America in the World

Coordinator

George Blaustein (American Studies)

Members of the research group

dr. E.F. v.d. Bilt
dr. G.H. Blaustein
dr. D.A. Hassler-Forest
prof.dr. R.V.A. Janssens
dr. J.W. Kooijman
A.G.M. Mellink MA
E.A. Olsen MA
dr. M.S. Parry

Description of the research programme of the research group

The internationalization of American culture has a complex and often hidden history. This interdisciplinary research group is devoted to studying the global dynamics of American culture as it has both influenced and reflected the world.  Our approach is both comparative and transnational. Our first concern is the international  creation and uses of an American image. The United States has often served as a paradigm or prototype, for better or worse. For instance, international debates over multiculturalism and ethnic diversity look to America as a model or an exception. Politically, American federalism has served as a model for a “United States of Europe” from the 19th-‐century forward. The long tradition of European commentary on the United States is essential for understanding Atlantic history, and it illuminates present-‐day American culture, politics and religion.
Second, we explore the diffusion of American culture abroad. This is an exciting and important  area for interdisciplinary research. It has long been a commonplace to speak of “Americanization” in the same breath as “modernization” or “globalization,” but the relationship between them is unpredictable, and the specifics of these processes often remain buried. We therefore invite projects that trace the specific trajectories of people, goods and ideas across borders.  American culture always takes on new meaning in a world context, and “America” has been important to the endeavor of non-‐American peoples to articulate a cultural distinctiveness in harmony with, or against, the United States. While the United States remains the largest national economy and the most pervasive military presence in the world, cultural exchanges often operate at cross-‐purposes to national interest. Our research group explores American power in the world, but with an interdisciplinary acumen that illuminates culture in dialogue with traditional power relations. Our members have expertise in history, literary criticism, and media studies, and we are therefore well-‐ equipped to investigate highbrow and mass-‐cultural forms against a background of political, social, and military history.
This research group has particular value at the University of Amsterdam. Americanists are distributed in various departments (history, literature, media studies, political science, etc.). Rarely do our paths cross spontaneously. This group will be a dynamic hub for Americanist scholarship that encourages members to contribute to their respective departments. It is an opportunity to use and hone the tools of our home disciplines while learning from other fields.

Activities

The America in the World research group exists to be a hub of American Studies research and collaboration. American Studies is headquartered within the History department, yet there are Americanists in other departments, especially in English and Media Studies. In 2013 we initiated the American Culture Seminar, an occasional workshop for the purposes of presenting and discussing work in progress. It meets two to three times per semester, and has the format of a colloquium. This also proves to be a good venue for workshopping grant applications, conference papers, and articles.

The group has been involved in few public events. In December of 2013, occasioned in part by revelations of NSA wiretapping, we convened an evening of lectures at Spui25, under the somewhat salacious title of “Big Brother America.” Presenters were Ruud Janssens and George Blaustein from History, as well as Jaap Kooijman (Media Studies) and Joyce Goggin (English).

In December 2014, together with the Netherlands American Studies Association, the US Embassy in the Hague, the Duitsland Instituut, and the English Department, we hosted a major lecture from Werner Sollors (Harvard University): “After Dachau”: Of Private Vengeance, Collective Guilt, and Life in Ruins,” related to his book, The Temptation of Despair: Tales of the 1940s

Societal relevance

The American presence in the world, whether welcomed, rejected, or contested, permeates all levels of the global community. With so many contemporary debates modeled after or influenced by an American paradigm, understanding the particularities of the American prototype is more important than ever. At the same time, the 21st century is spoken of as either the “next American century” or as the beginning of a “post-‐American world.” A historical perspective on American culture and American power illuminates these discourses of ascendancy and decline. In the broadest sense, by interrogating ‘Americanization’ alongside ‘globalization’, this research group can help illuminate the present state of our global habitat through historical inquiry.
The contemporary relevance of Americanist scholarship is demonstrated further by the ongoing public interest in the many forms of American culture. Due to this widespread curiosity from people outside academia, our intended cooperation with cultural and political organizations in the Netherlands can form a relevant contribution to the public debate. In the view of many commentators and historians, after all, the Netherlands presents a particularly dramatic case of Americanization or globalization, and it is therefore a compelling vantage point.

Published by  Amsterdam School of Historical Studies

22 September 2017