Editorial

In November 2010, American Studies Leipzig was honored to organize and welcome more than 50 participants from 30 different universities at the annual Postgraduate Forum (PGF) of the German Association for American Studies (GAAS). As in the preceding years, the contributions to volume 12 of COPAS are based on this meeting. The conference was opened by James W. Seward (Public Affairs Officer at the Consulate General of the United States Leipzig), Prof. Dr. Martin Schlegel (Vice-Rector of Research and Young Scholars at Leipzig University), Prof. Crister Garrett, Ph.D. (Executive Director of American Studies Leipzig), and Reiner Rohr (Fulbright Commission Germany). The PGF 2010 was made possible through the generous support of the GAAS, the Consulate General of the United States, the Vereinigung von Förderern und Freunden der Universität Leipzig, the American Studies Alumni Association (ASAA), and the Maracujasektgruppe Shake ‘n’ Donate.

With its 2010 convention, the PGF met at Leipzig for the second time, eight years after its first stop at East Germany’s largest and fastest-growing institute for American studies. American Studies Leipzig focuses on literature, cultural studies, history, politics, contemporary and international affairs, popular culture, and minority studies. Within the last years, the institute has been awarded prestigious international professorships such as the Fulbright-Leipzig Chair for American Studies, the DAAD Professorship for American and International Studies, and the Picador Guest Professorship for Literature. In October 2010, the first and currently only Chair for Minority Studies in Germany was established here. With the Frank Freidel Memorial Library, which holds over 10,000 volumes, the program has its own library at the University of Leipzig and offers students and scholars a unique research opportunity. Since 2008, the institute has also been publishing the first and currently only graduate-level peer-reviewed journal for European American studies, aspeers.

The annual Postgraduate Forum offers young scholars in American studies a venue for presenting current research to their peers and thus provides a diverse range of topics and research interests from African American and minority studies to visual cultures to theoretical approaches and methods. With 22 presenters in total, the 2010 PGF at American Studies Leipzig was the biggest so far, posing both familiar and new challenges in respect to the conference’s format. A new workshop format constituted the most significant innovation of this year’s convention. In addition to the main workshop series that was attended by all participants, a series of parallel workshops on topics such as the forming of regional groups and the difficulties of networking, academic paths and their challenges and transcendentalism and scholarship was offered. This granted the participants more time to discuss important current issues that were agreed upon during the course of the event. This new format, as much as the ever-growing number of presenters and the breadth of themes presented, testify to the vitality of the field of American studies in Germany.

The great variety of postgraduate work in the field of American studies characterized the 2010 PGF conference. The presentations covered topics such as immigration literature, African American culture, autobiography and life writing, visual representations of America as well as Native American studies. Alongside an analysis of, for instance, Metropolitan Masculinity in Paul Auster’s writing, Hybridity in Nella Larsen’s texts, and the Construction of the Post-apocalyptic Novel, a variety of texts such as film and photography (“American Poverty in Literature, Photography and Film”), the youtube interface, and concert performances (“Performing Americanness in a Globalized World”) were the focal points in talks. This broad range of research interest and scholarly work is emblematic not only for the field of American studies but also for the Postgraduate Forum as an academic platform.

The essays in volume 12 of COPAS display the variety and diversity of Current Objectives of Postgraduate American Studies. Verena Harz (Düsseldorf), in “Building a Better Place: Utopianism and the Revision of Community in Toni Morrison’s Paradise,” performs a thorough analysis of the constructions of utopia in Toni Morrison’s novel Paradise. Providing detailed references to utopian theory, Harz concludes that Morrison negates traditional rigid and static conceptions of utopia based on exclusivity and purity and instead promotes a notion of utopia grounded in tolerance and constant negotiation. In her essay “‘Only Stones and Stories Remain’: Greek American (Travel) Writing about Greece,” Evangelia Kindinger (Bochum) argues that the work of second- and third-generation Greek American authors dealing with the journey back to Greece should be read and discussed as return narratives rather than simply attributed to the category of travel writing. She juxtaposes and identifies genre characteristics by closely examining Daphne Athas’s Greece by Prejudice (1962) and Elias Kulukundis’s The Feasts of Memory (1967).

Christian Knirsch (Mannheim), writing about “The Romantic Veil (of Perception): American Transcendentalism and British Romanticism as a Continuation of Lockean Empiricism,” traces continuities between Lockean thought and American transcendentalism. Where previous research had tended to stress differences between these traditions of thinking, Knirsch looks at the motif of the veil to find similarities. In her essay on “A Spiritual Homecoming: Ireland in Contemporary Movies about Ireland,” Alexandra Schein (Dresden) looks closely at specific genre conventions and at notions such as ‘home’ and ‘gender’ in movies about Ireland. Thus, she analyzes how these texts reflect ethnic identity construction in American popular culture.

In a study on contemporary novels about the hinterlands of northern New England, Marleen Schulte (Heidelberg) uses current approaches in architectural ‘critical regionalism’ to analyze the recent literary struggles and reconciliations of local everyday culture and global trends in “Shifting Spaces in the Critical Regionalist Fiction of New England.” Klara Stephanie Szlezák (Regensburg) in her essay “‘Welcome to Our Home!’: Staging Practices at Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House” investigates to what extent Orchard House—a major site of literary tourism—relies on staging, and she argues that a close reading of the material culture reveals the limitations of a claim of ‘authenticity.’ Alexandra Wagner (Berlin) argues in “‘Confusions about the place and the way in which I grew up’: Place and Knowledge in Joan Didion’s Memoir Where I Was From” that the production of autobiographical knowledge is closely linked to places Joan Didion refers to in her memoir Where I Was From. Didion uses California as a guiding light through and a way of reflecting on her life thus incorporating it as a narrative tool. Wagner aims to illustrate that the narrative itself functions as genre-specific site for the production of knowledge.

This year’s conference would not have been possible without many who supported the Leipzig team in organizing this event. The local organizers would thus like to thank the German Association of American Studies and the Consulate General in Leipzig for their commitment and contribution to the PGF. We would further like to single out the American Studies Institute of the University of Leipzig, Prof. Crister Garrett and Prof. Anne Koenen, as well as the American Studies Alumni Association, the Vereinigung von Förderern und Freunden der Universität Leipzig e.V., and Shake ‘n’ Donate for their financial and moral support. The conference itself would have been a far less pleasant experience without the untiring work of our group of BA student volunteers. Naturally, we are greatly indebted to all those who made their way to Leipzig to participate in the conference, to share their ideas, and to discuss their work. A big thank you, of course, also goes to the organizers of the 2009 PGF at Munich, Torsten Kathke and Sascha Pöhlmann, for their advice and encouragement; and, last but not least, we would like to thank the general editors of COPAS, Ingrid Gessner, Susanne Leikam, Sascha Pöhlmann, Klara Stephanie Szlezák, and Juliane Schwarz-Bierschenk, for working with us on this issue.

Florian Bast, Anne Grob, Sebastian M. Herrmann, Franziska Kloth, Frank Usbeck

April 2011

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