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"Their Stories"
Annual American Studies Committee Meeting 2011

(American Studies and English Language Teaching Seminar)

November 24–26, 2011
Center for United States Studies
Lutherstadt Wittenberg, Leucorea Foundation

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Kirsten Fischer
Religion and the Founders

A heated debate rages today over the proper role of religion in American politics. In arguing about the appropriate relationship of church and state, contenders on all sides frequently support their claims with references to the framers of the U.S. Constitution. Some see these men as devout Christians intent on establishing a Christian Nation, while others view them as secularists focused on separating church and state. All sides use direct quotes to make their case. Who is right? How do we know? Professor Kirsten Fischer will discuss her approaches to teaching an historical subject that has become ammunition in the current culture wars.

Anton Hieke
Philip Roth's Plot Against America: A (Counter)factual (Hi)story of
American Antisemitism

Philip Roth's The Plot against America (2004) describes the experiences and fears of the Jewish family Roth of Newark, New Jersey, during the early 1940s. This is the story: In 1940, the Republican candidate for presidency, Charles A. Lindbergh, defeats incumbent President Franklin D Roosevelt by a landslide. During his term, President Lindbergh and his Secretary of the Interior, Henry Ford, introduce the first official policy of anti-Semitism on American soil, culminating in a wide-spread pogrom against Jews in the United States.
The Plot against America is a counterfactual historical novel—Lindbergh never became president and there never occurred a pogrom against Jews on American soil. Equally, Jews were never singled-out politically by any Federal American administration. In fact, they came to the United States because it was believed to bea haven for Jews from persecution and anti-Semitism in Europe. Using Philip Roth's story as a starting-point, this presentation is designed to delve into the history of anti-Semitism in America and to highlight the facts behind Roth's fiction. Thus, we will inquire into the multi-level and ambivalent attitude of American Gentiles towards American Jews.

Julianne Lynch
Constant Flux: The Effect of YouTube on the Fairy-Tale Retelling

The recent flood of fairy-tale retellings in advertising, Hollywood, and the literary world makes one wonder just why these retellings have become so popular? Though this question is problematic-it ignores the fact that almost everything we call a fairy tale is itself a retelling-it does suggest that something about the genre seems to be changing. Considerable research has been devoted to explaining how film technology revolutionized both the way we see and our expectations of the fairy tale and its retellings, yet relatively little has been said of how the internet-particularly the website YouTube-has begun to further transform the fairy-tale landscape. I will argue that YouTube fairy-tale retellings not only reflect what we want from the retelling, but they also blur distinctions between the literary fairy tale and folklore (as set forth by Vladimir Propp in his 1984 study Theory and History of Folklore), thus creating a new crossbreed of retellings that share traits of both. Ultimately, this new brand of YouTube retellings gives us insight into why fairy tales remain such a compelling narrative force.

Kevin Mumford
Black Before Stonewall: Intersections of Civil Rights and Gay Rights

Over the past fifteen years in United States historiography, both the fields of African American history and the history of sexuality have flourished. Important scholarly prizes and distinctions have been awarded to books on the northern civil rights movement and African American urban history, as well as studies of queer urban life and governmental repression of homosexuals. Yet the intersection of black and gay histories remains largely invisible and unexplored. Drawing on archival, government, and printed materials, historian Kevin Mumford pursues the first serious study of black gay history. He combines critical readings of popular culture, social science, and municipal politics with biographical portraits of largely unknown yet historically significant figures between the 1960s-1980s. In his lecture, Mumford first introduces the question of historical neglect--how and why have black queer issues remained submerged, ignored, or even repressed? He then examines several constructions of black homosexuality in the postwar era, focusing on two interrelated themes: what was the definition of the black gay figure, and how did the triumph and turmoil of the 1960s redefine its meanings? His primary sources include popular periodicals, the government's controversial Moynihan Report, and an avant-garde film about a hustler.

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