Volume Five, December 2004

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Between 2 and 5 September 2004 the Salzburg Seminar organized the Conference entitled “America in Our Time,” the first Conference of the newly-founded Salzburg Seminar Alumni Association. The Conference was attended by over fifty scholars from all over the world who convened to discuss issues of topical interest related to American Studies.
The organizers invited for this special event distinguished American Studies scholars such as Chris Bigsby, Director, Arthur Miller Center for American Studies, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK; Emory Elliott, Distinguished Professor of English and Director of the Center for Ideas and Society, University of California, Riverside, USA; James Horton, Benjamin Banneker Professor of American Studies and History, George Washington University and Director of the Afro-American Communities Project, National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian Institution, USA; Lois Horton, Professor of History in the Department of History and Art History, George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia, USA, among others.
The Conference had a format which combined plenaries and panels. The plenaries focused on key ideas such as “American Amnesia and the Politics of the Present” (Prof. Emory Elliott), “American Heritage and America’s History: Race and America’s Self-Image” (Prof. James Horton), “What Is an American?” (Prof. Chris Bigsby) or “Where is the Color-Line in 21st Century America? The Social and Political Implications of Changes in Race and Ethnicity” (Prof. Lois Horton). The panels which split the participants into four working groups centered on highly relevant issues such as “American Race and Ethnicity in National and Global Perspectives,” “Cultural Diplomacy and Foreign Affairs,” “Contemporary American Literature and Film,” and “Drama and Popular Culture.”
The panel on “Contemporary American Literature and Film” which I attended, analyzed a very controversial American movie: Fahrenheit 9/11. The discussions centered on issues such as post-modernism and post-post-modernism: genre and the problem of “political truth” as well as aesthetic and narrative techniques which the director, Michael Moore, employed in making his film.
The Conference also celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Founding of The European Association of American Studies which was founded at the Salzburg Seminar in American Studies in Schloss Leopoldskrom. This landmark event was honored by the presence of prof. Josef Jarab (Czech Republic), former President of the EAAS (2000-2004). Since its founding conference (which convened a total of forty Americanists from twelve European countries plus the USA), membership in the EAAS has expanded to almost 4,000 specialists in American studies in twenty-five national associations.
The Conference represented an excellent opportunity to share ideas with scholars from all over the world, offering many chances to get updated on the latest developments in the field of American studies. The event was impeccably organized (thanks to the efforts made by the tireless Marty Gecek, Former Director of the Visiting Advisor Program and Marie-Louise Ryback, Alumni Officer), and despite a tight schedule, it allowed varied opportunities for interaction as well for attending an exquisite piano concert. The Conference remains etched in my heart and mind as one of those reassuring proofs that in a hectic world academics can still find a haven where to indulge in discussing ideas “far from the madding world,” thus seeking to re-engage it with a fresh outlook.

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