Rethinking National Foundations: Using/Abusing History (ACLA 2016; March 17-20; Cambridge, MA)

full name / name of organization: 
Meredith Malburne-Wade (Gettysburg College) / ACLA 2016
contact email: 

Foundational texts, events, and people influence our cultural and national personas. In the United States, for example, people may look to the Constitution and patriotic songs or even the bible as foundational texts--texts that define (and limit?) national identity. We often see events such as the Salem Witch Trials, the Civil War, and the Civil Rights Movement as critical moments of national formation, while people such as George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King, Jr. represent quintessential "Americans.". These foundational texts, events, and people work their way into literature and pop culture in myriad ways as authors, writers, poets, filmmakers and playwrights incorporate, reify, or challenge them through their works. Critics from Sacvan Bercovitch (and his concept of the American Jeremiad) to Homi Bhabha (the liminal) to Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (signifying), to Julia Kristeva (intertextuality) have attempted to define specific relationships between past and present, but the proliferation of criticism surrounding our return to our foundational moments suggests this relationship remains simultaneously present and problematic.

This panel seeks to examine texts (defined broadly) that rely, in some way, on foundational national texts (again, defined broadly). How--and to what end--are these texts/events/people reviewed, revised, and reimagined? In what ways do they alter, for better or for worse, our concepts of nation or nationality? Is this ab(use) of the past a form of patriotism, revolution, revision, or something else entirely? When we challenge texts, do we also not reaffirm them, bringing attention and focus back to the original?

The panel welcomes proposals that examine the use or reimagining of historical texts, events, and/or people in novels, short stories, poems, plays, film, or other genres. While the examples above focus on the U.S., this panel welcomes papers that focus on the use of foundational texts in relationship to any national identity.

Send any questions to the organizer, Meredith Malburne-Wade, at To learn more about ACLA's annual meeting, visit Please submit a 250-word abstract (plus title and a brief biography) through the ACLA online portal between Sept. 1 and Sept. 23, 2015.