WILLIAM EARL WEEKS, The New Cambridge History of American Foreign Relations, Vol. 1: Dimensions of the Early American Empire, 1754-1865 (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2013), 336 pp.
May18

WILLIAM EARL WEEKS, The New Cambridge History of American Foreign Relations, Vol. 1: Dimensions of the Early American Empire, 1754-1865 (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2013), 336 pp.

WILLIAM EARL WEEKS, The New Cambridge History of American Foreign Relations, Vol. 1: Dimensions of the Early American Empire, 1754-1865 (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2013), 336 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies 60.2/3     The 4-volume Cambridge History of American Foreign Relations—written by leading scholars in the field—has been a knowledgeable, readable, reliable, and useful introduction to U.S. diplomatic history from the foundation of the republic to date. However, since its publication dates back twenty years, the editor, Warren I. Cohen, made the decision to revise the book series to incorporate the scholarship of the last two decades and consequently asked each individual author to update their contributions. Because Bradford Perkins, writer of the first volume in 1993, deceased in 2008, Cohen chose William Earl Weeks, Lecturer in History at San Diego State University, to write a new monograph on the early phase of U.S. foreign relations. Weeks is most successful in providing an erudite and informative overview—reflective of recent trends in diplomatic history such as the connection of foreign policy and domestic politics, the incorporation of non-state actors, transnational movements of ideas and peoples, and global interdependences—in his discussions of post-1815 U.S. foreign relations. This is not surprising, since it is the period for which Weeks has earned himself the reputation of a preeminent expert through important previous publications.[1] The focus of his research interests is also revealed by the fact that the antebellum period makes up two thirds of the book, whereas the early republic is dealt with only in the remaining third (in Perkins’s book the relation was the other way round). By treating America as an empire, Weeks leaves behind traditional divisions of foreign and domestic affairs. For example, by arguing that California was such an alluring target since it offered suitable entrepôts for Asian markets, he connects American territorial expansionism in North America and commercial expansionism throughout the world (149-50). He, moreover, includes detailed discussions of the Missouri Crisis, the Wilmot Proviso, and the Kansas-Nebraska-Act—topics which treatments of American diplomatic history usually ignore; Perkins failed to even mention these events in his account. More than his predecessor, Weeks elaborates on the sectional differences and the nexus between expansionism and the collapse of the union, hinting at the fear that southern slaveholders could expand the union (and consequently increase the number of slave-holding states) to Mexico and the Caribbean, making it urgent for Republicans in 1860 to end the expansion of slavery once and for all (237, 245). Blurring the lines between domestic and diplomatic history, Weeks also gives the Civil War a prominent place in his account, devoting an entire chapter each to its origins and...

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JAMES NAGEL, The American Short Story Handbook (Malden, MA; Oxford: Wiley Blackwell, 2015), 315 pp
May18

JAMES NAGEL, The American Short Story Handbook (Malden, MA; Oxford: Wiley Blackwell, 2015), 315 pp

JAMES NAGEL, The American Short Story Handbook (Malden, MA; Oxford: Wiley Blackwell, 2015), 315 pp. Amerikastudien/American Studies 60.2/3   This book is part of the Wiley Blackwell Literature Handbooks-series, which, as the blurb reads, “offers the student thorough and lively introductions to literary periods, movements, and, in some instances, authors and genres [. . .] in volumes that are as stimulating to read as they are convenient to use.” James Nagel’s The American Short Story Handbook delivers on all these promises and more. After a brief introduction the book falls into three parts. The first of these is a historical overview of major periods, which is subdivided into four subchapters, predictably the American Renaissance, here called the Age of Romanticism, Realism and Naturalism, American Modernism, and the Contemporary American Short Story. Not so predictably, this historical overview begins with a chapter on the American Story to Washington Irving, counteracting the wide-spread cliché that the American short story starts with Washington Irving. The period section is followed by an author section, discussing twenty notable short story writers from Irving, Poe, and Hawthorne to Jamaica Kincaid, Tim O’Brien, and Louise Erdrich. The third and last major section is devoted to the presentation and interpretation of thirty-two individual stories, ranging from Benjamin Franklin’s “The Speech of Polly Baker” (1747) and Ruri Colla’s “The Story of the Captain’s Wife and an Aged Woman” (1789) to Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral” (1982), Amy Tan’s “The Joy Luck Club” (1989), and Judith Cofer’s “Nada” (1992). Although not all of the authors discussed are represented by stories, there is a certain overlap of stories which are presented in both the author and the stories section. This is useful for many readers who will foreseeably consult individual sections rather than read the whole book. The book is rounded off by a glossary of critical terms and a selected bibliography. The latter lists many useful studies of aspects of the short story from Fred Lewis Pattee’s groundbreaking history of the genre of 1923 to The Penguin Book of Lesbian Short Stories, edited by Margaret Reynolds in 1994.[1] It also indicates Nagel’s own stupendous expertise in the field by listing his authored books on the contemporary short story cycle and on New Orleans story-telling, as well as the Anthology of the American Short Story (2008) he edited and A Companion to the American Short Story (2010) he co-edited with Alfred Bendixen.[2] Both these last-mentioned volumes are ideal companion pieces to The American Short Story Handbook for the more dedicated student of the American short story. The voluminous anthology contains most of the stories discussed in the Handbook. Unfortunately, it carries a...

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ALFRED BENDIXEN and STEPHEN BURT, eds. The Cambridge History of American Poetry (New York: Cambridge UP, 2015), 1326 pp.
May18

ALFRED BENDIXEN and STEPHEN BURT, eds. The Cambridge History of American Poetry (New York: Cambridge UP, 2015), 1326 pp.

ALFRED BENDIXEN and STEPHEN BURT, eds. The Cambridge History of American Poetry (New York: Cambridge UP, 2015), 1326 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies 60.2/3     As Alfred Bendixen and Stephen Burt note in their introduction to The Cambridge History of American Poetry, there have been “surprisingly few attempts to provide a literary history of poetry in the United States” (1-2). While there are several useful introductions to twentieth-century American poetry, not a single comprehensive one-volume history has been published since Jay Parini’s Columbia History of American Poetry (1998). The much-awaited Cambridge History of American Poetry impressively fills this gap and provides today’s readers with a resource encyclopedic in scope yet organized in a clear, accessible manner. The book consists of 50 chapters, each by a different contributor, that cover the major figures, movements, and trajectories in American poetry from its beginnings in the Native American oral tradition to the turn of the twenty-first century. These chapters are organized in four sections: “Beginnings” (to 1800), “A New Nation” (1800-1900), “Forms of Modernism” (1900-1950), and “Beyond Modernism” (1950-2000). While the first and fourth sections foreground general trends and developments, the middle sections tend to focus on individual poets and elucidate broader developments by contextualizing these poets against their literary and historical backgrounds. What all chapters have in common is that they are written to be read independently of one another. Each provides a well-rounded discussion of the topic at hand and repeats information introduced in previous chapters if necessary. This approach helps the volume avoid the unifying claims and grand narratives of classic literary histories—a strategy that, as Burt points out in the concluding chapter, is typical not only of contemporary scholarship but of contemporary American poetry as well (1144). While this strategy results in occasional inconsistencies—the work of Yvor Winters, for example, is repeatedly cited for its influence on later poets but never discussed in itself—it produces a remarkable diversity of opinion, especially on controversial figures like Allen Tate. It is a commonplace in contemporary scholarship that any critical assessment of a writer is influenced by the critic’s own socio-cultural perspective. The Cambridge History of American Poetry puts this idea into practice. Yet most of the contributors seem to share a set of basic methodological principles. While some chapters merely enumerate poems or poets relevant to their topic, most offer an instructive combination of close reading and contextual information. Attempts to fit a poet into a preconceived theoretical framework are refreshingly rare. Almost all contributors attend to questions of style and formal organization, and many take on the literary historian’s task of evaluating the lasting significance of individual poets. They...

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CARY NELSON, The Oxford Handbook to Modern American Poetry (New York: Oxford UP, 2012), 716 pp.
May18

CARY NELSON, The Oxford Handbook to Modern American Poetry (New York: Oxford UP, 2012), 716 pp.

CARY NELSON, The Oxford Handbook to Modern American Poetry (New York: Oxford UP, 2012), 716 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies 60.2/3   Cary Nelson’s Oxford Handbook to Modern American Poetry is in many ways the companion piece to his Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford University Press, 2000), which was republished as a two volume edition in 2014. Nelson’s influential revisionist poetry anthology combined canonic poets with writers on the left, neglected women writers, and African American political poets, among many other new voices he introduced. Moreover, the anthology broadened the poetic archive by including genres such as experimental collage poems and broadsides. Most importantly, Nelson’s anthology put all of these voices into conversation with each other, hence emphasizing that it is necessary to think about the history of modern American poetry outside of schools and established critical trajectories and to see poetry as a vast field of cultural expression in which unforeseen connections can be established if the alternative texts are selected. The Oxford Handbook to Modern American Poetry draws out these methodological and theoretical implications and develops them into programmatic essays about new directions in poetry scholarship. Although the collection of essays offers a number of exemplary readings of canonic and non-canonic texts alike, it is best understood as a research handbook offering new perspectives on modern and contemporary American poetry. It succeeds almost completely in its attempt to create what Nelson calls “coexisting alternative maps of the modern poetry terrain” (6). The book gathers a representative selection of contemporary critics that have redefined the terms of scholarship on modern and contemporary American poetry. The two opening essays set the volume’s agenda; they are among the best recent writing on modern and contemporary American poetry because they both gracefully steer clear of assigning poets to various schools, instead insisting on the cultural and social dynamics from which particular poems emerge. The first essay, contributed by Nelson himself, is perhaps the best short survey of modern American poetry and mandatory reading for all classes on twentieth-century American poetry. Instead of iconoclastically doing away with established paradigms, Nelson carefully charts the complex history of modern American poetry, not only putting T.S. Eliot, Amy Lowell, Ezra Pound, and William Carlos Williams (themselves often divided into various schools) into conversation with poets such as Aaron Kramer, Muriel Rukeyser, and Melvin Tolson, but also with post-World War II writers such as Sylvia Plath, Lovelock Paiute poet Adrian Louis, and Native American literature’s superstar, Sherman Alexie. Nelson makes clear that the “century of innovation” was united in its experiment with poetic form to tackle cultural, social, political, and economic issues of the day. This...

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AUDRA SIMPSON and ANDREA SMITH, eds. Theorizing Native Studies (Durham & London: DukePress, 2014), pp. 337.  JAMES H. COX and DANIEL HEATH JUSTICE, eds. The Oxford Handbook of Indigenous American Literature (Oxford & New York: Oxford UP, 2014), pp. 741.
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AUDRA SIMPSON and ANDREA SMITH, eds. Theorizing Native Studies (Durham & London: DukePress, 2014), pp. 337. JAMES H. COX and DANIEL HEATH JUSTICE, eds. The Oxford Handbook of Indigenous American Literature (Oxford & New York: Oxford UP, 2014), pp. 741.

AUDRA SIMPSON and ANDREA SMITH, eds. Theorizing Native Studies (Durham & London: Duke UP, 2014), pp. 337. JAMES H. COX and DANIEL HEATH JUSTICE, eds. The Oxford Handbook of Indigenous American Literature (Oxford & New York: Oxford UP, 2014), pp. 741. Amerikastudien/ American Studies 60.2/3     Both Theorizing Native Studies and The Oxford Handbook of Indigenous American Literature offer timely reminders of the meaning attributed to the concept of “critical theory” by the Frankfurt School, a meaning that is inseparable from its practical purpose: “a theory is critical to the extent that it seeks human ’emancipation from slavery,’ acts as a ‘liberating […] influence,’ and works ‘to create a world which satisfies the needs and powers’ of human beings. […] Critical Theorists […] seek ‘human emancipation’ in circumstances of domination and oppression. This normative task cannot be accomplished apart from the interplay between philosophy and social science through interdisciplinary empirical social research.”1 As Dian Million emphasizes in her essay in the Simpson and Smith volume: “Theory, theorizing is […] a verb, an action,” (Simpson & Smith, 32; original emphasis). Theorizing by guiding one’s actions towards decolonization, self-determination, and Native sovereignty underpins both of these important contributions to the discipline of Native American and Indigenous Studies.   Theorizing Native Studies addresses the recent explicit turn to “high theory” in Native Studies and poses as its organizing question: how can critiques based on the assumption that theory is opposed to community practice or political engagement or indigenous traditions in fact be turned to the work of theorizing what the editors call “a politically grounded and analytically charged form of Native Studies” (1)? In the outstanding introduction by Audra Simpson and Andrea Smith, a comprehensive survey is offered both of the various directions in which theory has been taken in Native Studies, and the utility of these approaches is assessed in relation to issues of decolonization, analysis of settler-colonialism as both material practices and an epistemological-representational regime, and indigenous intellectual praxis. Beginning with an outline of the relation between theory and truth that raises issues of relativism and essentialism, the editors propose that the “high” theory associated with European poststructuralism is not anathema to indigenous activism; rather, the capacity to interrogate historically contingent regimes of truth is fundamental to the work of historical contextualization and critique that is characteristic of the discipline of Native Studies. This then leads to a nuanced discussion of the question “who owns theory”? The indigenous subjects of settler theorizing or theorists whose thinking is generated within Native communities? Simpson and Smith shift the terms of this debate to question “the perceived ownership of theory,” to suggest...

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CHRISTOF MAUCH UND RÜDIGER B. WERISCH (Hg.; unter Mitarbeit v. Angelika Möller), USA-Lexikon. Schlüsselbegriffe zu Politik, Wirtschaft, Gesellschaft, Kultur, Geschichte und zu den deutsch-amerikanischen Beziehungen (Berlin: Erich Schmidt Verlag, 2013), 1334 pp.
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CHRISTOF MAUCH UND RÜDIGER B. WERISCH (Hg.; unter Mitarbeit v. Angelika Möller), USA-Lexikon. Schlüsselbegriffe zu Politik, Wirtschaft, Gesellschaft, Kultur, Geschichte und zu den deutsch-amerikanischen Beziehungen (Berlin: Erich Schmidt Verlag, 2013), 1334 pp.

CHRISTOF MAUCH UND RÜDIGER B. WERISCH (Hg.; unter Mitarbeit v. Angelika Möller), USA-Lexikon. Schlüsselbegriffe zu Politik, Wirtschaft, Gesellschaft, Kultur, Geschichte und zu den deutsch-amerikanischen Beziehungen (Berlin: Erich Schmidt Verlag, 2013), 1334 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies 60.2/3     Nachdem das von Rüdiger Wersich herausgegebene USA-Lexikon Mitte der 1990er Jahre erstmals publiziert worden war, konnte es sich rasch einen sichtbaren Platz im Feld der deutschsprachigen Referenzhandbücher zu Geschichte, Politik, Gesellschaft, Wirtschaft und Kultur der Vereinigten Staaten erobern. Exemplare standen in den Regalen zahlreicher Universitäts- und Stadtbibliotheken ebenso wie in Einrichtungen der Erwachsenenbildung, einzelne Beiträge fanden nicht selten ihren Weg auf die Literaturlisten von Handouts, die Studierende zu ihren Referaten einreichten. Vor diesem Hintergrund ist es verdienstvoll, dass Wersich und sein neuer Mitherausgeber Christof Mauch die Mühe auf sich genommen haben, nach beinahe zwei Jahrzehnten eine Neuauflage des Lexikons zu realisieren.   Das gilt umso mehr, weil sich seit der Erstausgabe viele Rahmenbedingungen geändert haben: Erstens hat sich durch das Internet die Dichte sowie die Geschwindigkeit, mit der Informationen bereitgestellt, abgerufen und verarbeitet werden, grundlegend gewandelt. Ein Buch mit über 500 Einträgen auf über 1.300 Seiten ist in Zeiten, in denen man einen Wikipedia-Beitrag jederzeit im Bus lesen und auf ein Endgerät speichern kann, nicht nur ein verlegerisches, sondern auch ein konzeptionelles Wagnis. Zweitens hat sich die wissenschaftliche Beschäftigung mit den USA seit Mitte der 1990er Jahre verändert. In der Geschichtswissenschaft sind traditionelle Schwerpunkte auf ‚große Politik‘ und deutsch-amerikanische Beziehungen de-zentriert worden, Gesellschaft und Kultur haben als Untersuchungsgegenstände deutlich an Bedeutung gewonnen. In der Politikwissenschaft stehen heute Strukturen, Organisationen sowie Akteure im Zentrum des Interesses, die ausdrücklich jenseits traditioneller Vorstellungen von einem als homogen begriffenen politischen Systems wirkmächtig sind. Und in den Literaturwissenschaften haben u.a. feministische und postkoloniale Ansätze auch hierzulande dem etablierten Kanon ein Ende bereitet. All diese und weitere Entwicklungen haben sich auch an den Universitäten niedergeschlagen, wie sich an einer Vielzahl von Studiengängen mit innovativen Ausrichtungen ablesen lässt. Darüber hinaus hat sich, drittens, der Charakter sowie der Stellenwert der intellektuellen Beschäftigung mit den Vereinigten Staaten im Verlauf der Jahre nach Ende des Kalten Kriegs verschoben. Mit der zunehmenden Globalisierung konkurrieren die USA nunmehr stärker als vorher um ihren Rang als die Gesellschaft, an welcher sich große Teile der westeuropäischen oder deutschen Bevölkerung abarbeiten, sei es affirmativ oder in Opposition. Das öffentliche Interesse an den USA ist in der Bundesrepublik nach wie vor groß, heute aber weit weniger selbstverständlich als es noch vor 20 Jahren war. Vielen dieser Trends versucht das USA-Lexikon durch äußere und innere Neuausrichtungen Rechnung zu tragen. Neben der gedruckten Ausgabe ist das Lexikon auch als E-Book erschienen, darüber hinaus bietet der Schmidt Verlag online eine...

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