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
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.