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Moving Beyond American Exceptionalism

International scholars convene to explore the circulation of ideas about America

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May 12, 2011 | by Hilary Hurd Anyaso

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Leading scholars from India, Italy, Ireland and around the United States will come together for an international symposia “Globalizing American Studies” May 19 and 20 on Northwestern University’s Evanston campus. This will be the fourth symposium under the auspices of the Globalizing American Studies project directed by Brian Edwards, associate professor of English and comparative literary studies at Northwestern. 

Presented by the Center for Global Culture and Communication, an interdisciplinary initiative by Northwestern’s School of Communication and the Roberta Buffett Center for International and Comparative Studies, the conference will be held from 2 to 5 p.m. Thursday, May 19, in The Hagstrum Room, University Hall 201, 1897 Sheridan Road, and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday, May 20, in Harris Hall 108, 1881 Sheridan Road. The event is free and open to the public.

The first three symposia held in 2004, 2005 and 2006 brought more than 25 speakers to Northwestern from three continents who work in multidisciplinary and national contexts exploring what a truly globalized version of American studies would look like.

“The international response to the assassination of Osama Bin Laden demonstrates the multiple ways in which America is perceived around the world,” said Edwards said. “The old mythology of the U.S. as the destination of the ‘American dream’ is tempered for many by a more recent sense of America as imperial. It is all the more important to engage and understand alternative perceptions of American culture and to examine the history and present of multilateral American identities.”

A book by the same name, “Globalizing American Studies” (University of Chicago Press, 2010), co-edited by Edwards and Dilip Parameshwar Gaonkar, associate professor of rhetoric and public culture and the director of the Center for Global Culture and Communication at Northwestern, was a result of discussions that took place during the first symposia.

“There has been a great deal of discussion of how to ‘globalize’ the field or how to move beyond the exceptionalism of American self-understanding of the history and culture of the U.S.,” said Edwards, conference co-organizer. “Our book makes a major statement that moves these debates into new ground.”

Edwards said Globalizing American Studies opens the project yet further, expanding the network of scholars coming to and in dialogue at these events and pursuing the next set of questions that may be emerging as participants think together about the topic.

For conference information and schedules, visit http://tinyurl.com/cgcc-glas or email cgcc@u.northwestern.edu.