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  • The Times of Transnational American Studies
  • Caroline Levander (bio)
Globalizing American Studies. Brian T. Edwards and Dilip Parameshwar Gaonkar, eds. University of Chicago Press, 2010.
The Imaginary and Its Worlds: American Studies After the Transnational Turn. Laura Bieger, Ramón Saldívar, and Johannes Voelz, eds. Dartmouth College Press, 2013.
Re-Framing the Transnational Turn in American Studies. Winifried Fluck, Donald E. Pease, and John Carlos Rowe, eds. Dartmouth College Press, 2011.

Published between 2010 and 2013, the three volumes with which the following pages are concerned collectively suggest that the beginning of the twenty-first century’s second decade is a propitious time indeed for transnational approaches to American studies. Globalizing American Studies (2010), Re-Framing the Transnational Turn in American Studies (2011), and The Imaginary and Its Worlds: American Studies After the Transnational Turn (2013) ask a series of interrelated questions about the life of American studies in the wake of what the editors of Globalizing American Studies describe as the American Century’s end. “Until now, American studies has been conducted under the shadow of the American Century, an epistemological framework and a period of time that have, it seems, come to a close” (1)—so begins that collection’s introduction. The effect of this contemporaneous alignment of field imaginary with the “time” of the American Century has been, in the editors’ estimation, to “solidify the mythology of American exceptionalism” in both American studies and the American Century in which it flourished. It is this very American exceptionalism, of course, that has been the subject of sustained and rigorous analysis by the editors and key voices in all three volumes—from Donald Pease (whose typically incisive and magisterial accounts of US exceptionalism form a powerful through-line connecting the three projects) to John Carlos Rowe and Winfried Fluck. And so, as those of us in the early decades of the post-American Century who work in the field of American studies contemplate questions of how to reframe American studies in light of the transnational turn, these three volumes collectively ask us to rethink our field. Especially do they prompt us to confront the questions we ask, the blind spots (or disavowals) we inherit, and the [End Page 559] futures we envision in light of globalization, postnational critique, and the changing landscape of knowledge formation, production, and dissemination in higher education. In short, they ask us to turn into a century marked by transnational modes of inquiry, alert at once to the opportunities and stumbling blocks inherent in such a venture.

And they ask us to do so at a propitious time in higher education more generally. Even as the final of these three volumes was going to press, the New York Times had dubbed 2012 “the year of disruption” in American higher education and the “Year of the MOOC” (Massive Open Online Course) (Pappano). The time for reframing the transnational turn in American studies seemed to coincide neatly with the time for rethinking the large-scale higher educational endeavor more generally around an increasingly transnational audience of learners. Since its inception not quite two years ago, the stated and unambiguously utopian ambition of the Harvard/MIT-based open-access, not-for-profit platform provider edX, for example, has been to provide nothing less than “inspirational and transformative knowledge to students of all ages, social status, and income who form a worldwide community of learners,” and it is this same ambition that is featured in other platforms’ mission statements (edX). When accompanied by the unbundling of core services like teaching, peer assessment, and research communities, MOOCs—provided thus far by predominantly US elite universities and generated by the platform start-ups that US-based computer science faculty spin out from their department offices at Stanford and MIT—suddenly make blue-chip American education available to a global learning community that is multilingual, multinational, and conceived explicitly in transnational terms. Animating much of their disruptive promise and driving the consequent hype and excitement has been this ability of new digital learning platform technologies suddenly to take the classroom to global scale—to design learning environments that assume (rather than attempt to expand in order to reach) a transnational virtual...


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