American Studies (SSASA)

A New Era for American Studies
American flag in the grassPhoto: Aaron Burden/Unsplash
A New Era for American Studies
By: Louise Hallman 

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

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: Registration is now open.

Gaining the Trust of both Gen Z and Cyber Seniors
Dr Nicola Mann speaking at the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA)Dr Nicola Mann speaking at the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA)
Gaining the Trust of both Gen Z and Cyber Seniors
By: Nicola Mann 

Nicola Mann, associate professor of communications and visual cultures, examines how news outlets can counter the distrust of both their young and old consumers

The recent program of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA), The Changing Role of the Media in American Life and Culture (September 2019), considered pertinent issues including the significance of truth and verification to current news production and consumption, as well as the role of the media in culture and democracy in the years to come. 

The issue of distrust in the media emerged as a pressing concern for participants, particularly as it pertains to Generation Z (defined as those born between 1997-2012). According to the international team of journalists, editors and political scientists present, we need to identify the unique ways in which this demographic seeks “demystified” news, building on this to prioritize civic intentionality via media literacy programs. 

Framed by high profile stories related to inaccuracy, bias, fake news, and alternative facts, a recent Pew Research Centre survey found that adults aged 18 to 29 possess comparatively low levels of trust in traditional media institutions. A 2018 Knight Foundation report, meanwhile, found that twice as many young adults (18 to 34) as older respondents said politically focused coverage or partisan bias was a factor in their lack of trust. 

Against this backdrop of distrust, participatory modes of news production position journalists and young readers as interchangeable forces on the front lines of truth-telling. As noted at SSASA, gone are the days of the “backseat baby,” a reference to children who grew up listening to singular news media outlets such as NPR in the backs of their parents’ cars. If news outlets wish to attract more young diversified audiences seeking raw, demystified information, they understand that they must engage in creative ways, oftentimes involving multi-dimensional storytelling that balances complexity with engagement. As one academic at SSASA asserted, “subjectivity matters more to them [youth audiences].” Examples include journalism outreach in the form of podcasts, news aggregators such as Reddit, and online forums such as The Washington Post’s “Live Chats” section. Stripped of the curatorial framing of a glossy CNN news story, on demand non-linear platforms highlight the internal subjectivities of young people – not simply those of the newsroom editor – thereby helping to chip away at the specter of lost trust.  

The urgent need to improve civic education in the form of the development of critical literacy skills in the young also emerged as a pressing concern at SSASA. As noted during one panel discussion, the timeliest research in the area of digital literacy operates via classroom-based discourse. The Washington D.C.-based News Literacy Project, for example, is a national education non-profit that works with educators and journalists to equip students in middle school and high school with the tools to discern fact from fiction in the digital age. The Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change, meanwhile, takes a similar approach to the building of digital literacy and news demystification. The ability to access, analyze, evaluate, create, and participate with media in all its forms serve as a strategy of resistance in a post-truth world. The prioritization of civic intentionality and the cultivation of critical thinking skills are at the core of these projects, making young people realize their role as active (not passive) users of news media.  

While the work of the News Literacy Project and The Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change advances media literacy in the young, older media users require similar educational support. Cyber Seniors, a program in Toronto, is a useful trailblazer in this regard, tackling the divide in media literacy needs among youth and seniors through an intergenerational program. As participants noted in the Q&A session at the symposium’s conclusion, if the promotion of media consciousness forms the core of our mission moving forward, how do “older” media users exercise their civic freedoms? As Americans approach the 2020 election, we must work to cultivate an ethos of media consciousness, giving both young and old active roles in steering new negotiated news media narratives. 

Nicola Mann is an associate professor of visual cultures and communications at Richmond, the American International University in London, UK. She is a Fellow of Salzburg Global Seminar, most recently attending the program The Changing Role of the Media in American Life and Culture,of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA) in September 2019. Mann wrote the report for the program, available here: 

The Changing Role of the Media in American Life and Culture: Emerging Trends
The Changing Role of the Media in American Life and Culture: Emerging Trends
By: Salzburg Global Seminar 

Latest report from the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA) symposium now online to read, download and share

The USA has never had so many sources with which to inform itself and the world. But while the options of how to consume news are broadening, consumers’ views are narrowing. The rise of 24-hour TV news channels, hyperpartisan advertising and social media is widening cultural, political, and social divides in the United States.

In addition to its traditional communications goal of informing and shaping domestic and worldwide understanding, and alongside the three traditional branches of government – the executive, legislature, and judiciary – the media has become a more active and significant institutional political part of an increasingly polarized America. What does the future hold?

A new report explores the challenges faced by the media in America and around the world, summarizing the rich discussions and insights shared across the four-day program, The Changing Role of the Media in American Life and Culture: Emerging Trends.

Download the Report as a PDF

For four days in September 2019, 49 media academics and educators, political scientists, journalists, communications specialists and Americanist generalists from 27 countries tackled the changing role of the media in American life and culture, exploring the past and emerging trends, at the 2019 symposium of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA) at Schloss Leopoldskron, the historic home of Salzburg Global Seminar.

The intensive symposium included thematic presentations and panel-led discussions by distinguished speakers and participants, as well as small in-depth discussion groups to maximize cross-sector interaction with everyone present. 

The report was written by Nicola Mann. Mann is an associate professor of visual cultures and communications at Richmond, the American International University in London. Informed by urban culture studies and community activism, her current research considers dominant visualisations of London’s Heygate council estate in light of recent regeneration efforts. Through analysis of television shows including Top Boy (Channel 4), Nicola addresses the ways in which the estate is mythologized in popular visual culture as a racially- and politically-charged site that deserves to be demolished. Nicola has contributed her work to a number of publications including Afterimage, Aesthetica, Invisible Culture, and she recently released an edited volume along with Charlotte Bonham-Carter titled, Rhetoric, Social Value and the Arts: But how Does it Work? (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017). She holds a master’s degree in painting from the Royal College of Art, London, UK and a Ph.D. in visual and cultural studies from the University of Rochester, New York, USA. She is a Fellow of Salzburg Global Seminar.

The Life and Times of a News Bureau Chief in Washington
Elisabeth Bumiller speaking at the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA)Elisabeth Bumiller speaking at the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA)
The Life and Times of a News Bureau Chief in Washington
By: Mirabelle Morah and Oscar Tollast 

Elisabeth Bumiller, Washington bureau chief at the New York Times, discusses her career in journalism and day-to-day work

In her role as the New York Times’ Washington bureau chief, Elisabeth Bumiller’s day can start as early as five o’clock in the morning. The news never sleeps, and there are always overnight events for her to catch up on. By nine o’clock, Bumiller is in the office preparing for the morning news meeting. She joins her colleagues in New York via video link and outlines the bureau’s plans for the day. Forty-five minutes or so later, the meeting reaches a conclusion – for now. Following many questions and intense conversations, Bumiller has a firmer idea of what her day ahead may look like – well, at least as much as is possible in the life of a journalist at a major national news outlet.

As stories come in, reporters begin to file them. Some articles are put online before noon to catch the morning traffic. Bumiller may attend another small editors’ meeting about previously discussed topics, or she may go out for a working lunch with a colleague. By half-past two, she’s in touch with New York again. “I start getting calls from New York, or I call them saying here’s what we think is good for the front page… I’ll say, ‘This story is looking good,’ ‘This one’s not ready yet, but you should think about it,’ ‘This one is not going to work,’ ‘We’re holding this.’”

Bumiller will then start asking reporters for the tops of their stories. “I can’t pitch the story if I don’t know what you’re going to say. That’s a constant stress,” she said. By half-past four, there’s a bit more clarity. By then, barring any breaking news, staff know what will be on tomorrow’s front page, what stories matter for the web and which stories will need to be cared for overnight. 

“Between five and eight stories are coming in, and I don’t edit as much as I used to… but I often will just grab a story because we’re shorthanded or if there’s a story I want to edit…” explains Bumiller. “I usually leave sometime around 7.30 or 8 [pm]. That’s my day.” 

Life-long dream

Bumiller always wanted to write. Her uncle, Frank Cormier, a White House reporter for the Associated Press, appeared to have a “very exciting life.” That is what inspired Bumiller to pursue journalism, starting with her high school newspaper, the Walnut Hills Chatterbox. She then attended the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University – where she got her “real education” working for the Daily Northwestern. Her education continued thereafter at the Miami Herald and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. 

Upon leaving Columbia, she received a message to call Sally Quinn, a writer for the Washington Post’s style section. Would Bumiller be interested in covering events in Washington? “I ended up flying down to Washington right before I graduated, and I got the job,” Bumiller remembers. “My classmates all said… they wouldn’t have taken that frivolous job but, at the time, the Washington Post was the most exciting paper on the face of the earth.”

Bumiller joined the newspaper a few years after the Watergate scandal. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, who did much of the original reporting on the scandal for the Post, were still in the newsroom. In her role, Bumiller covered events such as political fundraisers on Capitol Hill and parties at the State Department, but she was also able to write feature stories and profiles. She said, “I made it into a better a job.”

The role gave her a greater education on politics in the US capital. “The style section was really well-read… It was a great job. It was high pressure, actually… The idea was I wasn’t going to cover what people were wearing, I was covering what they were saying about politics and the news of the day.”

After stints in New Delhi, India and Tokyo, Japan (accompanying her husband, New York Times journalist Steven R. Weisman), where she continued to write for the Post as well as two books about the lives of women in each country, Bumiller joined the Times in 1995 as a metro reporter. She was later promoted to City Hall bureau chief before returning to the US capital as a White House correspondent on September 10, 2001. The next day’s infamous events dramatically changed the trajectory of her reporting from a domestic focus to an increasingly international one.

In her current role as Washington bureau chief, her primary responsibility concerns overseeing daily operations and leading all news coverage from Washington, domestic and international. Her breadth of experience in the media industry made her an appropriate choice of speaker for the latest symposium of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association – The Changing Role of the Media in American Life and Culture: Emerging Trends.

“This seminar is fascinating because I am very interested in the perspective of people from around the world on media and journalism,” said Bumiller. “I was fascinated by the question from the gentleman… who asked why we [the media] couldn’t just join with the government. Oh dear, that’s not going to work in the United States!... 

“I was also interested in the question from someone who kept asking me, ‘Why don’t you feel pressure from the administration? Don’t you feel pressure from the White House and Trump?’…I kept on saying, ‘No’… I realized she didn’t necessarily believe me, but it’s just not a factor in the United States – at least not for my publication.”

Mistakes can happen in reporting, but Bumiller maintains the Times is a “very competitive place” with “really smart people” who believe in independent journalism and getting at the truth. “It’s also just been the privilege of a lifetime,” says Bumiller. “I’ve travelled a lot for the Times. I’m now working with people on their stories and on their careers… It’s a constant invigorating education, and I really do mean it’s a privilege.”  

The Changing Role of the Media in American Life and Culture: Emerging Trends features as part of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA) multi-year series. You can capture highlights on social media using the hashtag #SSASA.

The Art of Dialogue and International Exchange
Jing Xu at Salzburg Global SeminarJing Xu at Salzburg Global Seminar
The Art of Dialogue and International Exchange
By: Mirabelle Morah and Oscar Tollast 

Vice director of the Communication and Culture Research Center at Peking University, Jing Xu, reflects on learning about China and other countries around the world

“When I was a student, I met a very good professor… In her classroom, she told us that if you want to do some research, the first thing you’ll need to do is [learn] where China was, where China is, [and] where China will be.” said Jing Xu, speaking at the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA). “I need to know more about China.”

Why would someone wanting to learn about China come to an American Studies symposium? Xu is the vice director of the Communication and Culture Research Center and a professor at the School of Journalism at Peking University, in China, and the latest SSASA symposium was titled The Changing Role of the Media in American Life and Culture: Emerging Trends.

For Xu, learning about other countries and other cultures is just as important as learning more about China. She has spent more than 34 years at Peking University, first arriving as an undergraduate student. She earned a B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. at the School of International Studies before transferring to the School of Journalism & Communication. Much of her research has focused on Chinese media, politics, public opinion, media governance, and health communication.

In Salzburg, Xu was able to provide a unique perspective as the sole participant from China. But she could also reflect on her experiences in Japan, the UK, Sweden, Hong Kong, Belgium, and Italy. Xu is a firm believer in international exchange, having founded the Europe-China Dialogue in Media and Communications Summer School in 2013.

The program is now in its seventh year, having held its latest meeting in Beijing, China in July 2019. It aims to provide a platform linking scholars from Europe and China to foster the generation of new ideas for a better global communication exchange. Xu says they want to broaden students’ perspectives.

At the program, both professors and students present their own research. “After the presentation, professors – one Chinese professor [and] another European professor – will give [the students] comments to tell them how to modify, how to craft their thesis. That’s very helpful. We call it dialogue,” explains Xu.

“In some conferences, the students have a rare chance to get more feedback from professors – maybe several sentences. But in our… program each one will do [a] 15-minute presentation and get feedback from different professors. So, [it] almost lasts one hour.”

Xu says last year’s program received more than 60 proposals, more than double the number of places available. It was “the biggest success” for the program to date, according to Xu. Changes were made to the program as it sought to provide more theoretical and methodological guidance for Ph.D. students, with a greater focus on scientific training. Xu is clearly proud of how the program has progressed. “I feel happy. [This is] the first time that people hear my story about the summer school.”

Xu has attended a number of different international events in her career, including those where thousands of people come together. Events like this, however, make it difficult to have real dialogue, according to Xu. Thankfully, it is a different story in Salzburg.

“People are encouraged to speak, have different in-depth dialogue and conversation,” she explains. “So, that’s very, very interesting and [a] benefit for me… I also have a chance to put forward my ideas… To some extent, I’m timid. I don’t want to speak too much, but here, I feel more and more optimistic [and] confident with my English… I think when I say something, people are really interested in that.”

The Changing Role of the Media in American Life and Culture: Emerging Trends features as part of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA) multi-year series. You can capture highlights on social media using the hashtag #SSASA.

Using Film and Photos to Understand Complex Issues
Documentary Filmmaker Azza Cohen speaking at  Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA)Documentary Filmmaker Azza Cohen speaking at Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA)
Using Film and Photos to Understand Complex Issues
By: Mirabelle Morah and Oscar Tollast 

Documentary filmmaker Azza Cohen discusses the power of visual storytelling

“Journalism has really been rapidly evolving, and it’s exciting. I feel like this is an exciting time to be a visual storyteller,” said Azza Cohen, speaking at the latest symposium of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association, The Changing Role of the Media in American Life and Culture: Emerging Trends.

Cohen, a documentary filmmaker and historian, is dedicated to storytelling in the public’s service. At the time of interview in Salzburg, she was working on her first feature film, The Last Statesman. The film centers on the life of political negotiator George Mitchell, who helped negotiate peace in Northern Ireland with the Belfast Agreement a.k.a. the “Good Friday Agreement” in 1998, and his relationship with conflict negotiators in different countries. It is a film rooted in Cohen’s academic and visual interests, and one she hopes will “highlight positive examples of negotiation and examples of statesmanship which I think are really missing from our political conversation, definitely in America.”

“I’ve always felt – and I think especially after the 2016 [US] election – that young people don’t feel inspired by politicians and that young people don’t really see negotiation happening on a scale of the national conversation or international conversations. 

“I think particularly as a Jewish person, you learn about the conflict in the Middle East, and you learn about what’s happening in Israel and Palestine, and all you see is people talking past each other. You don’t really see attempts at genuine negotiation… You have to come to the table and then decide on what gets left behind or what is a priority,” said Cohen.

Cohen has worked in documentary filmmaking since graduating from the National University of Ireland in 2017, where she obtained a master’s degree in culture and colonialism, and history. Before this, she earned a bachelor’s degree in history at Princeton University in New Jersey, USA, where one of her undergraduate thesis projects involved producing a multimedia study of racial segregation in St. Louis, Mo., USA. “I think there are ways to blend… moving images, photography, and the written word, which can give you a fuller picture of a community or an issue,” she says. 

Cohen describes herself as a “big history nerd,” but it was only after attending Princeton that she encountered “how much of history informs we who are.” She said, “History is really amazing, and so many people don’t have access to understanding their own history… I think that movies and photography… can be a really great way to help people understand and be excited by history.”

Moving images can be really empowering, according to Cohen, but they can also be exploitative. She said, “It’s important that we have these discussions, especially related to this seminar… [about] the ways that media can be very harmful. I think we’ve thought about it in a lot of political sense and a lot of ways that… headlines are harmful, and memes are harmful. But I also think that moving images can be harmful, and in conversations about violence or representations of minors or children, I think there’s just a lot to think about.”

Cohen said the symposium in Salzburg continued to inspire her to consider how visual storytelling can look different – moving away from the traditional feature-length films shown at movie theaters and film festivals. 

Reflecting on her experience at Salzburg Global Seminar, she says, “What is so deeply meaningful to me is the way that this place was founded. That it was founded after World War II with an eye towards restoring the idea that you have to restore Europe through intellectual, cultural, political exchange and not just rebuilding the roads and fixing the buildings that were bombed. 

“I think that’s so incredibly profound.” 

She adds: “What we’re missing in politics, in academia [and] in so many things is this basic idea of civility and decency, and that exchanging ideas with people you don’t know and with people from different countries is the very foundation of how we live in a world that makes sense and treats people well… To be a part of that tradition that was started in 1947 is such an honor, honestly…

“I think this subject matter is particularly resonant [and] particularly timely… I just think it’s really important to constantly be thinking about the media and the effect of technology because we don’t have any other choice… I feel very much inspired and terrified about the state of things. But the only way that you can make yourself feel better is by doing something. So, you might as well be equipped and know from experts and be able to look at things sort of dispassionately and then act passionately.”

The Changing Role of the Media in American Life and Culture: Emerging Trends features as part of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA) multi-year series. You can capture highlights on social media using the hashtag #SSASA.

The Need for Critical Thinking and Co-operation
Pavel Koshkin at Salzburg Global SeminarPavel Koshkin at Salzburg Global Seminar
The Need for Critical Thinking and Co-operation
By: Mirabelle Morah and Oscar Tollast 

Russian research fellow Pavel Koshkin shares his perspective on US-Russia relations and how to curb fake news

To err is human, but journalists who make errors in today’s climate receive little sympathy. For some critics, an honest mistake can be a sign of a hidden agenda, or proof of “fake news” and a corrupt media. The reality is slightly different. Our decision-making is affected when we work under pressure, and it is no different for reporters, according to Russian journalist Pavel Koshkin. “You have an assignment from an editor... You have to write it [and] come up with a story for one hour. It should be analytical, in-depth. You have to interview a couple of people, two or three. It’s crazy, I think.”

Koshkin, a research fellow at the Institute for US and Canadian Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow, Russia, has experience in this field. While working as a journalist, Koshkin covered topics related to US-Russia relations for several Russian media outlets, including RBC Daily, Russia Direct, Cyber World, and more. He currently contributes to

“Mistakes are not fake news, and to prevent these mistakes, I think all American newspapers and Russian ones should establish [a] good department of fact-checkers – a separate department. It’s a separate profession because a staff writer can write well, can interview well, can just collect information well, but there should be a fact-checker. It’s [a] top priority.” Koshkin spoke while attending the 17th symposium of theSalzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA), The Changing Role of the Media in American Life and Culture: Emerging Trends. As one would expect, “fake news” was a popular topic of discussion.

During the symposium, Koshkin took part in a panel discussion on the issue of fake news and the media. In Koshkin’s opinion, fake news is a “very important” problem that requires our attention. Fake news, he says, is “a deliberate attempt to spread falsehood(s), false information for the sake of manipulation, and this information is distributed by groups of interest by certain stakeholders. I don’t know who they are, but they pursue either political goals or corporate goals.

What fake news is not, however, is propaganda. “Fake news is not propaganda. It’s a part of propaganda. Propaganda is a broader term; it might use fake news to achieve its goals."

Koshkin developed his interest in the US as a junior in the journalism department at Moscow State University. He says, “I was crazy about American culture, movies, music, literature,” he remembers. “[I] attended a lot of lectures at the American Center in Moscow. They’re called ‘American Corners’ in Moscow. There is one in St. Petersburg, in Kazan, and I just attended every time they had lectures just to talk with native speakers.”

In 2010, as a result of the Global Undergraduate Exchange Program, Koshkin received a scholarship to attend the Tennessee Technology University for one year. His experience deepened his interest in the nation. “I was exposed to American life, ordinary life, culture. I had an opportunity to travel a lot around the United States,” he reminisces.  

As the years have gone by, Koshkin has further immersed himself in US-Russia relations. One of his primary goals now is to see how both countries can work together. Koshkin says, “I think with Russia, the US should be friends. I know it’s idealistic. I know it’s gullible today, but I don’t care whether it’s gullible or not. I believe it. This is me and nobody else… I really believe that the US and Russia should work together, or should minimize this distrust… We need people… who bring together two countries when their relations are in bad shape.”

Improving those relations would partly depend on improving understanding – and thus reducing fake news.

“We need to be mindful about the limits of [the] human brain: we have so much information that we are not able to process and, most importantly, understand. We live in abundance, but we are fed up with it. We have numerous sources of information on the Web, but we find ourselves lost in this ocean of data. Sometimes we even don’t know how to use it [in] a practical way.

“Paradoxically, the more we get, the less we know. It is a paradox, which sometimes makes us more vulnerable to manipulation and fake news.”

“What is to be done?” he asks. “We need to focus on critical thinking and sound skepticism (do not confuse [this] with nihilism), we need to be more painstaking and meticulous in nuances. The Devil is in the details.”

The Changing Role of the Media in American Life and Culture: Emerging Trends features as part of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA) multi-year series. You can capture highlights on social media using the hashtag #SSASA.