Salzburg Global Seminar Celebrates 65th Anniversary of the First “American Studies Conference”

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Apr 17, 2019
by Oscar Tollast
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Salzburg Global Seminar Celebrates 65th Anniversary of the First “American Studies Conference”

Program held at Schloss Leopoldskron led to the establishment of the European Association for American Studies (EAAS) Program topics for the American Studies Conference held at Schloss Leopoldskron in 1944

On this day in 1954, 40 professors of American studies from Europe and the United States were convening at Schloss Leopoldskron for the first “American Studies Conference.” It was a significant occasion which led to the establishment of the European Association for American Studies (EAAS).

The three-day program, which ran from April 16 to April 19, sought to assess the “progress of teaching and the nature of research in American civilization in the various countries of Western Europe.”

As the world continued to recover from the devastating conflict of World War II, the program in 1954 gave European scholars in American studies the opportunity to gain an overview of the state of scholarship both in the United States and in Europe.

America’s pre-eminent scholars helped the Salzburg Seminar, as it was then known, to outline the most crucial issues which lay ahead for the profession. Dexter Perkins, then president of the Seminar, sent off letters asking various scholars for their thoughts.

Contributors included Thomas A. Bailey, Daniel J. Boorstin, Foster Rhea Dulles, Scott Elledge, John Hope Franklin, Henry F. May, Arthur M. Schlesinger, and Henry Nash Smith.

Boorstin, from the University of Chicago, suggested European scholars were “especially well qualified to ask embarrassing and refreshing questions” about American civilization and provided several ideas for Perkins to pursue.

Meanwhile, Elledge, one of the three Harvard students who founded Salzburg Global Seminar in 1947 and had since moved to Carleton College, gave a few thoughts “on the spur of the moment.”  He suggested pursuing critical studies of aspects of American literature.

Franklin, of Howard University, indicated “the American traveler in Europe” could be considered from numerous angles, as could the official and semi-official representatives of the United States in different European communities.

Franklin would go onto receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1995 and was described by U.S. President Bill Clinton as “one of the most important American historians of the 20th century.”

At that initial meeting, participants represented countries including Austria, the U.K., Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, Ireland, Italy, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, U.S., and the former Yugoslavia.

Program topics included “Problems and Techniques in the practical teaching of American Studies in Europe,” “European Research in American Studies, Facilities and Opportunities for American Studies Scholars,” “An American research library in Europe,” “The Role of the Salzburg Seminar,” and “Reports on the progress of American Studies” in the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Holland, Switzerland, and Scandinavia.

By the end of the program, participants unanimously agreed that a European Association for American Studies should be organized and that newsletter should be published informing people with updates.

In the first edition of the EAAS newsletter, published in 1955, a summary of the program was written by editor Professor Sigmund Skard, assistant editor Dr. D. R. Wightman, and secretary-treasurer of the Association Robert O. Mead, who also worked for Salzburg Seminar at the time.

The three authors recognized several difficulties at a “first of its kind” conference, including a lack of visibility of existing work being undertaken in the field, an uneven representation both of countries and disciplines, and a lack of time to carefully study subjects.

Despite this, all three men reached a positive conclusion about the program, agreeing “the conference as a whole was a definite success. The spirit of the delegates was excellent, and there was not the slightest friction of any kind. High-sounding declarations were few, but there was much exchange of factual information and sober argument. Valuable beginnings were made towards more organized efforts and better personal contacts…”

Since 1954, the EAAS has continued to grow from strength to strength. As of January 2010, the number of Americanists represented through EAAS’s national associations reached 4,301. The EAAS has helped connect European Americanists and has “encouraged the study of and research in all areas of America culture and society.” EAAS conferences continue to be held every two years, attracting between 200 and 400 participants.

Over the years, Salzburg Global Seminar has also continued to reaffirm its commitment to American studies. In 1994, coinciding with the 40th anniversary of the EAAS, Salzburg Global established the American Studies Center, which was directed by Ron Clifton.

In 2004, Salzburg Global Seminar marked the 50th anniversary by launching the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA). Fifteen years later - yesterday, to be precise - SSASA published its latest report on its 16th symposium, Understanding America in the 21st Century: Culture and Politics.

As stated in the latest report, “critical dialogue about American history, literature, cultural institutions, politics, economics, and law has played a vital role in our organization’s development and legacy. The Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association was founded in 2004 to continue this legacy.”

A plaque which reads “Salzburg Seminar in American Studies” still adorns the entrance of Schloss Leopoldskron today. We are constantly reminded of our organization’s past, and we look forward to continuing addressing questions affecting American culture, society and politics at the next SSASA symposium in September, The Changing Role of the Media in American Life and Culture: Emerging Trends.

For more information on the European Association for American Studies, please click on the following link: https://www.eaas.eu/