Carolyn Thomas, Ph.D.


Photograph of Carolyn Thomas



Fax:  657-278-5820

Dept: 657-278-2441

Office: Gordon Hall  423

Carolyn Thomas graduated from CSU Fullerton in 1994 as an American Studies (and German) major. She’s happy to be back in the department that changed her life and helping today’s American Studies students find ways to make positive change for themselves, their communities, and society. She previously was Fullerton’s Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs (2020-2023) and before that spent nineteen years as AMS faculty at UC Davis where she also served as department chair, Humanities Institute director, and Undergraduate Education Vice Provost. She received her PHD in 2001 from UT Austin (hook ‘em horns!)

Thomas’ research and teaching has explored material culture, business culture, and the relationship between technology, food, and Americans’ definitions of “health.” She has been featured on NPR and the BBC and is the author of Empty Pleasures: The Story of Artificial Sweetener from Saccharin to Splenda and The Body Electric: How Strange Machines Built the Modern American as well as two co-edited volumes and over 40 articles on topics including the origins of weight training, the mechanization of tomatoes in California, the fondness for Krispy Kreme donuts in the South, and the ineffectiveness of “diet” foods as weight-loss tools. 

Ph.D., The University of Texas at Austin (2001), American Studies

B.A., California State University, Fullerton (1994), American Studies and German (High Honors).

CV, Summer 2023PDF File



Cal State University, Fullerton
American Studies
800 N. State College Blvd. GH-313
Fullerton, CA. 92831

Courses Taught

AMST 101: Introduction to American Culture Studies

AMST 332: Science and Modern America

Current Course Schedule

AMST 101: Intro to American Culture

AMST 332: Science and Modern America


Office Hours

M: 1:00 pm - 3:00 pm

W: 3:00 pm - 4:00 pm

also available by appointment

M.A. Examination Fields



Local Foods Meet Global Foodways: Tasting History, Editor with Benjamin Lawrance (London: Routledge, 2012).

Empty Pleasures: The Story of Artificial Sweeteners from Saccharin to Splenda (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010). Kindle & Audiobooks editions 2010.

Re–Wiring the Nation: The Place of Technology in American Studies, Editor with Siva Vaidhyanathan (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007).

The Body Electric: How Strange Machines Built the Modern American (New York: New York University Press, 2003).


“Navigating a virtual provost search during the pandemic,” with David Forgues in Academic Impressions, March 10, 2021.

Also published as “Two Perspectives on Navigating A High-Level Search in the  Middle of the Pandemic,” in HR Magazine (Spring 2021).

“Being Honors Worthy: Lessons in Supporting Transfer Students,” with Eddy Ruiz, Heidi Van Beek, J. David Furlow, and Jennifer Sedell, Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council 20:1 (Spring/Summer 2019): 79-105.

“Playing the Long Game: Surviving Fads and Creating Lasting Student Success through Academic Advising,” with Brett McFarlane, in W. Troxel and J. Joslin, Academic Advising Re-Examined, New Directions in Higher Education, vol. 184 (Winter 2018): 97-106.

“Improving Student Learning through Faculty Empathy in a Hybrid Course Community: A Case Study,” with Jennifer Sedell, Liberal Education, vol. 104, n. 3 (Summer 2018): 48-55.

“Opinion: UC Davis to First-gen Students: ‘You Belong Here,’” The Hechinger Report, September 26, 2017 (–uc–davis–first–gen–students– belong/).

“Academic Advising and Institutional Success,” Academic Advising Today, March 2017.

“Advocating for Academic Advising,” with Brett McFarlane, in T.J. Grites, M.A. Miller and J. Givans Voller (editors), Beyond Foundations: Developing as a Master Advisor. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, September 2016: 199-224.

“Healthy, Vague: Exploring Health as a Priority in Food Choice” with Sara Schaefer, Charlotte Biltekoff, and Roxanne Rashedi, Food, Culture, and Society, June 2, 2016: 227- 250.

“Abundance, Control, and Water! Water! Water!: The Work of Eating at Work,” with Jennifer Sedell, Charlotte Biltekoff, and Sara Schaefer, Food, Culture, and Society, June 2, 2016: 251-271.

“Don’t Divide Teaching and Research,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, March 2015.

“Good to Think With: Another Look at the Mechanized Tomato,” Food, Culture, and Society, 16.4, December 2013: 603-631.

“Thinking Through the Tomato Harvester,” Boom: A Journal of California, 3.1, Spring 2013: 30-33.

“A Roadmap for Research: Characterizing the Impacts of Uncertainty in the Policy Process: Climate Science, Policy Construction, and Local Governance Decisions,” with Debbie A. Niemeyer, Thomas Beamish, Alyssa Kendall, Ryken Grattet, Jonathan London, and Julie Sze. In Harry Geerlings, Yoram Shiftan, and Dominic Stead (editors) Transition Towards Sustainable Mobility: The Role of Instruments, Individuals, and Institutions. Ashgate: Rotterdam, 2012.

“Just Like a Peach: Visions of Nature in U.S. NutraSweet Marketing,” Technikgeschichte, Vol. 78, No. 8 (Fall 2011): 1-20.

“The Frontiers of Food Studies,” with Charlotte Biltekoff, Amy Bentley, Warren Belasco, Psyche Williams-Forson, Forum Section, Food Culture and Society, Vol. 14, No. 3 (September 2011): 301-314.

Q & A with winemaker Randall Graham, Boom: A Journal of California, Vol. 1, No.1 (Spring 2011): 20-24.

“Traversing the Local/Global and Food/Culture Divides,” Introduction to Special Double Issue on “Food Globality and Foodways Localities,” Food and Foodways, Vol. 19 no. 1-2 (2011): 1-10.

Introduction to Special Issue on the Engaged Humanities, Western Humanities Review, Vol. 64, No. 3 (Fall 2010): 3-14.

“The History of Technology, the Resistance of Archives, and the Whiteness of Race,” Technology and Culture, Vol. 51, No. 4 (October 2010): 919-937.

“Sweet Nothings; Do Artificial Sweeteners Help You Lose Pounds-or Gain Them? Why, After Fifty Years of Research, We Still Don’t Know the Truth,” Ms. Magazine, October 2010 (Winter): 48-49.

“Artificial Sweetener as A Historic Window on to Culturally Situated Health,” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, Vol. 1190, No. 1, (Blackwell Publishing, March 2010): 159-165.

“Saccharin Sparrow,” in The Object Reader, Raiford Guins and Fiona Candlin, Eds. (NY: Routledge, 2009): 506-9.

“American Studies Training,” Main Currents, UT Austin American Studies Program Magazine (Fall 2008): 6-7.

“The Slipperiness of Objects: Putting the Past in the Present in a Class of One Hundred,” Transformations: A Journal of Inclusive Scholarship and Pedagogy, Material Culture issue, Vol. 18, No.2 (2008): 14-25.

“The Origins of Cybex Space: Gustav Zander’s Amazing Gymnastic Devices,” Cabinet: A Quarterly Magazine of Art and Culture No. 29, (Spring 2008): 27-31.

“Mechanized Southern Comfort: Touring the Technological South at Krispy Kreme,” in Dixie Emporium: Consumerism, Tourism, and Memory in the American South, A. Stonis, Ed. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2008, 234-263.

“WHA Symposium: The Relevance of the Humanities,” Western Humanities Review, (November 2007)

"Risky Food, Risky Lives: The 1977 Saccharin Rebellion," Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, Vol. 7, No. 3 (Summer 2007): 100-105.

"Leaving the Intellectual Parking Lot," preface to Explorations, UC Davis Undergraduate Research Journal (2006): iii-iv.

"Slow and Low Progress: Why American Studies Should Do Technology," American Quarterly Vol. 58, No. 3 (September 2006): 915-941.

"‘Bleaching the Ethiopians’": Desegregating Race and Technology through Early X-ray Experiments," Technology and Culture, Vol. 47, No. 1 (January 2006): 27-55.

"Plugging into Modernity: Wilshire's I–ON–A–CO and the Psychic Fix," The Technological Fix, Lisa Rosner, Ed. (New York: Routledge, 2004): 31-59.

"Ready–to–Wear Globalism: Decoding the Prada GPS," Winterthur Portfolio, Vol. 38, No. 2/3 (2003): 109-129.

"New Voices Conference at the University of Wyoming – The Materials of American  Studies: Reading Electric Belts" in American Studies, Vol. 44, no. 1-2, (Spring/Summer 2003): 219-251.

"Dudley Allen Sargent & Gustav Zander: Health Machines and the Energized Male Body," Research in the Philosophy of Technology– Sport Technology: History, Philosophy, and Policy, Andy Miah and Simon Eassom Eds. Vol. 21 (Summer 2002): 9-47.

Reprinted in Iron Game History (2003): 3-19.

"Designing the Electric Body: Sexuality, Masculinity and the Electric Belt in America,  1880–1920," Journal of Design History, Vol. 14, No.4 (2001): 275-289.

"Recharging at the Fordyce: Confronting Machine and Nature in the Modern Bath," Technology and Culture, Vol. 40 (October 1999): 746-767.