and a friend, decided to form a company (Ink & Salt LLC) doing app publishing related to sign language and deaf culture. We initially launched our flagship app, The ASL App for iOS and later for Google Play in 2015. It became a successful venture and we are continuing to expand to offer the publishing of other signed languages around the world through our platform. It should be noted that every country has their own version and they can differ greatly from the other. Our company have since published six stand alone apps and provided additional creative or consulting services when requested. 

I returned to Gallaudet as a tenure track faculty in 2017 specializing in Sign Language Literature and Cultural Studies and currently am employed there. Upon my hire, I was assigned the duty with another newly hired colleague to chair a Deaf Studies Conference that was to take place in November 2018. A conference of this scope have not occurred at Gallaudet for 20 years so we were given the responsibility of making it happen and it was an absolute success with scholars coming from over 30 different countries. 

I have always remained active beyond my duties by participating and presenting at several conferences/events related to my work on home movies such as the Orphan Film Symposium hosted by NYU and U of Penn’s Museum Second Sunday Culture Films. These types of engagement allowed me to connect with different professionals in this particular field and to build a network which is still growing and the overall interest in home movies is indeed growing.

It is hard to spotlight what will best position me for future success but I think being interdisciplinary at what one does is probably the way to go such as gaining experiences in teaching, research, presenting, product development, project management, and hosting of events. I hardly ever say no so this gave me plenty of opportunities to hone my skills in different areas. Of course I am still a work in progress and anticipate I will always be till my time is done.

What is one of your best memories from your time in the PhD program in Cultural Studies?

Probably the hardest question of all as it was a new experience for me a deaf person to be fully engaged in a hearing environment and a major institution of higher education. The experience gave me new insights into the conduct and expectations of what it requires to be a successful scholar. I also realized this was probably the first time I actually listened more (or for the majority of the time) in my whole life because I have always been expected to be one of the student leaders in the classrooms in my own deaf community based environments. This really tested my patience and allowed me to process information I never really have in the past by listening to others’ (professors/students) perspectives and arguments. The experience definitely allowed me to grow in ways I didn't anticipate and allowed me to bring back valuable stuff I learned to my community.

I was also blessed with a posse of several people who worked for/with me to provide communication access (interpreters and stenography) so it was safe to say I helped make our classrooms very cozy and look busier. It also created an inevitable void whenever I was unable to attend class and it prompted professors to make notes of my absence. Fair or not, I can laugh at this now because it was indeed an irony in its own right. 

The silliness put aside, the best memory for me is indeed the opportunity I had to broaden my horizons and get outside of my comfort zone (community) to learn from successful people I respect and to work with them. This is the most valuable takeaway!