MyAmericanFuture

MyAmericanFuture
MyAmericanFuture

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

September 30, 2015: AMST Colloquiums: Defining the Field



[This past weekend, we held the fifth annual New England American Studies Association (NEASA) Colloquium. So this week I’ll share some responses to each of the five colloquia to date, leading up to a special weekend post on AmericanStudies in 2015!]
On three big questions we raised at 2013’s third annual NEASA Colloquium.
In that linked follow up post, I highlighted three interconnected, defining questions about AmericanStudies as a field and discipline around which we structured the 2013 conversations. That post requested input from all my fellow AmericanStudiers out there, and got one extended, really rich comment, from University of Maine Augusta Professor Sarah Hentges. But I’d love to get more perspectives and voices in the mix, so here I’ll ask brief and (I hope) invitingly broad versions of the three questions, and request (nay, implore) that you share your answers, whether here in comments or by emailing them to me. Thanks in advance!
1)      Teaching AMST: If you teach AmericanStudies (at any level and in any way), what does that mean? How do you teach it? What do you include? What do you hope your students will learn or do or take away from the experience? What is AmericanStudies at the classroom and program level?
2)      AMST Scholarship: If you consider yourself or your scholarship as part of or related to AmericanStudies, why? What is AmericanStudies scholarship, and how does it compare and contrast with other fields such as History, English, and Cultural Studies? What does it mean for a project or piece to be doing AmericanStudies work?
3)      Selling AMST: None of us (well, nearly none of us) like to feel as if we have to sell the work we do, as educators, scholars, or in any facet of our careers. But as we talked about a good deal in 2013, we have to do just that—and the situation certainly hasn’t improved in the two plus years since. So how do we make the case for AmericanStudies, do you think? How do we argue for courses, departments and programs, minors and majors, funding and grants, and other kinds of support for this discipline?
Inquiring AmericanStudiers want to know! Next follow up tomorrow,
Ben
PS. What do you think? How would you answer any or all of these questions?

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

September 29, 2015: AMST Colloquiums: Studying Salem



[This past weekend, we held the fifth annual New England American Studies Association (NEASA) Colloquium. So this week I’ll share some responses to each of the five colloquia to date, leading up to a special weekend post on AmericanStudies in 2015!]
On one more layer to our analyses of a complex, crucial American city.
I spent a week’s series of posts following up the 2012 NEASA Colloquium, and the presentations and conversations about Salem, Massachusetts that it featured. I won’t repeat here all that I highlighted in those posts, and will instead keep today’s post relatively short in the hopes that you’ll check out those brief 2012 follow ups and then return here to share your thoughts on them and Salem (and other such American spaces)!
I will, however, add one more thing here. I have returned to Salem many times in the three years since that colloquium (it remains my favorite historic site in Massachusetts, and likewise features my favorite single public site I’ve encountered, the Witch Trials Memorial), and have found myself again and again thinking about the same question: do the city’s more tacky elements (the occult shops and ghost tours, the over-the-top Witch Museum, the reenactments of chasing a “witch” down the street) represent a contrast to the amazing sites and spaces?; or do they instead bring tourists and visitors to the city and give them the chance to experience the best sides of the city? I asked a pop culture version of that question in this piece for Ethos Review, wondering whether popular versions of Salem witches add to the mythologizing or bring audiences to the histories. I can’t say that I have come up with definitive answers to either of these questions yet—so I guess I’ll have to keep returning to Salem to think more about them!
Next follow up tomorrow,
Ben
PS. What do you think? Other complex American spaces you’d analyze?

Monday, September 28, 2015

September 28, 2015: AMST Colloquiums: Presenting Our Work



[This past weekend, we held the fifth annual New England American Studies Association (NEASA) Colloquium. So this week I’ll share some responses to each of the five colloquia to date, leading up to a special weekend post on AmericanStudies in 2015!]
On the three presenters (other than this AmericanStudier) at our inaugural 2011 Colloquium.
1)      Elif Armbruster: Future NEASA President Elif Armbruster presented on her first book, Domestic Biographies: Stowe, Howells, James, and Wharton at Home (2011). What stood out most to me in Elif’s presentation—and would become a model for my own subsequent book talks—was her use of multiple media and genres to share her work: photographs and primary documents alongside her own ideas and analyses. The combination made for a coherent, compelling way to share and publicize her important book.
2)      Lori Harrison-Kahan: Like Elif, Lori shared work from and related to her newly-released first book, The White Negress: Literature, Minstrelsy, and the Black-Jewish Imaginary (2011). In my own 2011 book, Redefining American Identity, I had just started to articulate my own ongoing interest in cross-cultural encounters and transformations, and Lori’s talk—like her book—provided a strong model for me, particularly in the skill of closely reading literary and cultural works through that cross-cultural lens.
3)      Maggi Smith-Dalton: As the hyperlinks in that post indicate, I’ve written a good bit about Maggi in this space over the years, and for good reason: she (along with her husband Jim Dalton) is and long has been one of the foremost public AmericanStudiers in New England. I didn’t need any one presentation or colloquium to know that, but Maggi’s 2011 presentation highlighted with particular clarity one of her most significant scholarly skills—pulling together music, art, literature, and history to weave a compelling story of the past and its resonances for our own moment and world. Just one of many ways in which I’ve learned a lot from Maggi, as I have from all three of these 2011 presenters!
Next follow up tomorrow,
Ben
PS. What do you think? Work, of yours or otherwise, you’d share?