MyAmericanFuture

MyAmericanFuture
MyAmericanFuture

Thursday, January 12, 2012

January 12, 2012: International American Studiers

[This week I’ll be blogging about fellow American Studiers, colleagues and friends who exemplify the best kinds of scholarly engagement with our national histories, stories, and identities. That’s in addition to other folks about whom you’ve already heard in this space, a list which would include Caroline Rody, Karl Jacoby, Christopher Cappozzola, Mike Branch, Heidi Kim, Kevin Levin and Ta-Nehisi Coates, Rob Velella, Larry Rosenwald, Steve Railton, my web guru Graham Beckwith, and many more. This is the fourth in the series.]

American Studies work being done around the globe importantly complements, and often complicates and challenges, the work being done by those of us within the US.

Of the many inspiring things about the fall’s New England American Studies Association conference, I was particularly excited that we had such a large international turnout—multiple scholars (at least half a dozen) from Great Britain, a couple each from Canada and Germany, and one from Denmark. Any scholarly conversation and community is of course enhanced by the addition of different, international perspectives and voices, but I think such additions are particularly key when it comes to American Studies; it can be difficult to separate our own American experiences and identities from our scholarly and analytical perspectives, and while there’s value in acknowledging our own influences, there’s potential limitation there as well. Which makes the work of exemplary international American Studiers like Maureen Mahoney and Velichka Ivanova that much more important.

Mahoney is working on her PhD in History at Ottawa’s Carleton University, writing about European influences, American internationalism, and the late 19th century City Beautiful movement, but she’s already making a major impact on American Studies scholarship and conversations through her work as a founder, editor, and contributor for NeoAmericanist, an Open Access (which means entirely free!), “interdisciplinary online journal for the study of America.” Founded and run by American Studies students around the world, the journal consistently exemplifies not only the best of cutting-edge American Studies scholarship, but also the kinds of young voices and perspectives that can help the field move into the 21st century even more fully. Mahoney’s own article in the journal’s debut issue, on George Bush (the elder), masculinity, and the invasion of Panama, certainly embodies all those elements; but the full contents of the current issue, featuring articles on the Lost Cause and cultural performance, Woody Allen and kitsch, Boston’s Civil War draft riot, political sermons as cultural texts, vampires in contemporary narratives, and 19th century novelist George Lippard, even more clearly demonstrates the range of American Studies work being done by these international students.

Ivanova, a literary scholar who teaches at the New Sorbonne University in Paris and the University of Strasbourg in Alsace, is further along in her American Studying, having published in 2010 her first book, a comparative study of themes of utopia and history in the novels of Philip Roth and Milan Kundera. That cross-cultural subject, one influenced by Ivanova’s own multi-national heritage and experiences, already reflects the value of an international American Studies perspective. But Ivanova has exemplified that value even more overtly, assembling an impressive and impressively multi-national collection of scholars and writers (including, I’m honored to say, this AmericanStudier) for her recently published edited collection Reading Philip Roth’s American Pastoral (2011). Roth’s novel is explicitly and centrally interested in core American histories and narratives, both specific to the end of the 20th century (reflecting on the 1960s, for example) and broadly defining (the American Dream, for another), and there’s something truly inspiring about seeing a community of international scholars analyze those subjects and the novel, often in explicitly multi-national literary, historical, and cultural contexts.

In a moment when one of the most-frequent refrains from Republican presidential candidates is a critique of President Obama’s supposed “European influences” and the like, let’s celebrate instead the genuinely international community of American Studies scholars. Next models tomorrow,

Ben

PS. Any international American Studiers or work you’d highlight? Any ones within our borders?

1/12 Memory Day nominee: Ira Hayes, the Pima Native American (from the Gila River community) whose service with the Marines during World War II was immortalized in his role as one of the six Iwo Jima flag raisers, who played himself in a subsequent film about the battle, and whose complex and tragic yet also crucial American identity and life have been further immortalized by such artists as Tony Curtis, Johnny Cash, and Clint Eastwood.

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