American Studies

American Studies

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Introduction
The following pages will briefly sum up, why I believe American Studies is vital in 2005. Although American Studies has always been and still represents a major role in the course of my studies, I have never explicitly focused my interest on this essential issue, essential as it characterises the motive of studying the United States in all its aspects.
America – the role of American Studies
‘America: a place that is very rich and shoots lots of guns […] Friend or foe, rich or poor, foreigners tend to fear America for its awesome military power even as they are dazzled by its shimmering wealth.' The outsiders' perception of America is varied and stretches from praise to criticism. American Studies offers fundamental reference for understanding the fascination and loathing about a continent that was once praised as the City on the Hill, as the Land of the New Start and which stood and stands for Democracy, Liberty and Opportunity, but simultaneously has been waging wars around the globe causing the deaths of countless people, it offers help for understanding that ‘since Thomas More and before, America has been both Utopia and Dystopia for those in other lands' .
The horror of what happened on September 11, the terrible explosions and fires that killed more than three thousand people in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania, created a great urgency and focus on American perception in the world.
One central part of the American Studies is the interpretation of the American history, as it shapes our present and future. Douglas Greybill Adair once said, that ‘history is a dialogue in the present with the past about the future.' For gaining an insight view in American politics including the harshly criticized war against terrorism, we have to refer to certain concepts and images of America that derived from the past, from the very early beginning of settlement, but sustained and is nowadays still haunting in many minds of Americans shaping the American politics and everyday life.
Everybody has heard of the term World's Americanisation. But what exactly does it mean? Is it just a term for summarising a general criticism of the American Way of Life being adopted by many other countries? American Studies also deals with this criticism and offers pragmatic understanding of the concept of World's Americanization.
The role of American Studies has changed, however, as it has been overshadowed by the actions taken by the Bush administration that led to destruction, hatred and death in Afghanistan, Iraq and all over the world.

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American Studies can give an understanding of how it is still possible to get support from the majority of the people of America for a policy that causes so much pain, suffering and death in Iraq and Afghanistan, killing children, old people, young courageous soldiers and causing destruction beyond repair. How can one country determine the fate of many other countries? Why is it today still possible to achieve goals by military means? This policy affects the whole world including our daily life.
The following text will contain a brief discussion of the perception of America in the world as one essential aspect that American Studies deals with, it will contain the perception of American Studies as fundamental reference point for understanding how power and resources are divided in our society and it will finally discuss the importance of the understanding of the dialectic character of American identity between image and concept and the explicit realities. These points make American Studies vital nowadays.
Perception of America in the world – The sense of living in the Eagle's shadow
The attacks on September 11 confirmed the importance and urgency of analysing the American perception in the world in a very cruel and horrible way. ‘People who hated the values, economic institutions, and cultural beliefs associated with Western capitalism could attack […] to try to shatter a way of life and a people.' What did terrorists lead to attack the Twin Towers? What caused this underlying hatred, making families in Palestine to view a suicide bombing mission by their children as justifiable martyrdom? The attacks ‘ushered in a new awareness of how complicated, dangerous, and culturally divided the global village of the twenty-first century had become‘ .
This leads me to the term of the World's Americanisation. Hertsgaard summarises the term with the ‘ubiquity of English as the language of international business, tourism, and communication […] the proliferation of fast food, the rise of junk TV, and the increasing adoption of American consumption habits in general, all of which feed individualism, accelerate the pace of daily life.' He also connects the debate about globalisation with the World's Americanisation, as ‘globalisation ends up being Americanisation by and large.' The huge influence of the pro-corporate, free market ideology of the policymaking in America in the whole world causes resistance and opposition all over the world. The whole globalisation and Americanisation debate about the environment, public services and labour and human rights will ‘shape the fight against poverty, disease, environmental degradation and terrorism […] and the American role will be critical.' American Studies is vital to offer a pragmatic help to understand policymaking and the critics in America and in the rest of the world.
American development – a parable of modern development
‘A society founded in historical daylight, it has passed through the great rhythms of modernising change – from an agrarian, utopian form of liberal democracy to a post-techtronic, high-powered, market-based, post-modern society with supreme influence in the culture of the world.' The development of America has ‘displayed many of the processes – technologising, secularising, urbanising, materialistic, imperialistic' , which are central aspects of modern history and can therefore serve as a fundamental reference point for the other countries. Even more distinct and conclusively more defining is the definition of America as ‘a parable of modern development' . American Studies concerns with these processes and is therefore vital.
Fact and Dream
A main aspect of American Studies concerns with different concepts and images of America from historical and today's perspective. During my studies I encountered many different views of the concept of American exceptionalism, of the image of the City on a hill or the Land of the New Start and many different ‘rags to riches' stories in which poor dishwasher became millionaires. This whole and complex concept is often summarised under the term ‘American Dream'. To understand the attitude, the dreams and hopes and the disappointments of a whole nation, American Studies can serve a differentiated view of this concept. ‘In any case there were always apt to be discrepancies between what America stood for in image or concept […] and the explicit realities Americans actually encountered in their everyday lives.' Just these discrepancies, the space between real and ideal, have to be analysed and interpreted. The actual understanding of this complex context is one very essential reason, why I think American Studies is vital in 2005.
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