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My New Book!

Friday, January 13, 2012

January 13, 2012: Transnational 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 fifth in the series.]                  

Scholars at the forefront of the transnational turn in American Studies exemplify how the field, like our nation, continues to evolve and deepen.

I have written in a couple of posts here, especially this request for ideas (which is still in effect!), about my ongoing work for the American Writers Museum, and more exactly my writing of an NEH proposal for a traveling exhibition on first- and second-generation immigrant writers and 21st century American literature. Hopefully the proposal (submitted this week) will be accepted and you’ll get to hear a lot more about the exhibition in this space; but even if it isn’t, one immensely inspiring benefit of my work to date has been the opportunity to recruit into the project and work closely with some very smart and impressive fellow American Studiers. At the top of that list are two scholars who embody the contemporary and ongoing transnational turn in American Studies: David Palumbo-Liu and Elena Machado Sáez.

Palumbo-Liu’s own career trajectory strikingly mirrors that transnational turn—he first trained in East Asian area studies and classical Chinese literature, shifted into comparative literature (in which he received his PhD and the program in which he directs at Stanford), and then has gradually become one of America and the world’s foremost scholarly voices in Asian American Studies (a program he founded at Stanford). Rather than seeing those different disciplines as separate or discrete, though, I would argue that Palumbo-Liu’s work consistently reveals how interconnected and cross-culturally influential his different interests are, as illustrated by books such as his co-edited Streams of Cultural Capital: Transnational Cultural Studies (1997) and his own Asian/American: Historical Crossings of a Racial Frontier (1999). And his forthcoming The Deliverance of Others: Reading Literature in a Global Age promises to connect such transnational literary interests explicitly to some of the most crucial and defining public and communal questions of our 21st century moment.

Machado Sáez’s career and work are just as centered on transnational literary and cultural identities and themes, directed in her case not across the Pacific but throughout the Western Hemisphere. She teaches Latino/a American and Caribbean American literature and theory at Florida Atlantic University, and has in just a half-dozen years already established herself as an expert scholarly voice on those cross-cultural and evolving fields. Her co-authored The Latino/a Canon and the Emergence of Post-Sixties Literature (2007) makes clear that such transnational and cross-cultural studies represent more than just an enlarging of what “American” or American Studies includes—that, in fact, such ideas have the power to fundamentally change how we think about our national literature, culture, and identity. And her current project, Caribbean Diasporic Historical Fiction: Marketing Multicultural Ethnics, Promoting Postcolonial Ethics—from which this compelling article on Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is drawn—promises to further push and enrich transnational, cross-cultural, and hemispheric American Studies.

Hard not to be inspired by the work of these two American Studiers, isn’t it? As with all eight of this week’s other subjects, they reveal the breadth and depth, the power and significance, of what this discipline has been and continues to be and offer for all Americans and citizens of the world. One more follow up this weekend,


PS. Any other American Studiers you’d highlight? Feel free to write about them in the Forum as well, or to share your own American Studies ideas and analyses here and/or there.

1/13 Memory Day nominee: Salmon Chase, best known as Lincoln’s crucial Secretary of the Treasury and then as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court who swore in Lincoln’s successor Andrew Johnson and helped uphold the 13th and 14th amendments during Reconstruction, but just as inspiringly an abolitionist lawyer and activist who helped form the 1840s Liberty Party and continued after the war to take important stands such as his support for voting rights for black men.

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