How Can Culture and Politics Help Us Understand America?

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Sep 28, 2018
by Oscar Tollast
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How Can Culture and Politics Help Us Understand America?

Participants from 28 countries convene for the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association symposium and four days of discussion, group work and presentations Participants of the 16th symposium of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA)

The 16th symposium of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA) reached a successful conclusion with participants gaining a better awareness of the political, social, cultural, and institutional tensions currently existing in the United States.

After four days of discussion at Schloss Leopoldskron, in Salzburg, Austria, participants of Understanding America in the 21st Century: Culture and Politics left with new perspectives on the complicated nature of domestic and international forces driving America.

This year’s program featured thematic presentations on populism, race, gender, America and the world, and – more specifically – the relationship between America and Russia. Participants also took part in discussion groups which focused on American literature, film, and the United States Supreme Court.

Toward the end of the symposium, participants took part in café discussion groups. Topics included: Hollywood and contemporary American society and culture; America’s role in world affairs; Teaching race, sex, gender and class, and political correctness; and Trump era politics and American science fiction literature.

Christopher Bigsby, professor of American Studies and director of the Arthur Miller Institute for American Studies at the University of East Anglia, was the guest speaker chosen for the inaugural Ron Clifton Lecture in American Studies. Bigsby, who has also won awards for his academic work, fiction and biography, gave a presentation titled “Trying to Understand America.”

This lecture was created to honor Clifton, an ardent and loyal supporter of American Studies programs at Salzburg Global Seminar for nearly 30 years. He has served on the faculty, or as chair, of more than 20 American Studies programs. Last year, he and his wife Gwili created the “Clifton Scholarship in American Studies.” Clifton was unable to attend this year’s symposium but did speak to participants at the beginning of the program through Skype.

In her closing remarks, Marty Gecek, chair of SSASA, said, "As of today, we have completed 16 symposia under the auspices of SSASA - the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association. We've had some very animated discussions over the last days on the very incredibly timely topic of trying to understand America. I am sure that you have gained insights from the presentations and the panels, and I hope that you have made very valuable, professional and personal contacts during your stay here."


Understanding America in the 21st Century – Culture and Politics features as part of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA) multi-year series. You can capture highlights on Twitter by following the hashtag #SSASA.