COPAS 8 - Editorial

'New American Studies' in Germany? Some Observations from Ground Staff

The papers collected in the eighth volume of COPAS mainly originate from the Postgraduate Forum of the German Association for American Studies (GAAS) which took place at Chemnitz University of Technology in November 2006. While experiencing the talks and reading the papers we as guest editors observed an astonishing diversity in the presented work in progress.

Topics ranged from contemporary slam/performance poetry (Birgit Bauridl) to cinematic horror (Julian Hanich), from cybernetic feedback in American literature since 1960 (Benny Pock) to a comparison of Hollywood and Bollywood style (Jana Fedtke), from referentiality in the novels of Richard Powers (Jan Kucharzewski) to representations and constructions of Japaneseness in contemporary movies (Marcel Hartwig, Iris-Aya Laemmerhirt), from the function of memory in the works of Alice Walker and Leslie Marmon Silko (Jana Heczkov) to the poetics of nation building in Jeffersons Notes on the State of Virginia (Thomas Dikant), to name but a few.1 Not all of these papers presented at the Chemnitz PGF are reprinted here. The reasons for this are not to be found in any lack of quality among the papers. In some cases the presenters chose to publish their work elsewhere; in some cases they were not allowed to publish it at all because it forms part of their dissertation project.

When discussing the outcomes and directions of the Chemnitz workshop with all the presenters and trying to create an umbrella term for the PGF of 2006 we only came up with broad and rather absurd catchwords such as 'America' and 'culture.' It seemed that there were no possible categories to contain the diversity mentioned above.

However, from what we have seen in nearly two busy, but very productive years as organizers of the PGF, we believe that certain developments in German American Studies can be recognized from the works presented. These developments can be located within the context of wider cultural and institutional shifts and can be connected to the trajectory of the so-called "New American Studies."

The term "New American Studies" does not comprise one clear-cut methodological and theoretical design. Rather, it should be understood as a receptacle of intellectual streams which seek to overcome the idea of 'American exceptionalism' and other related (and rather nationalist) motives in favor of American Studies as a "multicultural critique" (Lenz). Rowe, for instance, imagines "New American Studies" in his book of the same title as "comparative cultural studies" (66) and pays considerable attention to the didactic elements involved in this new orientation.

Yet, the notion of an American Studies aligned to comparative and multicultural approaches has not always been common practice in academia. In its founding phase in the 1930s, American Studies as practiced in the United States sought to highlight the specific characteristics of (a predominantly white and mainstream) American culture:

By the 1940s, when the first American Civilization Ph.D.s emerged from Harvard and then Yale and the University of Pennsylvania, American Studies was fully implicated in the wartime and postwar celebration of American exceptionalism (Brinson, Jazanjuan, Kinney et al. 4-5).

However, by the mid-1960s the various emancipation movements disturbed the postwar consensus and subsequently deeply influenced the academic landscape. Multiculturalism and pluralism became new paradigms of American Studies in the United States and abroad. This version of American Studies was initiated by innovative methodological approaches, associated with French poststructuralism and emerging concepts of British Cultural Studies.

This trend carries on to the present day and has also been institutionalized in the German University system. The focus on multiculturalism and on so-called marginalized groups can be observed in the papers collected here which reach from the representation of ethnic difference (Selma Bidlingmaier, Iris-Aya Laemmerhirt, Andrea Zittlau) to the connection of gender and ethnicity (Michaela Bank), to conflicting versions of gender (Christina Hein, Heike Steinhoff), to political dissidence (Sina Nitzsche).

The second fundamental change within American Studies is connected to the notion of what can be perceived as a text and what, therefore, counts as a legitimate object of study and analysis. Again, Cultural Studies with its concept of culture as "a whole way of life" (Williams xviii) and its insistence on everyday practices made the inclusion of popular phenomena into curricula and research projects possible and ultimately necessary. Even the prestigious John F. Kennedy Institute for North American Studies in Berlin installed a new Juniorprofessur with special emphasis on visual and popular culture in 2006. This and a brief look into syllabi of American Studies in Germany are signs of the institutionalization of popular culture.

Moreover, the move towards popular texts almost always implies a move towards the mediality of texts. This is clearly visible within the German community of Amerikanistik. The annual conference of the GAAS in Göttingen in 2006 was topically called "American Studies as Media Studies." New chairs for American Studies in Dortmund and Göttingen already show in their denomination a focus on the media.

At the PGF conference of 2006 nine out of seventeen papers dealt with film. Two thirds of the contributions to the present volume are concerned with cinematic and popular phenomena. It may well be that this facet was influenced by the Göttingen conference prior to the Chemnitz PGF. Nevertheless, we believe that a larger trend towards the incorporation of media texts into the scope of postgraduate American Studies in Germany is clearly visible.

Furthermore, several papers at the Chemnitz workshop, which are not reprinted in this issue of COPAS, adapted a comparative or transcultural perspective. Jana Fedtke's "From Bollywood to the Big Apple: New York Masala Revisited," Eriko Ogihara's contribution on American and German receptions of Japanese Animism as well as Marcel Hartwig's talk on the construction of Japaneseness in the Hollywood movie Tokyo Drift can serve as examples for this tendency towards American Studies as "comparative cultural studies" (Rowe 66).

Taken together the presentations at the Chemnitz workshop and the papers collected here exemplify general developments within the postgraduate community of American Studies, among them a move towards the inclusion of popular culture, of media texts, of minority cultures and a move towards comparative cultural analyses.

Read this way, the apparent heterogeneity and diversification of the essays and talks are not as arbitrary as it seems. Rather, they are signs of the paradigm shifts which have gradually taken place during the last forty years and which have intensified during the last decade, partly under the label "New American Studies."

We as guest editors of COPAS explicitly advocate this development and call for a further advancement of "New American Studies" in Germany. This seems to be a given in the context of postgraduate American Studies in Germany. However, we sense a conservative backlash which is not always as openly articulated as in Harold Bloom's words:

I would say that there is no future for literary studies as such in the United States. Increasingly, those studies are being taken over by the astonishing garbage called 'cultural criticism.' At NYU I am surrounded by professors of hip-hop. At Yale, I am surrounded by professors far more interested in various articles on the compost heap of so-called popular culture than in Proust or Shakespeare or Tolstoy. (Shulman 75)

Last but not least, we would like to share a very positive observation. The number of young Americanists has visibly increased in the last few years. This can be seen in the enormous interest in the work of the Postgraduate Forum, both at the Chemnitz workshop and at the annual conferences of the GAAS in G/ouml;ttingen (2006) and Bochum/Dortmund (2007). Is it possible that the popularity of postgraduate American Studies is connected to the new perspectives that changes in the field have opened up?

Such a synergetic event like the Postgraduate Forum would barely be achievable without the support of institutions or the help of individuals. Therefore, we would like to thank the German Association for American Studies, the American Embassy, and the general editors of COPAS, Karsten Fitz, Ingrid Gessner, Juliane Schwarz-Bierschenk, and Birgit Bauridl for their generous support. Furthermore, we would like to thank the School of Humanities and Arts and our student assistants at Chemnitz University of Technology.

Chemnitz, August 2007

Gunter Suess and Antje Tober

1 The complete program is available at <>.

Works Cited

Brinson, Barbara Curiel, David Jazanjuan, Katherine Kinney et al. "Introduction." Postnationalist American Studies. Ed. John Carlos Rowe. Berkeley: U of California P, 2000. 1-21.

Lenz, Günter H. "American Studies als interdisziplinäre Kulturwissenschaft Amerikanistik an der Humboldt-Universität." 15 Aug. 2007, <>

Rowe, John Carlos. The New American Studies. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2002.

Rowe, John Carlos, ed. Postnationalist American Studies. Berkeley: U of California P, 2000.

Shulman, Ken. "Bloom and Doom." Interview with Harold Bloom Newsweek 10 Oct. 1994: 75.

Williams, Raymond. Culture and Society: Coleridge to Orwell. London: Hogarth, 1993.


  • There are currently no refbacks.