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(Boston, Mass.) — What makes Americans tick? Professor Anita Patterson, director of the American and New England Studies Program at Boston University, suggests that a “transnational” approach to American Studies can be an insightful academic avenue toward understanding some answers to this question that has the world’s interest piqued. This approach of examining America’s shared roots is fast gaining popularity as global interest grows in the formal study of American culture.
“To get an accurate picture of the formation of our culture, you need to understand how it has interacted historically with cultures from abroad. Pride in a national culture doesn’t mean blinding ourselves to the international dimensions of our heritage,” says Patterson. “While it’s becoming increasingly obvious that we need to understand how our culture is perceived, a transnational perspective on American Studies can help others appreciate how our culture works.”
To exchange thoughts on this subject, Patterson will lead a delegation of BU professors to the Netherlands this month for the first World Congress of the International American Studies Association (IASA), the only internationally chartered association of Americanists from around the globe. The inaugural congress — with the theme “How Far is America from Here?” — comes amid a growing appetite for American Studies programs that now number more than 40 established outside the United States.
“With America’s ‘image’ a contemporary topic of discussion globally, the first IASA World Congress is an opportunity for scholars from the United States to engage in a productive exchange of research and views on American Studies with colleagues from other countries,” says Patterson. “This collaboration will enhance the American and New England Studies Program at BU and hopefully shed more light on the origins of the American character for scholars and students overseas.”
The Boston University faculty participating in the IASA World Congress in Leiden, The Netherlands, May 22-24, are currently researching projects covering the 20th century. Their work will be highlighted in three panels:
- “Icons of the Seventies: American Identities and the Globalization
of Popular Culture” — Papers from history Professor Bruce
Schulman, communications Professor Roy Grundmann, and art history
Professor Kim Sichel will examine the creation of iconic images in
popular music and films (by Dylan, Warhol, and others), and the redefinition
of iconicity in documentary photographs by Lee Friedlander.
- “Transnational Reappropriations: Europe and the New World
Black Diaspora” — Art history Professor Patricia Hills,
English Professor Larry Breiner, and history Professor Allison Blakely
will explore the formative encounter with European modernism by black
artists and writers such as Jacob Lawrence, W.E.B. DuBois, and Eric
- “Remapping Modernist Internationalism: The American Hemisphere”
— Professors Anita Patterson, Bonnie Costello, and Jack Matthews,
all of the English department, will present new perspectives on three
modernist authors, Elizabeth Bishop, William Faulkner, and T.S. Eliot.
Established in 1971, the American and New England Studies Program at Boston University is an international center for the interdisciplinary study of American society — its arts, culture, history, institutions, literature, religion, and intellectual traditions. With an enrollment of more than 29,000 in its 17 schools and colleges, Boston University is the fourth-largest independent university in the United States, with an international enrollment of more than 4,400 students.