A New Era for American Studies




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Apr 27, 2020
by Louise Hallman
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A New Era for American Studies

Seven decades after the first American studies seminar was held at Schloss Leopoldskron, a new era dawns with the launch of the American Studies Program Photo: Aaron Burden/Unsplash

Since its very beginnings in 1947 as the Salzburg Seminar in American Civilization, Salzburg Global Seminar has reserved a dedicated place for American studies in its programming. Once our sole focus before the organization started to expand its outlook in the 1960s and 1970s, the field of American studies continued to feature prominently, first as the American Studies Center between 1994 and 2001 and latterly as the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA) since 2004. Starting in 2020, we will celebrate its major relaunch as the Salzburg Global American Studies Program.

A Long History

When the first session of the Salzburg Seminar in American Civilization was convened in the summer of 1947, the world was a very different place – as was the United States’ place within it. Europe had been devastated by two World Wars while America was thriving in a post-war industrial boom and taking an increasingly prominent place in the world – politically, economically and culturally – as the former colonial powers of Europe faded. 

To bring together bright young minds who were former enemies, the three founders of what became Salzburg Global Seminar – Austrian Clemens Heller and Americans Dick Campbell and Scott Elledge – chose the medium of American studies. In post-war Europe there was a keen interest and indeed fascination with anything related to American life and values. Co-chair of that first-ever session, literary historian F. O. Matthiessen, assured participants that “none of our group has come as imperialists of Pax Americana to impose our values on you,” and that the program would consider not only the strengths of American democracy, but also its “excesses and limitations.” 

Today, the US’ excesses and limitations have become abundantly clear: with its political deadlock, crumbling healthcare system, continuing racial strife and waning global influence, it is clear that America is no longer the shining city on the hill. This change at home and abroad has huge ramifications for the global order. It raises new questions for Salzburg Global Seminar, whose programs and networks now straddle 180 countries: does American studies still have a place at Salzburg Global Seminar?

The answer, of course, is an emphatic yes.

In these uncertain times, we believe there is no more trusted and important setting than Salzburg Globalto address critical issues confronting the United States and the future of the liberal international order. It is imperative to deepen global understanding of American culture, society and politics and to stimulate vibrant debate about the political, economic and social changes taking place in the United States and how these influence, and are influenced by, the rest of the world.  

A New Era

With the launch of the Salzburg Global American Studies Program, it is not only the name that is changing. New funding has been secured thanks to chair emerita of Salzburg Global’s Board of Directors, Heather Sturt Haaga and her husband Paul Haaga Jr., who have made a 10-year endowed contribution to support the future of American studies at Salzburg Global.

This incredibly generous gift provides a long-term foundation for bold programming that fully integrates American studies in Salzburg Global’s core impact goals, starting with a new three-year series that will look at the future of democracy, both in the US and beyond. The major three-year collaboration seeks to help shape a future vision for the United States and American studies in a radically changing world and will culminate in a special program to mark the 75th anniversary of Salzburg Global Seminar in 2022.

American studies at Salzburg Global have long attracted academics in diverse fields such as history, literature, cultural studies, the dramatic arts and political science, as well as practitioners in the fields of journalism and diplomacy. With this ambitious relaunch, the new program series seeks to broaden this diverse international community further with participation across academia, culture, media, civil society, government, business, law, and technology, bringing together practitioners and thought leaders from different generations and backgrounds, connecting researchers, teachers, artists, journalists, diplomats, entrepreneurs and politicians with a strong interest in strengthening democratic principles and practice. 

New program leadership will also be established following the retirement of Marty Gecek, who will remain involved as the chair of the newly named American Studies Program Advisory Committee. Recruitment for a new program director – based either in Salzburg or the US – began in spring 2020, but is currently on hold due to the COVID-19 crisis. The 2020 program will be led by Salzburg Global Vice President and Chief Program Officer Clare Shine. 

“We are more committed than ever to preserve the legacy of American Studies at Salzburg Global and to stimulate critical debate and foster cross-cutting understanding and innovation,” says Shine. 

A full program listing for the 2020 program is available online: www.salzburgglobal.org/go/678 Registration is now open.