10) Conference Review of ‘Supposedly Fun Things: A Colloquium on the Writing of David Foster Wallace’ by Iain Williams
The colloquium may have provided the first concerted evidence of a second wave of antithetical Wallace scholarship, suggesting that exciting times lie ahead for the fledgling discipline. Indeed, there may develop something of a split in Wallace Studies, with those who buy into Wallace’s self-professed attempts to write ethically and morally on one hand, and scholars that challenge Wallace’s politics of representation and his representation of politics, on the other. Future Wallace scholars may look back at this colloquium as the event at which the critical horizons of Wallace Studies were expanded.
9) Historians at Play: American History in Modern Board Games by Alex Bryne
Games such as Freedom put American history into the spotlight and offer a unique way to physically interact with the issue of slavery. The mechanics of the game are assigned to a real history and the slaves that the players cannot save represent the real slaves that were doomed a fate that the game leaves to the players’ imagination. Yet physically moving the slaves around the United States, represented by simple wooden cubes, makes it difficult not to treat the slaves as objects.
8) Book Review of Gesturing Toward Reality: David Foster Wallace and Philosophy edited by Robert K. Bolger and Scott Korb by Iain Williams
‘The Philosophy of David Foster Wallace’ may have been a more appropriate subtitle for the collection than ‘David Foster Wallace and Philosophy’, possibly with the substitution of ‘Theology’ for ‘Philosophy’. Allard den Dulk provides the most impressive essay in the collection, suggesting a Sartrean model of pre-reflection as an ideal philosophical model for Wallace’s characters, an assertion that goes against the dominant critical consensus that Wallace was a proponent of choice. However, the sense of repetition in the collection also wrongly seems to suggest that there is nowhere left to go for Wallace Studies.
7) The Cold War and the Origins of US Democracy Promotion by Robert Pee
In the first post in our ‘soft power’ series, Robert Pee explains how strategic tensions from the Cold War have re-emerged as the administrations of George W. Bush and Obama have soft-pedalled democracy promotion in friendly Middle Eastern states such as Egypt, even when it clashed with immediate geopolitical objectives. Due to this back-tracking the fall of the authoritarian Mubarak regime was followed by a power struggle between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military rather than a pro-US democratic successor elite.
6) Deconstructing ‘Uncle Tom’ Abroad: The Case of an American President by Ana Stevenson
The character of Uncle Tom experiences the benevolent paternalism and cruel exploitation of chattel slavery, and eventually dies at the hands of a malicious master. What does it mean for a twenty-first century presidential candidate, who became the 44th President of the United States, to be described in such terms? The rhetorical implications of this epithet demonstrate how media and popular culture shape ideas about history, race, and politics, even beyond the United States.
5) Conference Review of ‘Protestantism and the Superpowers: Mission, Spirituality, and Prayer in the USA and USSR’ by Mark Hurst
In an article in the American Historical Review from June 2000, Matthew Connelly implored historians to ‘take off the Cold War lens’ when considering international history in the twentieth century. What is perhaps most heartening about the discussions at this workshop is that the role played by religion in this period is no longer overlooked. Historians can now rightly focus on the questions about religion in the Cold War, rather than addressing whether religion is a salient concept worth considering in this period.
4) Songs about Rebels: The American Civil War in modern country music by Tom Lennon
To offer an insight into the meaning of the Civil War for modern country musicians songs Tom Lennon focuses on four songs (Old Crow Medicine Show’s ‘Carry Me Back To Virginia’, Chatham County Line’s ‘Final Reward’, Justin Townes Earle’s ‘Lone Pine Hill’ and ‘Magnolia Mountain’ by Ryan Adams & the Cardinals) that link to what Geoff Mann has called country music’s ‘narrative of loss,’ in that they recall and reconstruct what has allegedly been lost in history – on material, emotional and personal levels. The power of these four songs lies primarily in that sense of loss, rather than in any particular political or martial themes. Perhaps then, these songs form part of what has been called a ‘mild version’ of the Lost Cause, in that they present the memory of the Civil War as a way of both commemorating their ancestors and of supporting the United States.
3) Must-Hear Podcasts: A List for Students and Scholars of American Studies
In December 2014 we asked postgraduates what are the very best podcasts for students and scholars in American Studies. Podcasts that made the list include the popular Serial, This American Life, Love+ Radio, Planet Money, Night Vale and BackStory to some surprising scientific recommendations, including NASA Science Casts and StarTalk.
2) Book Review of Chasing the American Dream – Understanding What Shapes Our Fortunes by Mark Robert Rank, et al by Benjamin Harvey Sporle
The American Dream is a concept and ideal that millions of people around the word subscribe to wholeheartedly, to the extent that huge numbers risk everything just to have a chance of achieving it. Chasing the American Dream explains just what that dream is, what it means to a plethora of Americans striving for it and assesses whether it is still possible to achieve in the context of an economic downturn.
1) As American as Apple Pie: U.S. Female Converts to Islam by Karla N. Evans
As U.S. citizens who understand American cultural and societal norms, American female converts to Islam are in a good position to serve as advocates and agents for change, not only for themselves, but also on behalf of their fellow Muslim Americans. These American voices are offering a challenge to both the greater non-Muslim American community and the Muslim American community in clearly articulated, individual voices saying: I am a ‘real American’, I am a ‘real Muslim’, I am ready to have the conversation. You bring the vanilla ice cream – I’ll bring the apple pie.