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[UPDATE] The Transnational Turn in American Studies: Turkey and the United States
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The Transnational Turn in American Studies: Turkey and the United States
In her 2004 Presidential Address to the American Studies Association entitled “Crossroads of Cultures: The Transnational Turn in American Studies,” Shelley Fisher Fishkin called on scholars to move away from a nationalist and/or nation-centered model of reading, teaching and researching the United States that prioritized the agendas of Americanists working in the United States. Her speech, which was inspired by Robert A. Gross’ “The Transnational Turn: Rediscovering American Studies in a Wider World,” and later published as an article in the American Quarterly, focuses on the central question: “What would the field of American Studies look like if the transnational rather than the national were at its center?” In Fishkin’s opinion, American Studies was (and perhaps still is) divided into “us” and “them,” the “domestic” and the “foreign,” the “national” and “international,” marginalizing what another former ASA President Paul Lauter called a global academic “system in which the exchange of commodities, the flow of capital, and the iterations of cultures [should] know no borders.” Seeking to erase these borders and create “a web or contact zone” that could displace (or at least resist) American power by reframing American Studies transnationally, Fishkin and Lauter spearheaded a global movement which stresses the “multidirectional flows of people, ideas, and goods, and the social, political, linguistic, cultural, and economic crossroads generated in the process.”
When, as Fishkin posits, the transnational is taken as the center of American Studies, what emerges is a metaphoric “place where diasporic imaginations are valued for the dazzlingly hybrid syntheses they produce; a place where the term ‘American’ is understood in its broadest hemispheric sense; a place where it is recognized that there is an important body of American literature written in languages other than English; [and] a place where the cultural work done by [scholars] writing outside the United States is a valid subject of study.” Such an approach not only fills in the blanks of ethnic and immigrant studies to include diasporic participants, but also enriches our understanding of major American historical events, figures, and influences beyond the limited geographic framework of the United States.
A recent work, Magdalena J. Zaborowska’s James Baldwin’s Turkish Decade: Erotics of Exile, is a notable example of the latter phenomenon, exploring the transnational turn with respect to the African American author and Civil Rights Activist James Baldwin by specifically examining his decade in Turkey. As Zaborowska elucidates, Baldwin is certainly one of many figures who have been “rediscovered” as a result of the transnational turn in American Studies. For example, very few scholars know that Mark Twain toured Anatolia and other areas of the Ottoman Empire on his way to the Holy Land (Palestine), which during the nineteenth century was under Ottoman rule. He even wrote about his experiences in The Innocents Abroad, an 1869 satiric travel narrative which documents his observations concerning Orientalism and the false religiousity of his fellow pilgrims, while offering a personal critique of the cultures and societies he encountered. Similarly, Herman Melville’s epic poem Clarel: A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land (1876), which at over 18,000 lines is the longest poem in American literature (and longer than classics such as The Iliad and The Aeneid, and Paradise Lost), recounts Melville’s own pilgrimage in 1856. Lew Wallace, the author of Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1880)—which was the best-selling US novel since Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852), and remained so until Gone with the Wind was published in 1936—served as US Minister to the Ottoman Empire from 1881 to 1885. His experiences undoubtedly influenced subsequent works, especially The Prince of India; or, Why Constantinople Fell, a novel which was published by Harper and Brothers in 1893. Another American author whose relationship to Turkey has recently been “rediscovered” is Ernest Hemmingway, who in works such as “On the Quai at Smyrna,” In Our Time, and “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” conveys his Turkish travel adventures through a series of allusions, historical references and intertexts.
Despite the growing interest in transnational American Studies, very few book-length studies exist which examine American Studies from the Turkish perspective—i.e., the contributions of Turkey to American culture (Zaborowska’s work is one of a few exceptions), or the contributions of the United States to Turkish culture. Thus, this interdisciplinary volume, which is currently under contract with Peter Lang Publishers, seeks to fill this void by highlighting current transnational work (cultural, literary and historical), while departing from traditional approaches which have dealt primarily with Turkish-American diplomacy and foreign policy. The editors seek submissions of original, previously unpublished chapters (i.e., full-length manuscripts of approximately 6,000 words, following the Chicago Manual Footnote Style) on American Studies topics that take the “transnational turn” as their point of departure. Chapters may include, but need not be limited to, the following sub-topics:
• American Studies in Turkey (politics and pedagogy)
Abstracts and one-paragraph bios should be emailed as Microsoft Word attachments to Drs. Tanfer Emin Tunc and Bahar Gursel (email@example.com) by December 15, 2010. If accepted for publication, full-text submissions will be due March 31, 2011.
This project is co-sponsored by the American Studies Association of Turkey (ASAT) and the Turkish Coalition of America (TCA)