Annual Meeting 2017

Annual Conference of the German Association of American Studies
(Leibniz University, Hannover, Germany, June 8-11, 2017)

Local Organizer: Prof. Dr. Ruth Mayer

“Modernities and Modernization in North America“

Modernity is a quality that has been associated persistently with the United States, and that became a staple piece of US self-conceptualization. This long-standing ascription and (self-)stylization has been facilitated by the fact that modernity as a concept is highly negotiable; what is considered modern needs to be mapped out against the horizon of what is ancient—while the ancient is assessed on the grounds of what is considered modern. Debates around modernity and modernization stretch from the so-called age of exploration to our present moment. The relevance of concepts of modernity for North America thus manifests well before the founding of the United States: The very processes of settlement and colonization situate themselves, after all, in the context of the early modern period, and fashion themselves as negotiations of the ‘old’ and the ‘new.’ At the turn of the 20th century, such negotiations reached a tipping point when fundamental categories and concepts of spatial, temporal, and moral orientation came to be challenged and redefined.

The conference invites reflections on the technical and scientific implications of modernity and modernization, and on the forcefields of technology, ecology, and economy in the unfolding of Early America and the United States. The processes of industrialization, mediatization, commercialization, and of progressive political projects in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries will constitute important points of contention. Obviously, the idea of the ‘modern’ is tightly interlinked with the more specific idea of the ‘modernist’ in literature, the visual arts, theatre, film, and other areas of cultural expression. But the artistic and cultural engagements with modernity go well beyond the period of modernism, stretching from the colonial period to the present time and signaling across the borders of the North American continent. The conference also plans to address recent political debates on modernity and anti-modernity in their implication on negotiation of rights, belonging, and citizenship.


Ulla Haselstein is professor of American Literature (Chair) at the John F. Kennedy Institute, Freie Universität, Berlin. She was a research associate at the Center of Cultural Studies at UC Santa Cruz in 1993-94, a visiting professor of American Literature at UC Irvine in 2001, and an Aby Warburg Visiting Professor at the University of Hamburg at 2009. She has published widely on modernist and postmodernist literature, Native American Studies, holocaust literature, and literary theory. Her most recent book publications are the co-edited volumes The Cultural Career of Coolness(Rowman, 2013) and The Pathos of Authenticity (Winter, 2010). She is currently working on a book on Gertrude Stein. She is a recipient of an “Opus magnum” grant by the VW Foundation (2015-17) for her current book project “Gertrude Stein: Literary Portraits”.

Laura Horak is assistant professor for film studies at Carleton University. She investigates gender and sexuality in film history, with an emphasis on silent cinema and transgender, lesbian, and gay cinema cultures in the United States and Sweden. She teaches courses on film theory and historiography, passing and masquerade in cinema, sexuality in American cinema, women directors, queer Hollywood, and the body and visual technology. Her co-edited anthology, Silent Cinema and the Politics of Space(Indiana University Press, 2014) won the Society of Cinema and Media Studies’ Award for Best Edited Collection of 2014. Her most recent book is Girls Will Be Boys: Cross-dressed Women, Lesbians, and American Cinema, 1908-1934 (Rutgers 2016). She is currently writing a book on the work of Finnish-Swedish filmmaker Mauritz Stiller titled Cinema’s Oscar Wilde: Mauritz Stiller and the Production of Modern Sexuality. 

Michael North is professor of English at the University of California, Los Angeles. The primary focus of his teaching and scholarship is the Anglophone literature of the last hundred years, with particular concentration on race, politics, and the visual arts. He is the author of numerous books, including The Political Aesthetic of Yeats, Eliot and Pound(Cambridge, 1991), The Dialect of Modernism: Race, Language and Twentieth-Century Literature (Oxford, 1994), Reading 1922: A Return to the Scene of the Modern (Oxford, 1999), Camera Works: Photography and the Twentieth-Century Word (Oxford, 2005), Machine-Age Comedy (Oxford, 2009), and Novelty: A History of the New (Chicago, 2013). In addition, he has published articles on modern art, literature, and politics in journals including Critical Inquiry, American Literary HistoryAmerican LiteraturePMLA and Contemporary Literature. He has received a Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, a UC President’s Research Fellowship, the Modernist Studies Association Book Prize (2006), and the Robert Motherwell Book Award (2014). In 2012 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Anita Patterson is professor of English at Boston University. Her research focuses on American literature, modernism, and black poetry of the Americas, and her approach emphasizes transnational and intercultural dialogue. She published the books From Emerson to King:  Democracy, Race, and the Politics of Protest (Oxford, 1997) and  Race, American Literature and Transnational Modernisms (Cambridge, 2008). Her current book project, American Japonisme and Modernist Style, continues with the interest in transnationalism, intercultural exchange, and the American contexts of literary modernism, investigating an interdisciplinary approach in ordert o show how the opening of Japan, and the widening popular appeal of Japanese culture in the latter half of the nineteenth century, had a formative effect on the emergence of modernism.

Andreas Reckwitz is professor of cultural sociology at the Europa-University Viadrina at Frankfurt/ Oder. Andreas Reckwitz was visiting scholar and visiting professor at Berkeley, London, Vienna, Heidelberg, Bielefeld, Freiburg and St. Gallen.
In a number of books, he has pursued the aim of a ‘cultural’ theory of the social and of modernity. His publiations include Die Transformation der Kulturtheorien (The Transformation of Cultural Theories, Velbrück 2000), Das hybride Subjekt. Eine Theorie der Subjektkulturen von der bürgerlichen Moderne zur Postmoderne (The Hybrid Subject. From Bourgeois Modernity to Postmodernity, Velbrück 2006) and Die Erfindung der Kreativität. Zum Prozess gesellschaftlicher Ästhetisierung ( The Invention of Creativity. On the Process of Aesthetization, Suhrkamp 2012). Reckwitz’s current interests  are different forms of processes of aesthetization and regimes of novelty in modern society and their impacts on cultural alienation and emancipation; the specific contribution of urban and spatial development in this context; and the general question of how to understand cultural theory as a theory of materiality, considering the fluxus of artefacts, affects and senses. He is the recipient of an „Opus magnum“ grant (VW-foundation) for his current book project „Die Kulturalisierung der Gesellschaft“ („The Culturalization of Society“).