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American Quarterly 57.1 (2005) 67-73
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Transnational American Studies:
Response to the Presidential Address
Entering the United States for the annual meeting of the ASA was a new experience this time. An atmosphere of rigid control surrounded the procedure of passing through immigration and customs in the era of digital fingerprints and instant photographs. The official representative of the United States, who enforced these new requirements of the Homeland Security Office, asked the usual question about the purpose of my visit. My answer, "to attend the convention of the American Studies Association," triggered the further question about the nature of this association and its purpose: "What is American studies?" To which I replied, "American studies is you." On the flight from New York to Atlanta, I sat next to a businessman who read the Wall Street Journal. A similar conversation led to the same question, "What is American studies?" and my perplexed answer: "American studies is you." The amazing discovery of Americans turned into an object of study by a foreigner sojourning in the United States directly relates to Shelley Fisher Fishkin's presidential address and her concept of "transnational American studies." At the same time, it raises questions about the reception and recognition of American studies in public.
From the 1990s on, there have been a number of isolated attempts to launch a campaign of internationalizing American studies. It accompanied the process of (economic) globalization spearheaded by the Clinton administration and a world linked by the internet. In the same way in which the ASA responded to a changed situation in which globalization was often conflated with Americanization, national American studies associations worldwide took up issues and topics of a changed presence of the United States abroad. The branching out of American studies from the United States to bordering areas and cultures in Latin America, the Caribbean, the Pacific and the Atlantic oceans was reciprocated by American studies outposts in the rest of the world. In this spirit, Bernard Mergen, the editor of American Studies International, organized two workshops of American studies journal editors (in Washington, D.C., in 1997 and in Montreal in 1999), and ASA presidents made efforts [End Page 67] to recognize the work done outside of the United States. Stephen Sumida intensified the relations with Asian American studies associations and recognized the work of partner associations in Houston in 2002; Amy Kaplan created an international platform of American studies research against the increasing imperialist activities of the United States in Hartford in 2003. This year in Atlanta, Shelley Fisher Fishkin made a full-scale and successful attempt to reorganize the ASA and its annual convention as a meeting point for all American studies scholars and as a forum of exchange. At the same time she developed and applied the idea of "transnational American studies" as a reciprocal process of transcultural learning. In this sense, the ASA appears to be the site for the fruitful cooperation of national associations where the concept and practice of American studies is shaped, contested, and transformed.
This concept of a transnational American studies is by definition political. The exclusion of unwanted material and sources from a series of Oxford's trade book division, mentioned in the presidential address, is equally political as the exclusion of an article about Noam Chomsky and 9-11, originally printed in a German volume, from its reprint by another publisher in the United States.1 Oxford's uneasiness with Gloria Anzaldúa's borderline status and border language has its equivalent in German politicians' discontent with the German Turkish writer Feridun Zaimoglu's marginal position and his "Kanak Sprak." Lacking a model of identification in Turkey as well as in Germany, third-generation Germans of Turkish descent evoke the example of African Americans and Native Americans to refer to their own situation in German society, an alliance that gained Zaimoglu the label "Malcolm X of German Turks."2 The parallelism of Anzaldúa's and Zaimoglu's embattled positions connects the two cases of two different continents via ethnicity research. The study of Chicano...