Deborah Whaley

Deborah Whaley
Professor of American Studies
PhD University of Kansas (2002, American Studies)
724 Jefferson Building
(319) 335-3494
Research Interests: 
American and Transnational American Studies, Digital Humanities and New Media Technologies, Cultural History, Comparative Ethnic Studies, Black Cultural Studies, Popular Culture, the Visual Arts, and Critical Theory

Deborah Elizabeth Whaley is an artist, curator, and writer. She is currently Senior Scholar for Digital Arts and Humanities Research for the Digital Scholarship and Publishing Studio (DSPS) and Professor of American and African American Studies at the University of Iowa, and editor of the journal Addressing the Crisis, which focuses on the writing and influences of theorist Stuart Hall. Her research and teaching fields include the institutional history, theories, and methods of American and Transnational American Studies, 19th Century to the Present Cultural History, Comparative Ethnic Studies, Black Cultural Studies, Popular Culture, the Visual Arts, Digital Humanities and Critical Theory. As senior scholar and as an ambassador for DSPS, she collaborates with faculty, students, and staff who produce or engage with digital scholarship, research, and new media technologies and pedagogy. She is also director of the graduate certificate in Public Digital Humanities.

Dr. Whaley has published original art, poetry, as well as articles on social movements, popular culture, fine art, documentary photography, and film. In 2018, her poetry from the Bram Stoker Award nominated book Sycorax’s Daughters was nominated for a Rhysling Poetry Award. She was a Resident Visiting Scholar at the Center for Cultural Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and was a recipient of a grant from the Monroe Trotter Institute for Black Culture for her research on Black expressive art. Whaley was co-curator, with Kembrew McLeod, of the University of Iowa Museum of Art exhibition “Two Turntables and a Hip-hop Contexts Featuring Harry Allen's Part of the Permanent Record; Photos From the Previous Century." “Two Turntables” featured a collaborative mural she did with graffiti artist Lady Pink and UI studio arts students, the video and slide installation project “Pink,” photographs, album covers, concert fliers, and a listening station of 1980's hip-hop.

Her most recent book is Black Women in Sequence: Reinking Comics, Graphic Novels, and Anime (University of Washington Press, 2015), which won an award from AAUP for its graphic design and book cover. BWiS explores graphic novel production and comic book fandom, looking in particular at African, African American, and multiethnic women as deployed in television, film, animation, gaming, and print representations of comic book and graphic novel characters. Professor Whaley's first book is Disciplining Women: Alpha Kappa Alpha, Black Counterpublics, and the Cultural Politics of Black Sororities (SUNY Press, 2010). In it, she examines the cultural practices, cultural work, and politics of the oldest historically Black sorority.

Her current research constitutes an examination of dissociative identities (formerly known as multiple personality disorder) as a narrative trope in popular literature, film, television, and memoir, with a particular focus on Latinx, White, Asian/American, and Black women in a transnational framework. More than an interpretive and critical analysis of popular cultural productions, the project engages with the intersection of différance, geopolitics, affect, and disability studies and combines digital and print humanities and the social sciences to explore the racial, class, and gender disparities in the medical industrial complex. A trailer for this monograph in progress is located here.

With professors Michael Hill and Jessica Welburn-Paige, she edited a 2018 special journal issue of CLA on the MacArthur Genius Award winning writer Ta-Nehisi Paul Coates and a Keywords in Comic Studies anthology with Ramzi Fawaz and Shelley Streeby (NYU Press, forthcoming). Article length projects include an analysis of the Jazz opera in 1960s British cinema, the trope of love in Black romantic comedies and romance comics, and the articulation of Afrogoth in web comix and Afropunk music. She continues to write more broadly for the public sphere for a number of newspapers, blogs, and websites, covering everything from being a black female swimmer and grief, to using the music of David Bowie in teaching Rhetoric to undergraduates, to the ways in which individuals and groups can intervene in structures of domination in their everyday lives, to the use of the digital humanities in re-envisioning scholarship, teaching, art, and activism.

Whaley is on the editorial board of the journal American Studies, is co-chair of the American Studies Association’s (ASA) committee on American Studies departments, programs, and centers, and is a former chair of the Women's Committee for the ASA. At the University of Iowa, she serves on faculty senate. In the Iowa City corridor, she collaborates with local museums, film houses, and nonprofit organizations on community conversations, screenings, panels, and lectures on social justice.

More information is available at her website:



  • Diversity and American Identities
  • Digitizing Blackness
  • Understanding American Cultures
  • Introduction to American studies
  • Introduction to Popular Culture
  • Social Construction of Whiteness
  • Black American Cinema
  • Introduction to African American Culture
  • Black Popular Culture
  • Black Popular Music
  • Black Sequential Art: Comics, Graphic Novels, and Anime
  • Rhetoric: Reading and Writing
  • Rhetoric: Reading, Writing and Speaking


  • Theories and Methods in the Digital Humanities
  • Affect Theory & Inquiry
  • Interdisciplinary Approaches to American Studies
  • Stuart Hall: Legacies and Influences
  • Theory & Practice in American Studies I
  • Theory & Practice in American Studies II
  • Classics in American Studies