Thanks to the tedious blustering of UKIP and the tactical blundering of Cameron, the UK’s position within Europe has been the subject of much debate in recent months. The concept of European unity, and especially the UK’s contribution to it, seems distinctly uncertain at present. What concerns, though, might unite young academics working across the continent? In particular, what do emerging scholars in American Studies in Europe think are the key issues in the discipline today?
Over the coming weeks US Studies Online will feature a series of interviews I’ve recently conducted with early career scholars in American Studies who are teaching and researching at institutions across Europe – from western Spain to central Turkey, via Copenhagen, Warsaw and Timisoara. We’ll hear from PhD students, post-doctoral researchers, lecturers and associate professors working in literary studies, film studies, history and cultural studies. Many of the interviewees are closely involved in their own national American Studies associations, and some have experience working in both Europe and the United States. We’ll find out what they consider to be important trends in contemporary American Studies and where they stand on different theoretical models of the discipline, as well as learning about specific research centres and scholarly groupings.
Having completed these interviews, and having participated in American Studies events in places such as Berlin and Salzburg, I’ve become very conscious of the variety of approaches to the discipline that currently exist in Europe, and the immense potential for collaboration across national borders. I hope, in a small way, that the interview series might raise awareness of the range of work being undertaken by European scholars and may prompt ideas on possible partnerships for the future.
To offer a somewhat simplistic view, based partly on anecdotal evidence, I’d suggest that UK Americanists searching for international funding opportunities, conferences and even job openings tend – perhaps inevitably – to look instinctively to the United States. This inclination is, of course, prompted by the location of archives and other resources, and is also strongly linked with questions of language – not to mention the natural desire for scholars of the United Studies to visit and work within the cultural environment they are investigating. Perhaps, though, many opportunities much closer to home are being neglected, and a greater integration between British institutions and their European counterparts might result in fresh disciplinary perspectives. Accordingly, questions of national borders and national identities, and what defining them or crossing them might mean, are especially prevalent in the discussions that follow.
In one respect, the interview series acts as a companion to a report I completed in 2012, commissioned by the British Association for American Studies in conjunction with the Fulbright Commission, entitled ‘American Studies in the UK, 2000-2010’. That project offered an overview of the discipline’s recent development in the UK, and the thoughts of its mainly British contributors may be usefully compared with the opinions of their European colleagues. Yet, whereas the BAAS/Fulbright report predominately focused on more senior members of the American Studies community, these interviews emphasise emerging voices, in keeping with the aims of US Studies Online. I hope, then, that they may offer a snapshot of a new generation of American Studies scholars.
Many thanks to the interviewees, who have provided such thoughtful responses to my questions, and to the editorial team at US Studies Online, especially Ben Offiler, Michelle Green and Collin Lieberg, for their support in the development of the series. And special thanks must go to Philip Davies at the British Library’s Eccles Centre, whose work with the European Association of American Studies made possible many of the interviews.