Since Salzburg Global Seminar’s founding in 1947 as the “Salzburg Seminar in American Studies”, promoting critical dialogue and understanding of American history, literature, culture, politics, and economics has played a vital role in our organization’s development 
and legacy. 

The academic discipline of American Studies in Europe began with that first American Studies program at Schloss Leopoldskron, and the Salzburg Seminar in American Studies is widely credited as being the founder of the European American Studies Association in 1953. 

Over the last 70 years, scores of prominent intellectuals and academic and non-academic professionals have gathered in Salzburg to examine and debate American politics, foreign policy, economics, literature, history and culture, and America’s role in the world. 

Today, the American Studies Program at Salzburg Global Seminar is one of the oldest continuously-running independent American Studies programs in Europe. Reflecting our deep commitment to preserving this heritage and building a vibrant network of scholars, Salzburg Global continues to support the Program from a combination of donations and its annual operating budget. 

Early History of American Studies in Salzburg (1947-1950)

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In its early years, the Salzburg Seminar created a remarkable intersection of cultural diplomacy, literary criticism, and the social sciences around the discipline of American Studies. From the Seminar’s launch in July 1947, Fellows found common ground in the study of American culture, politics, and economy. 

At Session 1, Seminar faculty included the anthropologist Margaret Mead, economist Wassily Leontief, and literary historian F. O. Matthiessen. Matthiessen guided Fellows through Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter and Herman Melville’s Moby Dick; Leontief lectured on the fundamentals of economics; and Margaret Mead, America’s renowned observer of human behavior, introduced her students to the methods of cultural anthropology, instructing them to analyze the eating habits, sleeping habits and social interaction of the Schloss Leopoldskron community. 

F.O. Matthiessen’s remarks at the Seminar’s inauguration highlighted the importance of the free intermingling of cultures, the creation of a generous community of ideas, and the enactment of the chief function of culture and humanism – to bring people into meaningful and transformative communication with one another. In so doing, he put forward the key ideas that would hold true for the decades to come. These ideas have brought scholars and practitioners together from across Europe, America, and the rest of the world to create a “permanent center of intellectual discussion in Europe,” uphold promise over anxiety, and explore American Studies in all its facets.

The first years of the Salzburg Seminar featured a series of interdisciplinary “General Sessions on American Studies,” the last being held in the summer of 1955. These six-week General Sessions provided an important means to connect young people who could speak freely together in English. The sessions gave “the post-war Europeans problems to consider other than their own, and a chance to talk about subjects which were not restricted by their national borders.”  

Expansion of American Studies Programs in Salzburg (1951-1994)

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In 1950, the Salzburg Seminar began organizing a half-dozen sessions each year on particular aspects of American Studies. These ranged from American History to American Literature, American Economic Theory and Practice, American Poetry and Prose, American Politics, the Political and Intellectual History of the United States, and Economic Problems in American Life. 

To implement these programs, the Seminar recruited faculty from universities and colleges across the United States. Many of America’s most eminent figures in political, economic and cultural life came to Schloss Leopoldskron, including the legal authority Kingman Brewster, the sociologist Daniel Bell, the historian Henry Steele Commager, the American novelists Saul Bellow and Ralph Ellison, and the composer Virgil Thomson. 

In 1953, the Seminar held its first session on American Law and Legal Institutions. This became a popular tradition, led by distinguished Harvard law faculty members such as Kingman Brewster and Paul Freund. Annual sessions continued into the 1980s, with many led by US Supreme Court justices such as Harry Blackmun, Warren Burger and in 1970, Sandra Day O’Connor, the first female Supreme Court justice. More recently, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Anthony Kennedy and Stephen Breyer have led programs on American legal issues, and remain actively involved. Thanks to their support, Salzburg Global Seminar now hosts an annual lecture at the US Supreme Court in honor of American lawyer, Presidential Counsel and former Board Director Lloyd N. Cutler.

From the mid-1960s, the Salzburg Seminar significantly expanded its program themes as well as the range of places from which Fellows were recruited. Topics became far more global in scope. During the Cold War the Seminar was one of the few fora anywhere in the world where men and women from both sides of the Iron Curtain could gather in a neutral atmosphere to discuss matters of common concern. 

While nearly all sessions during this period reflected the organization’s growing internationalization, the Salzburg Seminar never wavered in its commitment to American Studies. From the early 1960s to the late 1980s, almost 90 American Studies sessions were held – an average of over three American Studies sessions per year for more than three decades. 

Creation of the American Studies Center in Salzburg (1994-2003)

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As the Cold War concluded and global themes became more prominent, the Salzburg Seminar created a new “American Studies Center” (ASC) in 1994, made possible by a $9 million grant from the United States Information Agency (USIA). 

The ASC’s founder and first director was Dr. Ronald Clifton. Between 1994 and 2003, thirty-two American Studies sessions were convened in Salzburg. These focused on cultural studies, history, politics, literature and language, with many addressing contemporary global concerns in an American context. Participants were selected in collaboration with the USIA offices in western, eastern and central Europe, as well as various Asian countries. 

In its first decade, the ASC offered workshops and symposia for university professors, administrators, and teacher trainers on a variety of topics. Led by American Studies faculty and professionals, these ASC programs combined traditional multi-disciplinary academic content with extensive advanced technological components. The aim was to expose participants to the vast resources available to American Studies scholars in a way that could enhance their ability to use technology resources in the classroom, foster their professional development, and connect the next generation of American Studies scholars and practitioners around the world. 

The ASC also formed an International American Studies Faculty (IASF), which sent teams of US-based American Studies professors to many countries to help universities establish their own American Studies programs. The ASC also established a European network (ASN) of American Studies Centers and Institutes, whose members still work together to this day.

Foundation of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA) (2003-19)

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In 2003, Salzburg Global Seminar took its commitment to American Studies to the next level by founding the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA). 

SSASA has now designed and implemented fifteen symposia on American Studies themes, including politics, literature, cultural studies and history. These sessions are attended by distinguished professionals from numerous countries around the world, and are structured around presentations, panels and discussions by leading experts on the topic. Small discussion groups are also scheduled, providing multiple opportunities for participants to share their expertise and build new alliances and research projects.

Through SSASA symposia and curated networks, Salzburg Global Seminar continues to make a vital contribution to promoting open international dialogue on themes critical to the future of American Studies. SSASA is fully integrated within Salzburg Global’s program portfolio and SSASA Fellows benefit from the extensive information and media services provided by Salzburg Global’s professional communications team.