Alfred Hornung, ed. Obama and Transnational American Studies (Heidelberg: Winter, 2016), 528 pp.
Apr13

Alfred Hornung, ed. Obama and Transnational American Studies (Heidelberg: Winter, 2016), 528 pp.

Alfred Hornung, ed. Obama and Transnational American Studies (Heidelberg: Winter, 2016), 528 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 62.4     American Studies have come a long way, as have American politics. In a geopolitical sense, the new millennium began on September 11th 2001, a date that has been regarded as marking the end of the American Century, and reached a decisive new stage with the election of Barack Obama in November 2008. At the convention of the American Studies Association in 2004, Shelley Fisher Fishkin in her Presidential Speech declared the necessity of Transnational American Studies. The historical moment had come to shift gears and negotiate the post-1989 geopolitical constellation after the official end of the East-West confrontation. While the West and liberal capitalism seemed to have won, and some authors such as Francis Fukuyama even fantasized about the end of history, this optimistic decade ended with 9/11. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the economic success of China, and more generally shifting global power relations led leading members of important U.S. think tanks to speak of a multipolar world in which the U.S. is still the strongest nation, yet no longer in an unchallenged position. Transnational American Studies can be understood as a shift of focus within US-American Studies, and also as an opening up towards American Studies abroad. As the editor of Obama and Transnational American Studies writes: “The conception and proliferation of TAS by the American Studies Association and partner associations on a global scale were part of an intellectual and academic procedure to provide an egalitarian basis of scholarly cooperation in discussing the role of U.S. culture and politics in the world (Fishkin,; Hornung 2004)” (ix). The notion of transnationalism began its ascent after the debates about multiculturalism had reached their peak in the 1980s, yet can already be found in Randolph Bourne’s 1916 claim for a “Transnational America.” While the concept is linked to the call for the equality of different cultures, the focus on plurality within one nation is no longer able to capture the increasing divided and multiplied identities of people who continue to have allegiances with several countries at once. In a globalizing world, being characterized by increasing time-space compression and a high level of interconnectedness, digitalization and high-frequency trading, national boundaries no longer seem to be of the first priority. Moreover, American culture and literature have not only been made up of traces of many cultures from its beginning, but there have always been people who had allegiances to several nations, moving back and forth between them. The election of Barack Obama as 44th President of the U.S. can be understood...

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Brooke L. Blower and Mark Philip Bradley, eds., The Familiar Made Strange: American Icons and Artifacts after the Transnational Turn (Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 2015), 224 pp.
Apr13

Brooke L. Blower and Mark Philip Bradley, eds., The Familiar Made Strange: American Icons and Artifacts after the Transnational Turn (Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 2015), 224 pp.

Brooke L. Blower and Mark Philip Bradley, eds., The Familiar Made Strange: American Icons and Artifacts after the Transnational Turn (Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 2015), 224 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 62.4     Over the past two decades the term, concept, and theoretical approach of transnationalism has been increasingly in vogue. “American studies has,” as Rüdiger Kunow aptly phrases it, “been entranced by the trans.”[1] At the same time, the transnational turn in American Studies and American History is in dire need of disentangling itself from an exceptionalist grasp without giving up its critical potential. Bryce Traister observes rather cynically that “transnationalist American Studies amounts to another version of the exceptionalist critical practice it would decry.”[2] However, the The Familiar Made Strange: American Icons and Artifacts after the Transnational Turn heeds Winfried Fluck’s call, who defines the transnational turn’s goal as “the redefinition of the field of American studies as transnational, transatlantic, transpacific, hemispheric, or even global studies” and cautions Americanists not to run away “from the task and interpretive challenge for which it was created,” namely “the analysis of the cultural sources of American power.”[3] To this end, the editors Brooke L. Blower and Mark Philip Bradley assembled a diverse set of essays on a variety of iconic cultural productions. The American icons discussed range from paintings, photographs, artifacts, documents, songs and speeches to books and films. According to Webster’s dictionary definition, icons are “object[s] of uncritical veneration” and frequently emotional. This definition draws attention to the connection between icons and a culture of affect. In other words—and applied to a US-American context—icons condense, translate and emotionalize common beliefs or represent aspects or virtues that are perceived as national American characteristics. They offer themselves for emotional appropriation and ideological identification by emphasizing consensus over conflict.[4] Yet, what happens if the same icons are made subjects of “transnational methods, processes and contexts” (5) of investigation? Let me say as much at this point: Blower and Bradley rightfully call the result of their endeavor “surprising, unsettling, even subversive” (6). In good neo-historicist fashion the editors introduce the subject and agenda of their volume with a paradigmatic example. They refuse to read Grant Wood’s 1930 painting American Gothic, which has been described as “unmistakably, quintessentially American,” (1) through an “exceptionalist lens” (5) and instead subject the painting to a thoroughly transnational examination. They argue that Wood, inspired by journeys across the Atlantic, domesticated European architectural elements and experimented with sexual identity and desires in this particular painting. While the iconic status of American Gothic is hardly an issue to be debated, not all items studied in the collection of essays would...

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Udo J. Hebel, ed., Transnational American Studies (Heidelberg: Winter, 2012), American Studies Monograph Series, no. 222. 644 pp.
Apr13

Udo J. Hebel, ed., Transnational American Studies (Heidelberg: Winter, 2012), American Studies Monograph Series, no. 222. 644 pp.

Udo J. Hebel, ed., Transnational American Studies (Heidelberg: Winter, 2012), American Studies Monograph Series, no. 222. 644 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 62.4     In his often-cited essay “Conceiving and Researching Transnationalism” Steven Vertovec broadly defined transnationalism in 1999 as the “multiple ties and interactions linking people or institutions across the borders of the nation-states” (447).[1] Since then, international and interdisciplinary scholarship has provided further insights on transnationalism as theory, concept, and experience. In the field of American Studies, Shelley Fisher Fishkin’s famous and influential call for “a transnational turn” in 2004 contributed to end of the so-called “American Century,” with researchers challenging long-established and multi-faceted boundaries and national foci over the past years and institutionalizing that very idea of a transnational turn in the first decade of the third Millennium. In June 2011, significant academic representatives in the ongoing debates about the “present state and future transnational agenda of the discipline of American Studies” (3) gathered at the University of Regensburg for the 58th Annual Conference of the German Association for American Studies. There they discussed and critically assessed from an international and interdisciplinary angle how “transnational approaches and comparative perspectives support and emphasize the exploration of multidirectional processes of cultural and political interaction and transfer” (4). Transnational American Studies, the conference topic, became also the title for the collection of the thirty papers chosen and developed out of that conference and published a year later by the Universitätsverlag Winter in Heidelberg. Edited by Udo Hebel, a leading German Americanist and current president of the University of Regensburg, Transnational American Studies with its overall 644 pages makes a substantial and insightful contribution to the debate as it documents numerous changes and challenges inherent in a transnational conception of American Studies at that time. In his nine-page-introduction, Hebel first quickly sketches “the multifaceted history of the theoretical paradigm of transnational American studies” (3) in a national and global context and then briefly touches on the three-day conference in Regensburg, the design of which corresponds to the setup of the book. The publication of the conference proceedings is divided into three sections, with the five keynote lectures in section one, twenty-four revised workshop papers in section two entitled “Voices, Perspectives, and Projects in Transnational American Studies” (145), and finally the six opening statements the panel discussions at the end of the conference. The later are compiled under the heading “Visions for Transnational American Studies” (613) and are grouped together with Klaus Benesch’s summary assessment. Overall, the contributors to Transnational American Studies come from four different countries and three continents, whereby keynote speaker Ian Tyrrell’s plenary paper adds a welcoming and...

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Caroline Frank, Objectifying China, Imagining America: Chinese Commodities in Early America (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2011), 257 pp.
Apr13

Caroline Frank, Objectifying China, Imagining America: Chinese Commodities in Early America (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2011), 257 pp.

Caroline Frank, Objectifying China, Imagining America: Chinese Commodities in Early America (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2011), 257 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 62.4     According to data released by China and the U.S., by the end of 2015, the U.S. had become China’s second largest trading partner, its largest export market, and the fourth largest source of imports to China, and China has exceeded Canada to become the largest trading partner of the U.S. for the first time. Maintaining a good China-U.S. economic relationship is vital for the well-development and prosperity of economies in both countries. Leaders in both countries are well aware of that. That’s why U.S. President Barack Obama travelled to China for the first time on November 16, 2009, not long after his assuming of office. In the Museum of Science and Technology, Shanghai, President Obama held a town hall meeting with Chinese youth. In his remarks, Obama traced America’s early relationship with China to 1784 when the commissioned ship Empress of China sailed to Canton, China.   In 1784, our founding father, George Washington[1], commissioned the Empress of China, a ship that set sail for these shores so that it could pursue trade with the Qing Dynasty. Washington wanted to see the ship carry the flag around the globe, and to forge new ties with nations like China.  This is a common American impulse—the desire to reach for new horizons, and to forge new partnerships that are mutually beneficial.[2]   By tracing America’s economic relationship with China to the eighteenth century, Obama wants to display to Chinese people how the U.S. and China have been closely related in an economic sense since the very early period of America’s foundation. However, he could have done an even better job in appealing to his Chinese audience had he known Caroline Frank’s book Objectifying China, Imagining America published two years after his speech, which shows with much material evidence that America’s commercial engagement with China could be dated back to a much earlier time—the 1690s. When America won political independence from Britain in 1783, the economic situation was desperate as the young nation was cut off from the profitable trade with the West Indies by Britain. Therefore, American merchants began to look elsewhere for new trade—the Asian market—and began trade with China. The Empress of China, for example, achieved great commercial success. This is the conventional historical discourse. Frank, however, dates the story almost a century earlier to the late seventeenth century, proving with material evidence and occasionally with personal anecdotes and individual life stories that colonial Americans went to China, where a massive market was believed...

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Mark G. Spencer, ed., The Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of the American Enlightenment (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2015), 2 vols., xxxvi + 1215 pp.
Apr13

Mark G. Spencer, ed., The Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of the American Enlightenment (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2015), 2 vols., xxxvi + 1215 pp.

Mark G. Spencer, ed., The Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of the American Enlightenment (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2015), 2 vols., xxxvi + 1215 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 62.4     As to its scope, substance, and usability, this new reference work deserves nothing but praise. Interdisciplinary in perspective and over ten years in the making, The Bloomsbury Encyclopedia offers no fewer than 519 entries by 370 authors from sixteen countries on four continents[1]—an awe-inspiring achievement by Mark Spencer, a historian at Brock University in Canada, who edited and coordinated this megaproject. Of the 519 entries in the encyclopedia’s two hardcover volumes, 360 (almost 70 percent) are biographical, with considerable space being devoted to such leading figures as John Adams, Jonathan Edwards, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Thomas Paine, David Ramsay, David Rittenhouse, Benjamin Rush, George Washington, and John Witherspoon, but fortunately also including articles on “lesser lights of the American Enlightenment” (xxxii), such as the botanist Jane Colden. The remaining 159 entries (about 30 percent) are thematic, covering a broad spectrum of topics in fields as diverse as politics, religion, philosophy, education, literature, music, painting, architecture, philanthropy, geography, medicine, agriculture, science, or technology (cf. xxxiii-xxxiv). Taken together, these entries form a comprehensive source of reference and a welcome addition to the monographs, anthologies, journals, and electronic databases that have traditionally been used to study or teach the period between roughly 1720 and 1820.[2] As to thematic inclusiveness, conceptual depth, and theoretical topicality, there are some caveats however. Although one might argue that a project of such magnitude, by necessity, must be incomplete, which is true enough, some of the absences in The Bloomsbury Encyclopedia clearly have deeper structural causes. That one looks in vain for biographical entries on Richard Allen, Quobna Ottobah Cugoano, James Albert Ukawsaw Gronniosaw, Briton Hammon, Lemuel Haynes, John Marrant, Ignatius Sancho, Venture Smith, or David Walker, for instance—African American and Afro-British writers[3] presented and discussed in seminal collections such as Black Atlantic Writers of the Eighteenth Century ([ed. Potkay and Burr] 1995), Unchained Voices ([ed. Carretta] 1996), or Genius in Bondage ([ed. Carretta and Gould] 2001), some of them mentioned in John Saillant’s article on “African Americans” (22-30)—can be traced directly to the lack of a thematic and conceptual entry on the “black Atlantic,” a key paradigm of cultural analysis in American studies, introduced by Paul Gilroy in The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (1993). Analogously, the neglect of the “red Atlantic”—explored in Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: Merchant Seamen, Pirates, and the Anglo-American Maritime World, 1700-1750 (1987) by Marcus Rediker and The Many-Headed Hydra (2000) by Linebaugh and Rediker—helps...

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