Karen A. Weyler, Empowering Words: Outsiders and Authorship in Early America. Reviewed by Philipp Schweighauser
Aug11

Karen A. Weyler, Empowering Words: Outsiders and Authorship in Early America. Reviewed by Philipp Schweighauser

KAREN A. WEYLER, Empowering Words: Outsiders and Authorship in Early America (Athens: U of Georgia P, 2013), 311 pp. Reviewed by Philipp Schweighauser Amerikastudien / American Studies 59.3 (2014)   In Empowering Words: Outsiders and Authorship in Early America, Karen A. Weyler gives a fascinating account of non-elites’ strategies—primarily collaborative writing and sponsorship by patrons and editors—to get their texts published during the radical expansion of American print culture from 1760 to 1815. Weyler’s book focuses on “those Americans without the advantages of an elite education, social class, or connections, who relied largely on their own labor for subsistence” (4) and “experienced significant constraints on their liberty and labor” (5). For many of the laborers, near-illiterates, slaves, indentured servants, unenfranchised, and women, whose texts Weyler considers, gaining access to print would have been impossible without elite support, first and foremost because most of them were poorly educated and could not write. In eighteenth-century America, “nonelite individuals often read reasonably well without being able to write much beyond their name, if that,” but their immersion in oral culture in many cases ensured that “being unable to write did not mean that one was unfamiliar with the rhetorical tropes or commonly expressed religious sentiments of the time” (7). Weyler sums up her observations concerning different degrees of literacy in an early statement that amounts to the book’s main thesis: “Participation in early American literary culture did not require functional literacy but rather a functional understanding of literacy and how it operated in Anglo-American culture” (8; emphasis in orig.).   What enables Weyler to trace the history of this highly heterogeneous group’s textual production is extensive archival research on ephemeral media (pamphlets, broadsides, newspapers), where outsiders published their captivity narratives, poems, formal addresses, and essays. Her inquiry takes us into hitherto unexplored territory not only in social terms but also in geographical terms, in her forages into archives outside of New England centers of cultural production. In methodological terms, Weyler usefully draws on what Jerome McGann calls ‘materialist hermeneutics,’ a recent approach that brings together the kind of text-based interpretation that literary scholars are most familiar with and book historians’ alertness to the materiality of texts.   Chapter one (“Mourning New England: Phillis Wheatley and the Broadside Elegy”) is devoted to a well-known writer who has a secure place in U.S. literary histories. In focusing on Phillis Wheatley’s early work rather than on her celebrated Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (1773), Weyler is able to sketch in great detail the strategies that allowed Wheatley to become the first African American to publish a book of poetry. These strategies included her participation...

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Annette Kolodny, In Search of First Contact: The Vikings of Vinland, the Peoples of Dawnland, and the Anglo-American Anxiety of Discovery. Reviewed by Johannes Fehrle
Aug11

Annette Kolodny, In Search of First Contact: The Vikings of Vinland, the Peoples of Dawnland, and the Anglo-American Anxiety of Discovery. Reviewed by Johannes Fehrle

ANNETTE KOLODNY, In Search of First Contact: The Vikings of Vinland, the Peoples of Dawnland, and the Anglo-American Anxiety of Discovery (Durham: Duke UP, 2012), 448 pp. Reviewed by Johannes Fehrle Amerikastudien / American Studies 59.3 (2014)   Annette Kolodny is no stranger in U.S. Americanist circles. Her 1980 article “Dancing Through the Minefields” has been called “the most reprinted essay in American feminist literary criticism;”[1] her seminal studies The Lay of the Land (1975) and The Land Before Her (1984) were major mile stones in ecofeminism; and her teaching, as well as her 1992 article “Letting Go of Our Grand Obsessions: Notes Towards a New Literary History of the American Frontiers,” have left their marks on Western and Early American literary and cultural criticism. Due in part to Kolodny, young scholars have increasingly included in their examinations of ideas of the West and its contact zones works of early American literature as well as works written in languages other than English. Given these achievements, Kolodny sets a high bar for her latest work when in the first lines of her prologue, a kind of personal genesis of the book, she positions In Search of First Contact as the endpoint of a fifty year career as a researcher.   In Search of First Contact brings together contact narratives from Native American and Norse oral traditions. Kolodny’s aim is to locate the first contact between America’s Native inhabitants and its first know European would-be colonizers, not so much in geography, but in cultural history. Much of the monograph deals with the political and identificatory use of the Vikings as imagined ancestors in nineteenth-century America, including histories of the many forgeries and misinterpretations of archaeological evidence this search for and identification with the ‘Northern races’ has led to over the past two hundred years. One of the basic premises of Kolodny’s work is already hinted at in her monograph’s subtitle, namely that there exists an Anglo-American anxiety concerning historical roots. For Kolodny, the interpretation of first contact narratives is clearly political, and her monograph is in part a political intervention in the discursive struggle surrounding the interpretation of the ‘discovery’ of the New World, which has too often been part of a veiled attempt to write Native American out of history and thereby justify the attempted genocide against them. In her attempt to set the historical record straight, it is part of Kolodny’s politics to treat her Native ‘sources’ with respect and responsibility. As she writes in her prologue, she consulted with her Native “helpers” (7) and asked them to correct her account of their stories and gave them last say over...

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Lawrence Buell, The Dream of the Great American Novel. Reviewed by Frank Gado
Aug11

Lawrence Buell, The Dream of the Great American Novel. Reviewed by Frank Gado

LAWRENCE BUELL, The Dream of the Great American Novel (Cambridge, MA; London: The Belknap Press of Harvard UP, 2014), 567 pages. Reviewed by Frank Gado Amerikastudien / American Studies 59.3 (2014) As treated in this ambitious study, the term Great American Novel recalls the overcooked noodle in the sink, elusive in direct proportion to the intensity of the effort to grasp it. Buell acknowledges the difficulty at the outset—only to then leap over it. Avowing that no single constellation of features can define what a broad range of writers have striven to achieve, he promises “not just a series of free-standing essays about N number of books,” but an examination partitioned according to four defining concepts, which he variously labels “templates,” “scenarios,” “recipes,” or (his preference) “scripts.” What might underlie these divisions as variations of an identifying American ‘dream,’ however, never emerges; consequently, the volume actually does consist of free-standing discussions that track no consistent thesis.   As the first and “surest guarantee of GAN candidacy,” Buell cites “a kind of master narrative,” repeatedly imitated and reinvented. How curious, then, that he neither delineates a profile of any such rudimentary narrative scheme in his immediate choice for the accolade, The Scarlet Letter, nor explains his claim of its recurrence in any of its alleged progeny, among which he lists Adam Bede, The Damnation of Theron Ware, Washington Square, The Portrait of a Lady, As I Lay Dying, a quartet of Updike novels, and even two dramas by Suzan-Lori Parks, In the Blood and Fucking A–. In what wildly distorted sense does Hester’s emblem function across more than sixteen decades as the “generative force” of a “master-text” somehow accommodating Celia Madden, Catherine Sloper, Isabel Archer, and Addie Bundren? It requires a heap of misreading to pledge them in the same sorority. In like manner, Hester’s scarlet bodice is elevated into a cultural “defining symbol,” reiterated in such diverse manifestations as the stain on Monia Lewinsky’s dress and, even, Mitt Romney’s sponsorship of healthcare legislation while Massachusetts governor. How can meanings so inconstant be said to define? Still more astonishing, Buell credits Hawthorne’s tale with having spawned numerous treatments of the “ordeals of immigrant transplantation,” from James’s The Europeans to Bharati Mukherjee’s The Holder of the World. Whatever the ordeal driving The Scarlet Letter may be (and Buell no more exfoliates its core meaning than does Hawthorne) it does not stem from immigrant transplantation.   Script Two, “Aspiration in America,” gathers what Buell calls “up-from” stories, tracing to Benjamin Franklin’s mythic Autobiography (a debatable lineage: it is obviously not a novel, and although its tale of upward mobility confirmed a basic American...

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Nina Reid-Maroney, The Reverend Jennie Johnson and African Canadian History, 1868-1967. Reviewed by Nele Sawallisch
Aug04

Nina Reid-Maroney, The Reverend Jennie Johnson and African Canadian History, 1868-1967. Reviewed by Nele Sawallisch

NINA REID-MARONEY, The Reverend Jennie Johnson and African Canadian History, 1868-1967 (Rochester: U of Rochester P, 2013), 186 pp. Reviewed by Nele Sawallisch Amerikastudien / American Studies 59.3 (2014)   In 1971, historian Robin Winks wrote the authoritative book on the African Canadian experience, covering three and a half centuries of the history of black people in Canada.[1] Although Winks’s survey has remained the most extensive work on this topic until today, it has also been a challenge to the emerging field of Black Canadian Studies: while on the one hand, it brought the history of Blacks in Canada to the fore and accused the falsified Canadian self-image as the ‘safe haven’ for black refugees from U.S.-American slavery, Winks’s book also offered disappointing conclusions. Winks subscribes to the myths of black lethargy and passivity as well as to an alleged lack of a “national heritage” to build a stable African Canadian identity (477), thereby ignoring and misinterpreting his own findings on black contributions to Canadian history. Therefore, historiography on Blacks in Canada has also meant writing in response to generalizing assumptions such as those propagated by Winks. Reid-Maroney’s The Reverend Jennie Johnson and African Canadian History, 1868-1967 can be read as such a response. It represents an effort to shed light on one chapter of Canadian history that, as a whole, has remained at the margins of national historiography for centuries. In fact, only in recent decades have scholars such as James Walker, Afua Cooper, George Elliott Clarke, and many others come to unearth the contributions of Blacks in Canada, claiming a place for them in Canadian textbooks, university curricula, and, on a larger scale, public memory. With this first full-fledged study of the Reverend Johnson’s life, Reid-Maroney engages in a process of “restoration” (x), of bringing back to our attention the story of one individual who, despite her unusual life (in more than one respect), has consciously been ‘lost’ in history.   Jennie Johnson was born in Dresden in 1868, one of the small settlements established in the first half of the nineteenth century by black refugees from U.S.-American slavery in Canada West, with deep roots in abolitionism on Canadian soil. By settling there, Johnson’s grandmother and grandfather, a fugitive himself, were at the heart of that “transatlantic debate about the political meaning of immigration to Canada West” (5). Johnson’s growing up in a tightly-knit community of former slaves and their descendants marked her and her struggle for black civil rights as an adult. From her extraordinary “resurrection”(58) as a seemingly stillborn child at birth, Jennie Johnson went on to lead a most unusual life for a woman in...

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Caroline Wagter, “Mouths on Fire with Songs:” Negotiating Multi-Ethnic Identities on the Contemporary North American Stage. Reviewed by Kurt Müller
Aug04

Caroline Wagter, “Mouths on Fire with Songs:” Negotiating Multi-Ethnic Identities on the Contemporary North American Stage. Reviewed by Kurt Müller

CAROLINE DE WAGTER, “Mouths on Fire with Songs:” Negotiating Multi-Ethnic Identities on the Contemporary North American Stage, Cross/Cultures: Readings in Post/Colonial Literatures and Cultures in English, Vol. 163 (Amsterdam & New York: Rodopi, 2013), 356 pp. Reviewed by Kurt Müller Amerikastudien / American Studies 59.3 (2014)   The present study takes its starting point from the observation that “in spite of flourishing theatrical activity across the North American stage, ethnic and indigenous dramatic productions continue to be neglected by scholarship” (xiv). Although there has been an ever increasing output of critical studies in that field over the past decades, De Wagter’s book represents a pioneering effort both with regard to its large scope and wealth of material and its methodological approach. Taking a cross-national and cross-ethnic comparative perspective, the study analyzes a corpus of twenty-five plays by sixteen different Canadian and U.S.-American playwrights of diverse (indigenous, African, and Asian/South Asian) and often mixed ethnic backrounds. The approach is based on the assumption that in spite of their great differences, all these plays and their authors “share typical markers of postcoloniality” (xv) and thus also share a common agenda: the deconstruction of the binary conceptions imposed by the colonialist discourse systems of ‘white’ Western culture. The theoretical foundation of the study is provided by the paradigm of postcolonial studies, a paradigm that replaces the (essentialist) multicultural model of basically static and fixed cultural identities with the more flexible and dynamic notion of identity construction as an ever-continuing process of change and ‘hybridization’, while at the same time stressing the ‘oppositional,’ ‘subversive,’ or ‘transgressive’ (etc.) potential of that process.   The study is divided into an introduction, four main chapters and a conclusion. The introduction provides the reader with a detailed and systematic exposition. Locating its own project within the contexts of the existing scholarly efforts relevant to the field, the study continues with a short but concise characterization of the historical origins and ideological implications of the American Dream and the idea of multiculturalism as the national founding myths of the United States and Canada respectively. This is followed by an equally concise overview of the multi-ethnic theater scene in both countries that stresses the close interrelationship between the social changes effected by the dynamics of immigration on the one hand and the development of a multi-ethnic theater on the other.   Reflecting on the terminolgy used in the study, the introduction furthermore discusses the problematic ideological implications of such terms as ‘multiculturalism,’ ‘melting pot,’ or ‘mosaic,’ adopting here the critical position and terminology of Stuart Hall who offers the term “multi-ethnic” as a concept “more appropriate to describe inter- and...

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Arnold Krupat, “That the People Might Live”: Loss and Renewal in Native American Elegy. Reviewed by Joanne van der Woude
Jul28

Arnold Krupat, “That the People Might Live”: Loss and Renewal in Native American Elegy. Reviewed by Joanne van der Woude

ARNOLD KRUPAT, “That the People Might Live”: Loss and Renewal in Native American Elegy (Ithaca and London: Cornell UP, 2012), 242pp. Reviewed by Joanne van der Woude Amerikastudien / American Studies 59.3 (2014)   Arnold Krupat, an authority in Native American autobiography, applies his analytical acumen to several different genres in his most recent book, reading widely in a tradition that he himself has helped to canonize. His insights are pithy—the main text runs only 170 pages—and will serve as jumping-off points for future scholars, one hopes, rather than as the definitive readings of an evocative selection of texts. Krupat is less interested in literary themes or figures of speech than in what “genres […] behaviorally […] do or functionally seek to bring about” (13; emphasis in orig.). Genres, in his definition, which is worth citing at length, must accomplish certain psychological, ritual, and religious ends: “to help bring about the appropriate ‘feeding,’ placating or ‘releasing’ the spirits of the dead, aiding their journey to the spirit land, commemorating or, indeed, helping the living to forget them. They also […] function to console the living, raise their spirits, and restore healthy communal relations, that the People [a collective of Native Americans] might live” (13).   Only when they fulfill these functions does Krupat consider (most of) the examined performances, ceremonies, speeches, autobiographies, and poems as ‘elegies.’ Although he refers to other important literary studies of the elegiac form (by Peter Sacks, Jahan Ramazani, and Max Cavitch) and thoughtfully engages Freud’s ideas of mourning and melancholia, this behavioral interpretation short-changes the Western tradition, which also defines elegies psychologically— they are “to praise, lament, and console”—both with regards to the deceased and the bereaved.[1] This matters because the European and Native elegy are thus more alike than Krupat thinks, in that they both contain programs for communal emotions, and Native expression thus need not (necessarily) be considered in a rarified realm of its own. Instead, Indian elegy could have benefitted from a consideration that charts its engagement(s) with white ways of textual mourning: for instance, the very first piece of poetry published by a Native American was an elegy in Latin and ancient Greek for Thomas Tacher, a Puritan minister, by a Harvard student known as Eleazar. Now, the mere mention of this poem is relegated to an endnote (n. 39, p. 206), which appears—probably through no fault of Krupat’s—in nearly illegibly small font.   However, there are many other things to love about this book, among them Krupat’s deft handling of ideas such as exile and Freud’s notion of melancholia. “Exile,” writes Krupat, should be seen as “a disruption in the...

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Wilfried Raussert and Graciela Martínez-Zalce, eds., (Re)Discovering ‘America’: Road Movies and Other Travel Narratives in North America/(Re)Discubriendo ‘America’: Road movie y otras narrativas de viaje en América del Norte. Reviewed by Julia Roth
Jul28

Wilfried Raussert and Graciela Martínez-Zalce, eds., (Re)Discovering ‘America’: Road Movies and Other Travel Narratives in North America/(Re)Discubriendo ‘America’: Road movie y otras narrativas de viaje en América del Norte. Reviewed by Julia Roth

WILFRIED RAUSSERT and GRACIELA MARTÍNEZ-ZALCE, eds., (Re)Discovering ‘America’: Road Movies and Other Travel Narratives in North America/(Re)Discubriendo ‘America’: Road movie y otras narrativas de viaje en América del Norte, Inter-American Studies/Estudios Interamericanos, Vol. 6 (Trier: WVT; Tempe, AZ: Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingüe, 2012), 242 pp. Reviewed by Julia Roth Amerikastudien / American Studies 59.3 (2014)   The volume (Re)Discovering ‘America’ pursues an ambitious objective. In the introduction the editors Wilfried Raussert (Bielefeld University) and Graciela Martínez-Zalce (University of Guadalajara) state that there is a re-emergence of road movies. As there are surprisingly few systematic studies on the road movie as a genre and far fewer on its relation to other literary, cultural, or cinematic traditions such as the travel narrative or the U.S.-American frontier myth, the volume at hand follows a path-finding critical endeavor in examining this little-studied form. Moreover, the editors seek to approach the traditionally U.S.-American and Hollywood-centric genre through an inter-American theoretical lens of ‘transculturality.’ Pursuing the aim of “widen[ing] American studies to the studies of the Americas” (7), the book includes “new and alternative road movies” (as stated on the book cover) from Mexico, the United States, and Canada. The authors place particular emphasis on analyzing the ways in which place and identity in alternative road movies are constructed through mobility as attempts to rediscover ‘America.’   Unlike in numerous other cultural studies publications claiming to be transcultural or transnational in scope, the proclaimed inter-American perspective is taken seriously here. The contributors to the volume analyze U.S.-American, Canadian, and Mexican movies and the volume includes an equal share of texts in Spanish and English (with a summary in the other language, respectively). The fact that such bilingual projects are still rather an exception than the rule implicitly alludes to the problem of the dominance of English in studies on the Americas whereby established scholars from the United States are ‘allowed’ to exclude other perspectives (because they are not in English).   Raussert and Martínez-Zalce further expand the methodological lens of ‘transculturality’ one can usually find as a new phenomenon in American and cultural studies by tracing the key concept of transculturality back to Latin American (and particularly Caribbean) thinkers who had worked out the concept long before it was turned into a ‘turn.’ Referring to Cuban theorist Fernando Ortíz, who came up with the concept of ‘transculturality,’ the editors suggest that “postnational discourses in North America Studies […] as well as the border discourses in German American Studies, are surely indebted to Ortiz’s earlier concept” (6). Theoretician Ángel Rama, who expanded Ortiz’s concept in his examination of narrative transculturation (which he saw most accomplished in the work...

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Irina Bauder-Begerow and Stefanie Schäfer, Learning 9/11: Teaching for Key Competences in Literary and Cultural Studies. Reviewed by Wolfgang Hochbruck
Jul28

Irina Bauder-Begerow and Stefanie Schäfer, Learning 9/11: Teaching for Key Competences in Literary and Cultural Studies. Reviewed by Wolfgang Hochbruck

IRINA BAUDER-BEGEROW and STEFANIE SCHÄFER, Learning 9/11: Teaching for Key Competences in Literary and Cultural Studies (Heidelberg: Winter, 2011), 302 pp. Reviewed by Wolfgang Hochbruck Amerikastudien / American Studies 59.3 (2014) This is a fascinating collection of essays. Simultaneously, it is a puzzling conglomerate of didactic and educational contentions and hypotheses. The very title, Learning 9/11, seems to state a necessity for an overhaul of traditional learning systems and methodologies in the wake of fundamental changes wrought by the effects of the 9/11 attacks. Not that there is unanimity about the importance of 9/11: Michael Butter and his co-editors have claimed that 9/11 did not change the world, and Stephan Packard and Ursula Hennigfeld have bid farewell to the catastrophe[1] that had originally triggered a plethora of cultural responses and a subsequent host of scholarly commentaries. Many of these cultural responses displayed a self-conscious (or unselfconscious) sense of inadequacy to begin with, and most of them have duly been forgotten by now. Most of the scholarly assessments will probably meet a similar fate. Case closed?   Not necessarily. The present collection, edited by former research assistants Bauder-Bergerow and Schäfer, at least partly in response to their own training in the Hochschuldidaktik program of the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, looks like a resolute response to the lurking suspicion that more than just the towers of the World Trade Center fell that day. Arguably, the ensuing (inter-)national paranoia in the United States and at least for a while also in parts of Europe still calls for a realignment of whole systems of teaching and learning. So the editors “propose to revive the connection between ‘learning about culture’ in higher education and ‘learning culture’ as a competence-based path to life-long learning and participation in society” (10). Which sounds good. And ominous.   Good, because one rather obvious reason for the efficacy of the 9/11 assassins was the breathtaking lack of cultural competence on the part of cultural analysts, researchers, and ultimately security personnel in identifying and eliminating the threat that eventually led to the spectacular success of the attacks. The first instance of “Learning 9/11”, one might claim, took place on board Flight 97, where a handful of passengers and crew gained a tragic insight into the limited agency they still had regarding their own lives—and acted on that.   Ominous, because more often than not the editors and contributors alike seem to share the basic twenty-first-century German fear to tread in any other mode than softly. The response offered in the introduction is the focus on “key competences” that are identified as “reading, writing, intercultural and media competences” (14, cf. 10). Is that...

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Daniel Horowitz, Consuming Pleasures: Intellectuals and Popular Culture in the Postwar World. Reviewed by Günter Leypoldt
Jul28

Daniel Horowitz, Consuming Pleasures: Intellectuals and Popular Culture in the Postwar World. Reviewed by Günter Leypoldt

DANIEL HOROWITZ, Consuming Pleasures: Intellectuals and Popular Culture in the Postwar World (Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 2012), xii + 491 pp. Reviewed by Günter Leypoldt Amerikastudien / American Studies 59.3 (2014)   Almost from its eighteenth-century beginnings, the rise of a commercialized literary market has polarized critics into despisers and defenders—those who associate ‘mass culture’ with the mindless consumption of easy pleasures (in contrast to the emancipatory pleasures of a high-cultural aesthetic) and those who praise ‘popular culture’ for its down-to-earth connection with the soul of common folk (in contrast to an austere and detached avant-garde). Daniel Horowitz’s Consuming Pleasures, an intellectual history of post-WWII cultural criticism in the United States (in transatlantic perspective), seeks to historicize this dichotomy by tracing a shift from the despising to the defending attitude between the 1950s and the 1970s. He suggests that during this period “writers came to envision popular culture and consumer culture in fresh and provocative ways,” which led them to critique “cultural hierarchies and moralistic approaches to commercial culture” and to emphasize “playfulness and pleasure” (1) as legitimate goals of literary-aesthetic reception. It does not come as a surprise that the 1960s weakened some of the more rigid cultural hierarchies, but Horowitz contextualizes the shifting critical climate in a number of significant post-WWII developments: the social transitions that accompany the rise of consumer culture, the changing position of literary criticism as a source of cultural legitimacy within the humanities and social sciences, the tensions of political ideologies in the Cold War period, and an evolving sense of what it means to speak about the popular.   Horowitz’s main interest lies in the changing views of consumption, an interest he pursued in two of his critically acclaimed earlier books. His study on The Morality of Spending: Attitudes towards the Consumer Society in America, 1875-1940 (Baltimore, 1985) showed how the economic transformation of the United States between the Gilded Age and WWII was accompanied by a profound dread of the commercialization of life: where an earlier generation of nineteenth-century social critics (from Tocqueville to Veblen) framed the moral dangers of money with images of a lower-class lack of restraint, early twentieth-century observers worried about how the rise of a consumer culture might reduce the American middle classes to passive followers of emotionally empty conventions. In The Anxieties of Affluence: Critiques of American Consumer Culture, 1939-1979 (Amherst, 2004), Horowitz then traced the intellectual’s suspicion of unrestrained consumption into the second half of the twentieth century. The present volume seems to be a companion piece of sorts, focusing on how the more traditional moralistic attitude of cultural consumption was gradually displaced by a...

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Anja Werner, The Transatlantic World of Higher Education: Americans at German Universities, 1776-1914. Reviewed by Annette G. Aubert
Jul28

Anja Werner, The Transatlantic World of Higher Education: Americans at German Universities, 1776-1914. Reviewed by Annette G. Aubert

ANJA WERNER, The Transatlantic World of Higher Education: Americans at German Universities, 1776-1914 (New York: Berghahn Books, 2013), xiii + 329 pp. Reviewed by Annette G. Aubert Amerikastudien / American Studies 59.3 (2014) In the nineteenth century, a total of 9,000 to 10,000 American students attended Germany’s best universities. A growing number of German and American scholars have been exploring how the influences of German education shaped America’s higher education system during that time, while acknowledging the limitations of attempts to duplicate German educational paradigms. One of the earlier research efforts in this area was Jurgen Herbst’s German Historical School in American Scholarship (1965), a broad investigation of the influence of German higher education on the American disciplines of history, religion, philosophy, and the social sciences. Three decades later a group of German and American scholars contributed to a collection of articles edited by Henry Geitz, Jürgen Heideking, and Jurgen Herbst under the title German Influences on Education in the United States to 1917 (1995), in which they explored German educational influences on America, from nursery schools to universities, and in individual disciplinary and interdisciplinary contexts. Also, in Americans and German Scholarship, 1770–1870 (1978), Carl Diehl described in broad strokes the effects of German education on Americans who studied in Germany during that period.   Anja Werner has written a noteworthy addition to this topic in the form of a comprehensive analysis of the nineteenth-century American student migration to Germany. By addressing an important gap in the history of American higher education, she clarifies our understanding of the lives of American students attending German universities at Göttingen, Halle, Leipzig, and Heidelberg from 1776 to 1914. Using a range of archival sources to establish a comprehensive description of American student life abroad, Werner adds telling details on student migration patterns, the makeup of student communities in the American colonies, and aspects of academic networks, details that previous scholars have glossed over.   Academic networking is the prominent theme in this book. Werner provides valuable insights in the form of both statistical data and biographical information and considers a broad range of topics such as gender diversity, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disabilities, economic factors, and even military history. While her book cannot be viewed as a significant break from previous research, Werner has made an important contribution to the research of American student life in Germany in terms of personal educational experiences.   In the first of eight chapters, Werner reviews five periods in American educational reform, touching on topics such as military conflicts and the history of Southern higher education. She reminds us that “the South also left its imprint on student...

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Werner Sollors, The Temptation of Despair: Tales of the 1940s. Reviewed by Christa Buschendorf
Jul28

Werner Sollors, The Temptation of Despair: Tales of the 1940s. Reviewed by Christa Buschendorf

WERNER SOLLORS, The Temptation of Despair: Tales of the 1940s (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2014), 400pp. Reviewed by Christa Buschendorf Amerikastudien / American Studies 59.3 (2014) Distance may distort our view on history. In the case of the post-World War II era, the success story of German economic recovery and democratic reeducation has come to dominate our understanding of the emergence of the postwar order. We focus on the outcome, a prosperous Federal Republic of Germany reintegrated into Western Europe, rather than being aware of the utterly vanquished country staggering out of the catastrophe of the war and its atrocities. In taking us back to the general atmosphere and the common experiences of ordinary people (Germans, Americans, Europeans, survivors of the Holocaust, soldiers, refugees, etc.) living in occupied Germany in the years from 1945 to 1948, Sollors recaptures a past that is by now unfamiliar to most of us, especially the younger generation. His Tales of the 1940s draw on a wide variety of sources, including published and unpublished personal documents such as letters, (revised) diaries and (post festum edited) autobiographies; various media, such as newspaper articles, photographs, cartoons; official data, such as the famous denazification questionnaire, government statistics and reports; as well as fictional narratives in the form of novels, short stories, and movies. Instead of expressing relief of having survived devastation, all these contemporary voices convey a deep sense of suffering either experienced or witnessed, and, consequently, they disseminate a mood of profound anguish. The tales they tell are deeply upsetting. As Sollors explains, the expression ‘the temptation of despair’ occurs in Georges Bernanos’s 1926 novel Sous le soleil de Satan. Grappling with the Christian deadly sin of losing hope, it obviously hit the nerve of the postwar decade, so that the German translation Die Sonne Satans—published in a rororo paperback edition in 1950—instantly became a bestseller (7).   The Temptation of Despair is far from being yet another history of postwar Germany. Each of the six chapters focuses on significant everyday-life experiences—liberation, life in ruins, confrontation with the notion of collective guilt, denazification, black market, etc. —as each chapter takes its departure from a specific date that in turn is connected to a particular source. Chapter two, for example, is entitled “May 7, 1945,” a date that refers not only to the capitulation of Germany but also to the publication of Life magazine’s cover story on “The German People,” which contained an iconic photograph by the English documentary photographer George Rodger with the caption “A small boy strolls down a road lined with dead bodies near camp at Belsen.” In the context of the documentation of liberated...

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Carl H. Nightingale, Segregation: A Global History of Divided Cities. Reviewed by Maria Daxenbichler
Jul28

Carl H. Nightingale, Segregation: A Global History of Divided Cities. Reviewed by Maria Daxenbichler

CARL H. NIGHTINGALE, Segregation: A Global History of Divided Cities (Chicago and London: U of Chicago P, 2012), 536 pp. Reviewed by Maria Daxenbichler  Amerikastudien / American Studies 59.3 (2014)   In Segregation: A Global History of Divided Cities, Carl H. Nightingale traces the development of urban segregation from ancient cities to the twenty-firstcentury. He argues that from the seventeenth century onward, race became the most important component of urban segregation and that it has become a worldwide phenomenon because cities have been, and still are, interconnected. The main profiteers of racial urban segregation have been the white inhabitants of cities. They intentionally created institutions such as “governments, networks of intellectual exchange, and […] the modern capitalist real estate industry” (5) to create and uphold racial segregation. This institutional structure rests on “more broadly held beliefs, ideas, and customs” (7) that sustain its power.   The color lines segregation draws are never clear, Nightingale argues, because the segregation of cities—which are by definition places of human interaction—is a paradox. The “ideas, interests, and practices people mobilize for or against segregation are complex” (10), and the powers that keep segregation in place constantly have to negotiate between their interests and movements of resistance. Nightingale points out that the ways segregation affected cities are diverse and messy, yet he argues that there are “long-distance connections” (10) between segregationists around the world. While he writes that a transnational analysis of these connections offers “richer contexts for comparisons between cities” (10), Nightingale does not focus on comparing cities’ histories but rather on the connections between them.   The segregation of cities has always been a means by which elite groups enhance their power and wealth (2); only the definition of who constitutes the dominant group changed. Nightingale argues that institutional racial segregation of cities started in British colonies in India. The attempt to make settlements for only white people had already been practiced in the earliest settler colonies in the Americas. However, only the “demographic, economic, and political circumstances” (55) of the East India Company in Madras at the end of the seventeenth century made city officials build a wall around “Christian Town,” which was designated to Europeans, to separate it from “Black Town” (61), which was designated to Indians. In the early eighteenth century, they replaced the term ‘Christian’ to define themselves with ‘white,’ following a trend that had started in British colonies in the West Indies and America. By the end of the eighteenth century, the Atlantic slave trade had connected the categories ‘black’ and ‘white’ to the concept of race and made it “one of the most successful concepts in global...

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Miles Orvell and Klaus Benesch, eds., Rethinking the American City: An International Dialogue. Reviewed by Gerd Hurm
Jul28

Miles Orvell and Klaus Benesch, eds., Rethinking the American City: An International Dialogue. Reviewed by Gerd Hurm

MILES ORVELL and KLAUS BENESCH, eds., Rethinking the American City: An International Dialogue (Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 2014), 245 pp. Reviewed by Gerd Hurm Amerikastudien / American Studies 59.3 (2014) Paradoxes provide great tools for challenging well-trodden mental paths and for creating alertness in slumbering minds. Henry David Thoreau’s classic “The light which puts out our eyes is darkness to us” awakens readers into awareness that seeing may not be directly translated into insight and that what you see may not necessarily be what you get. Cities are a paradigmatic case in point. What you see in a city need not be of its own urban making. In their compelling essay collection Rethinking the American City, editors Miles Orvell and Klaus Benesch also challenge readers promptly with a paradox by urban historian Mike Davis. Contradicting conventional assessments of the relationship between the current climate crisis and contemporary American cities, Davis holds that “the single most important cause of global warming—the urbanization of humanity—is also potentially the principal solution to the problem of human survival in the later twenty-first century” (xii). At first glance it seems inadequate to call darkness light, suggesting that the unsustainability evident in cities such as Los Angeles, New York, or Phoenix will provide the solution to our environmental crisis. Since the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Communiqué, we have been aware of the admonition that “the future of our globe will be won or lost in cities of the world” (30) and that, as a consequence of this observation, adjustment, and change in cities is inevitable. Davis’s paradoxical solution that cities may provide the means to overcome the climate crisis can be addressed on two levels. What Davis argues is that the horizontal expansion of urban sprawl as one of the major causes of climate change is actually driven by an “anti-urban” or “suburban” impulse (xii). What he suggests as a solution is to follow the “classically urban” impulse to integrate work, recreation, and home life in compact dense neighborhoods and thus move toward a virtuous urban ecological future.   The Davis paradox can then be understood as a question of defining ‘urban’ properly. What a city means and how it functions is a key question. However, this question still remains unanswered in urban studies even after the much promoted ‘spatial turn’ in recent decades. As Dolores Hayden rightly points out in her foreword to the volume, “definitions of key terms such as space, place […] urban, and suburban remain controversial” (viii). It is therefore also one of the aims of the volume to make sense of the “messiness” in the meaning of “space and place” (xv)....

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