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CFP: Constructing America | Defining Europe: Perceptions of the Transatlantic Other, 1900-2000

Utrecht, The Netherlands

November 9-10, 2017 (CFP Deadline: February 28, 2017)

How are national cultures shaped by their significant others? How are
transnational models used to articulate collective expectations, dreams, and
anxieties? The twentieth century was marked by the rise of the United States
as a superpower. Over the decades, the spread of American cultural influence
abroad sparked considerable debate in Europe. The global footprint of America
– be it economic, political, or cultural – has long been a topic of research in
various fields, including American studies, transatlantic studies and (global)
history. The ‘Americanization’ of Europe to which scholars subscribed in the
past has since the late 1990s been replaced by a focus on cultural interaction
and local appropriation. This shift in outlook, with its emphasis on the
complexity and hybridity of cultural interaction, underlines how poorly we still
understand the question of America’s world-historical role in cultural exchange
and underscores how little we know about the reciprocity of transatlantic

The conference Constructing America | Defining Europe addresses the
question how America served as a contested model for Europe, as a ‘reference
culture’, and, no less importantly, how Europe played a comparable parental
and adversarial role for America. The relationship of the two continents has
always been fraught with ambiguities. The United States has often been
portrayed as a hallmark of modernity, even if modernity is something said to
have originated in Europe. The United States was perceived as lagging behind
Europe with regards to health care, social welfare, and racial and social
integration, while Europe has been identified with undemocratic and colonial
rule, and was burdened by a past of internecine warfare and external
oppression. These differences can partly be ascribed to political or ideological
positions – what may appear progressive to some, can be read as conservative
by others – but also demonstrates that mutual perceptions are closely tied up
with specific issues and cultural icons, and are thus highly contextual.

By focusing on the mutual perceptions of America and Europe, this
conference investigatesthe way cultures on both sides of the northern Atlantic
referenced each other. It does so by drawing attention to cultural perceptions,
and more specifically to the overarching patterns, domestic functionalities, and
geopolitical contexts of those constructions. We also welcome contributions
that compare the transatlantic connections with perceptions from other parts
of the world, offering a comparative global perspective from Latin America,
Asia, Africa, Australia or the Middle East.

The conference will focus on the following three domains:

Culture and Media. Ever since William Stead coined the term
‘Americanization’ in the early twentieth century, the spread of American
culture has been associated with the dominance of mass media. The
technologies, formats, and methods of dissemination, such as illustrated
magazines, radio, film, television or the internet, were often related to the
persuasive power of American culture, generally identified with mass culture
and consumerism. What was the effect of these European perceptions of
American influence? To what extent did America serve as a model, and under
which circumstances did it become a menace? Which competing reference
cultures emerged, and to what extent does the general picture of an
‘Americanized’ Europe hold out, little more than a century after the concept
itself was introduced?

Economics and Society. Although America is generally identified with
liberal market economies, it was arguably among the first states to combine
democracy and state-guaranteed social welfare with the introduction of the
New Deal. But these bold experiments with governmental intervention were
not mirrored across the Atlantic. How and for what reasons were American
economic models, such as scientific management and efficiency, New Deal
policies and neoliberalism appropriated or rejected by European countries, and
what were the foreseen and unforeseen consequences? To what extent was
‘American’ economic thinking in itself informed by European experiences such
as the economic crisis of the 1930s and the Second World War? And to what
extent can the debate about economics and society be conceived of as a
transatlantic debate?

Politics and Policy. Rooted in eighteenth-century Enlightenment debates
but strongly identified with consumerism and ‘massification’, American
democracy has simultaneously been perceived as appealing and fragile,
resulting in strongly divergent assessments of its civic culture and political

institutions. How have perceptions of American democratic virtues and pitfalls
influenced debates with regards to democracy and citizenship in Europe? How
did the rise of welfare politics during the twentieth century influence European
perceptions of the United States, and to what extent did America serve as a
utopia or dystopia in debates about public policy issues such as health care,
race, drugs policy, and social welfare?

Abstracts (max. 250 words), accompanied by a brief CV, can be sent to
constructingamerica@uu.nl no later than Tuesday 28 February 2017.
Participants are kindly requested to develop their abstract into a paper, to be
submitted two weeks before the conference taking place on Thursday 9 and
Friday 10 November 2017.

The conference ‘Constructing America | Defining Europe’ is organized by the
research group Translantis. The Emergence of the United States in Public
Discourse in the Netherlands, 1890-1990, a joint research project of Utrecht
University and the University of Amsterdam funded by the Netherlands
Organization for Scientific Research (NWO).

See for further information: www.translantis.nl.


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