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  1. 1. “American Studies and the New Technologies” DRAFT March 1999 Prepared for the SAAS-USIS Conference, Santiago de Compestello, Spain, March 24-26, 1999. I - The Disclaimer American pharmaceutical companies are now unusually aggressive in their marketing. While they still send manufacturers reps directly to physicians with literature and samples, they‘re now reaching out through television and popular print media in an effort to reach the customer directly, to create anxiety about toenail fungus or incontinence or ‗acid reflux disease‘ and to suggest we contact our physician. And, at the end of each commercial they present us with the ―disclaimer,‖ the television equivalent of the fine print on the bottle. The nicely tanned, just-enough-better-than-average-looking spokesperson moves forward toward the camera through a set designed to look very much like the home we‘re supposed to aspire to and offers a casual disclaimer, something to the effect that this particular drug is not recommended for anyone taking the following medications, or suffering or at risk for the following conditions and, with a disarming smile, acknowledging that, in a certain number of cases, tests indicate that the medication will cause your hair to fall out, your toes drop off, you may become impotent, and your head may shrink as much as two hat sizes. Like the fellow in the commercial, I have a disclaimer. My topic today is ―American Studies and the New Technologies‖ and, while I think I can guarantee that, at the end of it, your hats will still fit, I must confess that I don‘t really understand the very subject I‘m to speak about: after a good deal of reflection, I‘m not confident that I understand the present situation or future direction of American Studies and I‘m at least as doubtful about the direction and impact of the new technologies -- and I certainly can‘t predict what will happen as they intersect. Nevertheless, I‘m standing here, you‘re sitting there, and both of us are required to put a bold face on the matter. Alan Greenspan, Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, recently let slip his mask of Olympian certitude before a Congressional Committee, confessing that ―We‘re all learning on the job here.‖ His words of comfort? ― If you think you understand what‘s going on, you don‘t!‖ II - AS In her presidential address ( ) to the American Studies Association convention last November, Janice Radway characterized the history of American Studies as a creative tension between consensus and dissensus. Building on Gene Wise‘s description of American Studies ( ) as an ongoing ―paradigm drama,‖ and suggesting that since the article was published in the late 70s that American Studies had exploded into what amounted to a series of sub-fields focused on issues of race and ethnicity or gender and sexuality or class and caste or on the very meaning of the term ―American,‖ an explosion that suggested to her that American Studies had lost its identity, in Donald Pease‘s phrase, its "disciplinary unconscious and field imaginary." Professor Radway went on to argue that, to counter this disaggregation of the field, we needed ―a more subtle appreciation of the complex, intersecting ways in which people are embedded within multiple, conflicted discourses, practices, and institutions,‖ a fuller appreciation of and commitment to describing what she calls the "intricate interdependencies" of American Culture(s). In effect, she said, we need a more sophisticated paradigm and more subtle ways of implementing it in our work. On the question of how American Studies might move to this next stage in its evolution, she proposed…….., a name change: ― The field could be called ―United States Studies‖ and the Association could be renamed the Association for the Study of the United States.‖ Or, not wanting to take too firm a position on this, she also suggested that it might be called the ―Inter-American Studies Association‖ or even ―The Society for Inter-cultural Studies.‖ In the end, she left the matter the membership to mull over.
  2. 2. With all due respect to Professor Radway, and with a full understanding that the remedy she proposed is less important than either her description of the problem or the conversation she hoped to stimulate – and it evidently did stimulate conversation – this strikes me as something like suggesting that the solution to the Exxon Valdez disaster would be to rename the tanker the Queen Elizabeth III and to declare it a vacation destination. For me, even Radway‘s description of the present of the field doesn‘t quite get at the problem; from my perspective, from my ―subjectivity,‖ we‘re mired in the bog of ―identity politics‖ and have rendered ourselves predictable and tedious. But that‘s not important. What is important is that here‘s something going on outside the really quite tidy precincts of our field and our disciplinary association, something that threatens – or promises -- to alter fundamentally the way we do business – the New Technologies are coming! III: NT Whatever that term eventually comes to mean, a lot of very smart people suspect that they will be radically transformative. Like the railroad or the electric light or the automobile or the radio, they will eventually alter our economic structures, our social systems, our modes of living, our fundamental modes of constructing reality. The changes they compel will be of unprecedented in scale and size and speed, their effects moving almost immediately from Redmond, Washington to Bangaladesh, from Microsoft Corporate Headquarters to the woman who has just set up as the phone company for her village using a cell phone and a satellite link. Granted, the movement of the technology – and its effects – will be uneven for a number of reasons: because the technology itself is still evolving, innovating and interconnecting like some global mold or fungus; because, and for a variety of primarily economic reasons, access to the technologies will be quite varied from place to place; because it will be as true of this technology as it has been of past ones that it will be misunderstood and misapplied at the beginning. Despite Edison‘s predictions, the phonograph did not prove the long-awaited vehicle for recording and distributing the wisdom of great men; despite IBM‘s best thinking on the matter, the computer did not turn out to be primarily a computational mechanism for advanced scientific research. And certainly there will be places that, in the end, prove to be relatively immune to it, ironically, the most economically advantaged parts of the world will be able to afford the luxury of maintaining anachronisms as theme parks or scraps of cultural iconography. But change us it will. IV. Mapping the Terrain: American Studies is a very small item in the midst of this very large and powerful process that looms on the horizon , a mote in the global storm. But from the point of view of the mote – your and my point of view, I fear -- it‘s something we really do need to pay attention to. The first question, then, is ―how has American Studies been effected by the New Technologies?‖ Another quick disclaimer; the generalizations I‘m about to make are built upon observations mediated by the technology; I‘m using the internet to see what‘s going on. And its no more reliable than any other lens, at this point probably less reliable than most. Occasionally, a site will deny access to the outsider, sometimes out of copyright concerns, often simply because it doesn‘t want just anyone looking at what‘s actually going on. But even in sites that are visible, what‘s actually going on is, if not more than it appears, certainly different than it appears on a monitor. My own program‘s site, AS@UVA is really quite visible: we have fairly straight forward program description, syllabi for both current and previous courses for at least the core courses, and we have a very large quantity of student work that both illustrates the kind of work students do in the program and its quality. At the same time, the program isn‘t just the core courses; a good deal of what happens takes place in the interrelationship between core and periphery – which isn‘t visible. Even more importantly, what you can see if you go to the site is not really the program itself but rather the residue of the program, a kind of secondary by-product of the educational process which actually is the program.
  3. 3. Having said that, a logical starting point seems to me to be the American Studies Association‘s own Project Crossroads, the official gateway site for American Studies. The Association ( ) has done a remarkable job of utilizing the new technologies to extend and enhance its traditional responsibilities as a professional organization. In the capable hands of Randy Bass, Crossroads has grown from what was essentially a cumbersome, randomly and arbitrarily selected archive of xerox copies of course syllabi in AS to an indispensable full-service utility for students of American Culture. Professor Bass has created, first, a gateway site, a central portal for accessing AS electronic resources; by and large, if you want to know what‘s out there, you need to start with Crossroad‘s ―Reference and Research‖ utility with links to both Association services (Full texts of American Quarterly articles from 1975; theoretical essays about AS from the ASA Newsletter archive, dissertation abstracts, etc.) and to a broad range of AS-related work on the web through AS WEB: a subject based directory of resources. Secondly, he has created an set of links to models for AS in the electronic classroom (Dynamic Syllabi) and Crossroads Test sites and Dissemination Projects. Thirdly, he has created a series of fora for discussion of AS related issues. This works horizontally -- linking out to related groups, fields and associations (Communities: Organizations, Communities, and Associations) -- and vertically -- through discussion platforms like the Crossroads Expo of May 1998 and the Highroads Discussion List, a listserv for Secondary School teachers. These are valuable services, providing pointers to resources for students and teachers that can be acquired at any time and from anywhere in the world, by anyone with access to a computer and an internet connection; providing syllabi and model courses which suggest the variety of ways in which one can think about American Studies and the variety of ways in which that thinking can be systematically organized in a curriculum; and providing asynchronous platforms where teachers can talk with colleagues. Each of these is clearly welcome and potentially very useful. Undergirding all of them is a fundamental understanding that the physical networks the New Technologies provide, the computers and software and the cabling and satellites that link them, are really far less important that the human networks they make possible. If one does a quick latitudinal search, scanning across the range of disciplinary associations in some ways similar to the American Studies Association, The Modern Language Association and The American Historical Association, e.g., , you find a number of interesting, if not always surprising things. First, you find that the American Studies Association is among the most evolved of the sites, the furthest forward in the understanding of the technology as reflected in its practice. In the main, other associations are still at the billboard stage, pamphleteering electronically. But, whatever their evolutionary stage, they tend to look a fairly similar, perhaps because of the similarity of disciplinary associations generally in terms of both the services they provide and the challenges they face, but also, I think, because the internet is developing a common vocabulary that shapes both style and content. Second, one finds that many of the associations link to one another in some form or another, either directly or, more frequently, indirectly through third-party sites. This, too, is a familiar and understandable institutional behavior. On the internet, you enhance your own asset base, your own cultural capital, by capturing the assets of others. Theirs‘ becomes Mine when I link to it, especially if I can use it on-site, e.g., keep the reader on my site while embedding the other site in it with, e.g., frames. And, although its not necessary, I can also transform their asset by simply linking it to other people‘s assets, creating an array of information and implication that is both itself different in kind and that transforms each of its components through the new set of inter-associations. -- a kind of collage, electronic anthologizing, or found art-work. Sometimes this looks like nothing so much as a small village whose economy is based on everyone taking in everyone else‘s wash; often it becomes densely inter-textual, monads of information re-written in a variety of places, creating subtly different meanings. The result is indeterminate, but not exactly incoherent. As I go across the disciplinary associations I‘m struck first by the number of places in which something like American Studies is now being done. This is true to some degree of the larger, older, traditional associations – The American Historical Association and The Modern Language Association , e.g., but especially of the newer ones, particularly those that one might characterize as having hived-off from American Studies over the past two decades, Popular Culture, Women‘s Studies, African-American Studies, Latino-Studies, etc. Every where, some variant of
  4. 4. multiculturalism and identity politics is present. Race and ethnicity, gender and sexuality, and to a lesser degree caste and class, prevail as predominant categories of inquiry and explanation. There‘s a certain amount of morphing to be sure, subtle changes of texture and shape as one moves from site to site, from one discipline or sub-discipline to another, but its still recognizably the same face. If an evolutionary biologist looked at this, I think he‘d suspect that the already fragile boundaries separating disciplines in the American Studies family had largely broken down, that some macro-field had already emerged and that the illusion of difference and individuality was being maintained by a social fiction and the various institutions‘ instinct for self-preservation. If, instead of moving horizontally, you move vertically in Crossroads, digging down through its layers, you‘ll find that ASA is where it probably ought to be, out well ahead of its membership. Moving down from the American Studies Association itself, to the colleges and universities, then deeper into the departments and programs and eventually into the classrooms, one finds a decidedly mixed picture. The great majority of American Universities now have a ―web presence,‖ a home page that functions at least as an advertising vehicle for the institution, characterizing its aims and its services, listing out its departments and faculty and athletic programs, etc. In many cases, these also include some degree of functionality, email contacts, downloadable literature, applications for admissions or financial assistance, and online access to library catalogues. In the main, however, the ―web presence‖ is a kind of billboard or electronic pamphlet, providing information that‘s also available through the mail. And almost exactly the same thing could be said at the departmental or program level -- and to a slightly lesser degree and where visible -- in the classroom. At the program level, I blush to confess that I can find only one AS Program that actually seems to have been reshaped in an effort to take advantage of the new technologies, my own program at the University of Virginia ( ) I‘ll try to make good that claim somewhat later. At the level of the individual classroom, there is a good deal more activity and imagination as well as an equally impressive range of quality and utility. In the main, however, professors are using electronic syllabi, some with a modest amount of class material attached, bulletin boards and email links. Providing electronic syllabi is relatively well established and certainly helpful useful: e.g., this from Al Filreis at the University of Pennsylvania ( ). Filreis‘s is a fully developed instance of this kind of electronic classroom. He actually links to the majority of course assignments and provides a variety of kinds of ―cultural texts‖ that make up the course content. But Filreis‘s is an unusually well developed site. In general, as I look at the AS ―electronic classroom‖ I don‘t actually see a much going on. Occasionally, there‘s an important expansion of the kinds of materials offered students, excerpts from out of print books, fugitive materials – periodical literature, journal essays, etc., -- that have never been reprinted or anthologized and couldn‘t be made so easily available to students. Often there is a bulletin board or email ―advising‖ attached, and infrequently a MUD or MOO (chat rooms). In the main, however, what seems to be going on is little more than the electronic distribution of print syllabi. Often, even where electronic resources are available on the internet, the instructor evidently hasn‘t found them yet. And where multimedia are clearly indicated, it isn‘t actually used,. And most sigificantly, the ―process‖ of studying AS still runs to chronological and survey organization. The subject matter has not been refocused the learning process has been somehow changed – rationalized in some new and more coherent fashion than the one- book-a-week model. Finally, very few courses feature electronic student projects which would indicate the degree to which the students are being enabled to integrate AS & NT themselves. If one continues ―post-holing‖ in Crossroads, looking now for the impact of the New Technologies on American Studies research and scholarship, one also finds a decidedly mixed picture. In contrast to the situation just five years ago, when nothing was available for scholars on the web and precious little through the various ftp sites, there is now a huge amount of researchable material online, special collections of all sorts, image banks, interactive census data, full-text copies of primary and secondary works and, increasingly, manuscripts, indexes to special collections‘ holdings, and increasingly some proportion of
  5. 5. those holdings themselves. Links to archives, corpora, and image databases are, as always, only as good as their content -- and that varies. But they are becoming increasingly searchable and represent an important increase in accessability. Surely, much larger numbers of scholars who would have found it impossible to work in these places or with these materials will now be able to do work. But, evidently, not yet. In a quick survey of articles published in American Quarterly for the past two years, I could find not a single citation of material acquired over the internet. Although publication schedules are undoubtedly dampening the appearance of citation as an indicator of scholarly use of the internet, I think its also true that, while students now turn first to the internet to do their research, faculty aren‘t turning to it at all. Scholarly journals, on the other hand, are struggling to adjust to the New Technologies and many have chosen some sort of electronic reprint or simultaneous electronic and print publication. The ASA ( ) has chosen this latter strategy and you can, if you‘re a member, visit their site at Project Muse and find a full archive of back issues as well. But I think its fair to say that this is utilizing one of the lowest powers of the new technology, the power to distribute print information by non-print means. Important, but really just old wine in new mason jars. Elsewhere, however, there are a number of completely electronic journals. In the AS world, Postmodern Culture ( ) at The University of Virginia, is one of the most highly evolved, one of two journals also available through Project Muse ( ) The current issue of Postmodern Culture includes a full array of multimedia services, images, film clips, audio clips, and interactive maps as well as reader feedback loops, links to sources and resources, etc. It also includes essays that are largely laid out in conventional linear fashion as well as one essay, on Rock-and-Roll, that doesn‘t have what one might have expected, sound clips. But American Quarterly and the American Studies Association have launched an e-journal, Hypertext Scholarship in American Studies ( , which is, I think, very innovative. The journal debuted March 8 of this year and includes four articles: 1) The Spanish-American War in U.S. Media Culture by James Castonguay. ( ) 2) Dreaming Arnold Schwarzenneger by Louise Krasniewicz and Michael Blitz ( ) 3) "Hearsay of the Sun: Photography, Identity, and the Law of Evidence in Nineteenth-Century American Courts" by Thomas Thurston ( ) 4) "From Hogan's Alley to Coconino County: Three Narratives of the Early Comic Strip" by David Westbrook ( ) Each of these articles is extremely interesting, both for what the author says and for the ways in which they use the technology to say it: Castonguay‘s hypermedia essay about film‘s role in shaping public perceptions of the Spanish-Civil War is relatively low-tech and linear; The Kasniewicz and Blitz piece is relatively hi-tech and postmodernly complex and aggressively non-linear; Westbrook‘s piece on comic strips seems the most conventional, an illustrated argument. Thurston‘s piece on photograpy and legal theory and practice brings together in one space pieces of a cultural dynamic that would be almost impossible to represent without the technology. What distinguishes the articles as a group is that they are presented as organic and dynamic sites that could, at least theoretically, become open ended projects, continuing to grow and develop over time, gathering component parts, perhaps even attracting collaborators and detractors. If this happens, their organic instability will present some interesting practical problems of evaluation, of ownership and authority.
  6. 6. At least as interesting as the articles themselves, the editorial preface ( ) by Roy Rozensweig speaks indirectly about the impediments to electronic publishing in American Studies. Rozensweig explains that the project seemed worth doing because, in effect, they wanted to avoid presenting yet more ― theoretical statements about the possibilities of on-line publishing; wanted to see what electronic publication might mean concretely for American studies scholarship.‖ At the same time, the question of ―validity‖ clearly troubled the editors: ― If we asked people to submit hypertext essays for review and then, as would be expected, we rejected many of them, the authors would have no other journals where they could submit their work. In other words, if we were the only game in town, then they would not have the option generally open to those whose work is rejected by a scholarly journal--submitting their work elsewhere. In that context, it seemed unfair to require completed projects from authors.‖ The editors‘ solution was to solicit proposals rather than completed work, to constitute a peer- review panel to evaluate the projects, a panel which consulted with the four authors chosen to go forward and then to consult with them periodically as they drafted and revised their projects; the result is clearly marked as ―draft-work‖ as the authors continue to revise what are offered as their ―Beta‖ versions of their work. Whatever their state, the articles will be reviewed soon by a panel of three experts who will then present their findings in the June Issue of American Quarterly. The concern about equitable treatment of the authors has veered off into an underlying question about how to determine the ―validity‖ of their work in the New Technologies. I find the experiment courageous and imaginative on the part of both the authors and the editors – but pointing toward a major problem in AS scholarship and the New Technologies, ―validity.‖ We do not, individually or collectively, have much of an idea about how to evaluate research conducted through, conceived in, or delivered by, the New Technologies. When NT is used merely as a delivery system for OT (Old Technologies that have been rendered invisible by time and custom), we‘re not likely to have problems; but we often and quite literally don‘t know how to read what the New Technologies present us, let alone know how to evaluate it. In addition to the problem of ―expertise‖ in AS&NT, of knowing what to make of what is before us, there looms the related social problem. The editor notes, parenthetically and positively, that the initial group of twenty proposals included a surprising number graduate students or recent Ph.D.s and from collaborative groups. It is not his purpose to suggest that grad students and groups may lack ―validity,‖ but I suspect that that is very much the case. The problem of ―how to read‖ is entwined with the problem of ―who gets to read.‖ Who, exactly, is a peer as we move toward the un-discovered bourne? Turning quickly away from that question, I only want to note two parallel phenomena, the emergence of electronic publications working on this problem at the meta-level (Cyberculture) and of publications that are occasional, often collaborative, perhaps not even designed as publications but worthy of that high designation. As an example of the first, see ( Cyberculture; Singer ) As an example of the second, Susan Ressler (Purdue), and Jerrold Maddox, (Penn State) ―Women Artists of the American West: Past and Present‖ ( ) This was originally a course organized around ideas of community, identity, spirituality and locality but also in terms of the artists and collaborators who were both creators and sometimes the subjects of the site. It includes a large archive of images with accompanying critical and auto- and biographical text by academics and non-academics which frame the weekly discussions and a bulletin board to enable asynchronous discussion. It survives the original occasion and stands on its own feet as a kind of electronic publication and a kind of learning space accessible to all. There a number of fugitive electronic journals, often emerging on a wave of graduate student energy and enthusiasm, then disappearing as the wave ebbs. E.g. Sycamore, Carnegie Mellon Site, 49 th Parallel
  7. 7. Overall, I think what we see here is in one sense very much what one might expect of early attempts to adapt new technology to old practice, an exploratory process laden with first generation problems: by and large, we‘re using the new technologies to do old business at increased speed and scale with the hope of lowering costs and increasing returns. The whole he enterprise is under-funded, understaffed, and largely unintelligible to those who fund and staff. As a discipline, we‘re at something like the same stage architects/builders were in the middle of the last century trying to understand what the new capacity for the mass production of large pieces of cast iron might mean to their profession. The majority decided the new technology was ideal of mass manufacturing iron building fronts; they could be manufactured in modules, shipped from the factories in the East by steamboat, and assembled on site by workers far less skilled and costly than those stone cutters or masons that would have been required to build brick stone facades. They could also be bolted to frame structures and yet yield the appearance of much more expensive buildings. Against these, another group understood fairly soon that cast iron might be less interesting as false façade than as structural members, still factory-made, still shipped and assembled, but inside the building rather than outside. Most of us, I fear, are still staring at the façade. V – American Studies has left the Building Outside ASA and its universe, however, there is a surprising amount of American Studies going on. If you follow many of the links on Crossroads, you repeatedly wind up, not in .edu sites, but in .org, .net, .gov, and -- .com sites. These are quite varied, but some of them very powerful, well funded, well constructed, culturally powerful sites that have such enormous reach and power they make me nervous, but that also suggest a good deal about the potential of the new technologies. On the margins of academe stand a host of centers, institutes and projects: NEH Seminars: e.g., ―North by South: From Charleston to Harlem – The Great Migration,‖ ( ), the group projects from The American Studies Seminar of the Salzburg Center for American Studies ( ) Some of these have solid and substantial ties to the universities like TheCenter for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi ( ); others, like The Sixties – which offers a Julian Bond comic book and exhibitions of 60s political memorabilia along with a variety of other things project -- seem only provisionally connected to the traditional institutions. ( . Just a bit further outside the campus gates stand the new proprietary universities like Britain‘s Open University, ( )and America‘s own Phoenix University ( ), but including a host of others. At this point, they seem more able to deliver introductory level courses, especially skill heavy courses like mathematics or nursing. But the Open University is offering an MA in Humanities that emphasizes courses in history, literature and popular culture, and their Sixties Research group sponsors a twice yearly seminar and offers a variety of courses at the Open University in the OU History Department. ( ) They are clearly moving toward offering something like American Studies for the distance learning market. You might also look at The White House Collection of American Crafts ( ) and The National Museum of American Art : Metropolitan Lives: ―The Ashcan Artists and Their New York‖ (http://nmaa- ) Even further from the center are a whole host of other players. Museums, for example, at every level, Federal, State, Local. E.g., The Library of Congress has 44 of its collections mounted online including ―The Spanish-American War in Motion Pictures‖ ( ), ―Voices from the Dustbowl‖ ( ), The American Variety Stage: Vaudeville and Popular Entertainment, 1870-1920 ( ), and ―America from the Great Depression to WW II: Photographs from the FSA-OWI 1935-1945‖ ( ). And the National Park Service offers more than a dozen exhibits, e.g. Lincoln Home National Historic Site: ( ), ―Our Shared History:
  8. 8. Celebrating African American History and Culture ( ) , and ―Lying Lightly on the Land: Building America‘s National Park Roads and Parkways‖ ( ) State Governments and Historical Societies are also very active: E.g., The Chicago Historical Society and Northwestern University collaborated to present ―The Great Chicago Fire‖ ( ) and the Atlanta History Museum is currently offering ―Gone for a Soldier: Transformed by the War – 1861-1865. ( ) Local museums, historical societies and interest groups are also there: Museums at every level are also coming on line. E.g., Colonial Williamsburg ( ), The Diego Riviera Museum ( ), The Franklin Institute Virtual Science Museum ( ), The DeYoung Museum (SF) ―The Art of the Americas: Art and Ethnography‖ (which has a panoramic, interactive Virtual Gallery which allow you to move around in the exhibit and focus your monitor on individual objects ) ( , ) the The Navajo Nation ( ) and the Country Grain Elevator Historical Society headquartered in Bozeman Montana ( ) Libraries, concerned about the survival of the book in the age of hyertext are also feverishly active, especially University libraries which often have access to unusually powerful human resources. E.g., The Electronic Text Center ( )at the University of Virginia has on line a very large number of texts of interest to Americanists, the library‘s Special Collections Division ( ) which regularly mounts exhibits like these on ―The Psychedelic Sixties‖ ( ), Southern Women in the Civil War ( ) and cartographic representations of Early America ( ) and its Geospatial and Statistical Data Center ( ) now houses the Historical Census Browser (http://fisher.lib.Virginia.EDU/census/ ) . Created by Paul Bergen at Harvard, this utility interactively displays U.S. census data from 1790 to 1970. Publishers, especially commercial rather than academic presses: Prentice-Hall, Simon and Schuster, Harcourt Brace, Norton, Houghton Mifflin (Heath Division) are each busily creating web sites to amplify and extend their hard copy anthologies. Houghton Mifflin‘s site ( is fairly representative. The site is to be used in conjunction with any of three textbooks they publish: Berkin et al, The Making of America, Bailey et al, The American Pagaent, or Norton et al, A People and a Nation. Each sub-site includes a small archive of graphics and documents, a battery of self-tests for students covering each chapter in the book, a set of external links, links that point out to complementary material outside the Houghton-Mifflin domain that has been vetted and judged appropriate and relevant, and a body of instructor notes -- cribs -- on both the central text and the external resources. This site doesn‘t include additional features found elsewhere, chat group, email help lines, a pad so students can take notes and email them to themselves, a bibliography -- text and electronic -- etc., but its still fairly typical of the low end of such things. At the high end one would find much more comprehensive primary and secondary resources, the inclusion of sound and film, and a generally higher quality ‗design elements,‘ packaging. But across the range, the strategy seems to be to re- cycle existing hard-copy product by enhancing it in some fashion. And the common pressures of both commodity intent and the technology mean that the sites look very much alike; in U.S. history, literature, sociology, anthropology, art, and architecture, the disciplinary boundaries begin to give way, each site becoming a kind of multidisciplinary/multi-mediated cousin of the other -- a kind of low budget American Studies site. One of the best of the print/electronic publication is the yet to be released Border Texts edited by Randy Bass. To be published as a textbook by Houghton Mifflin, the web-site is now housed on the Georgetown server ( This is essentially a composition text, using primarily American material and the multi-cultural notion of borders and includes longer versions of
  9. 9. the editorial material framing each chapter in the hard copy book, a set of exercises that teach students how to use the web intelligently, sections on the relation of texts to contexts, on various kinds of narratives and generic conventions, on physical and electronic communities and on the electronic frontier and the American West. And it contains a very selective set of external sites that are closely keyed to the Border Texts‘ site. Because this site is conceived from the ground up; all of its component parts are intelligently integrated; it focuses on writing at the level of thinking about real things; and it is process driven, that is, it unfolds, not as monads of information, to be digested and stored at least until the test at the end of the chapter or the real course test at the end of the semester, but as an intellectual process that is intended to develop understanding by giving students increasingly difficult problems to solve with progressively more sophisticated information, skills, and analytical models. It is a process, not just a body of information. Finally, another kind of publishing, CD-ROM publishers like Educorp ( ) , which now lists 27 titles in American History and 25 in American Art and Voyager, which has a number of more or less AS like titles including Roy Rozensweig, et al, Who Built America?, are also important players in this expanding universe of the New American Studies. Media organizations are also doing American Studies these days. Not just Zines like ―WIRED‖ and ―TIME‖ -- although they‘re there -- but organizations like the Public Broadcasting Corporation. Paralleling the print publishers, PBS and a number of its affiliates like Maryland Public Broadcasting and WGBH in Boston, are recycling and extending television programming as web sites. And this is certainly going to filter down to the local affiliates, to the stations in Atlanta and Sacramento and Missoula where, in all probability, it will take on a regional focus and local color, American Studies letting down its bucket where it is, as it were. One of the most recent productions at PBS -- and one of my favorites for the very simple reason that it was produced by one of my own students -- is the Frank Lloyd Wright site ( which follows on after the Ken Burns‘ film. Organized chronologically -- from Wright‘s first project, his own house in Oak Park, to the Guggenheim Museum commission -- the site moves from major building to major building. At each point, the reader finds schematic drawings and elevations, contemporary reviews and responses, biographical pieces on Wright‘s life at the time of the project, and links to antecedent and parallel movements in architecture, literature, and art. After moving through this history of Wright and his times, you can then go to various assessments of Wright‘s career, estimations and demonstrations of his influence on architecture, design, community, to maps and tour itineraries that allow the reader to find out where the closest ―Wright‖, and a ―Resource‖ page with bibliography and electronic links to material off- site for those who want to read about it rather than go see it. The whole is nicely amplified with graphics and audio segments; and the whole site points to/ integrates with other PBS sites, including ―Teacher Source‖ ( an internal gateway for all the PBS sites which have been re- drawn or created specifically for educational use. And, what PBS is doing, all of its local affiliate stations are doing or are preparing to do: e.g., WGBH – ― Africans in America‖, (, or Maryland Public Television, ( ). And, inevitably, commercial ventures -- lots of commercial ventures -- from commercial sites attached to commercial educational television channels like The History Channel ( to large corporations like―The Union Pacific Railroad Company‖ ( ) all the way to a small retailer of western and native American goods New Mexico, who gives us ―The American West: A Celebration of the Human Spirit‖ ( ) And, finally, Individuals: enthusiasts, amateur historians, cranks and culture mavens of every kind and condition – many of whom are actually quite accomplished. E.g., another Sixties ( ) from a 19 year-old Biological Sciences Major at The University of East Anglia; a site on the history of Illinois Courthouses ( ) from an independent journalist working on a book on the topic;
  10. 10. a site from a collector of memorabilia relating to the 1904 St. Louis World‘s Fair ( ); an impressive site by Jim Zwick, a graduate student at Syracuse University who passionate website ―Anti-Imperialism in the United States: 1898-1935,‖ seems to have been banished to a .com site: ( ); and from Todd Post, an amateur historian, ―New Jersey: Crossroads of the Revolution ( ) The point is, I suspect, painfully clear by now: at the margins and on out into the furthest reaches of hyperspace, American Studies is very much alive: everybody‘s doin‘ it, doin‘ it, doin‘ it. VI – What Does it All Mean? And what, then, does all this mean? First, it is simply a part of that larger deconstruction and reconstruction of traditional institutions that, under the pressure of the New Technologies, is happening everywhere; in the information age, which means above all the global commodification of information, the university, which has had something of a monopoly on large bodies of information and their distribution, is being challenged by a host of other institutions, traditional ones that have adapted, startups that have recognized the changing nature of education in the information age and are busily working to capture new markets within this changed landscape. This isn‘t an entirely novel phenomenon. The liberal arts core of the university has progressively lost function to emergent institutions, but related institutions that the core has been able, for a time, to strike more or less easy alliances with – to Education Schools and Medical Schools and Engineering Schools, and Law Schools; over time, some of these new schools become centers of power and profit that, not merely competed with the old center, but in many ways became the center themselves. And it seems to me this older process that is now amplified and accelerated by the new technologies. Ted Marchese, in Change Magazine published by the American Association of Higher Education, tells us that: For established colleges and universities, the competitive threat is fourfold. First, all face threats to their continuing education, degree-completion, or extension arm . . . which in more than a few cases is a key financial base for the institution. Second, in the convenience part of the market, less- selective colleges will feel real pressure on their base enrollments at the associate‘s, bachelor‘s, and master‘s levels. Third, most institutions and their faculties will confront difficult, market- and quality-based questions about whether to replace existing, home-grown courses with nationally produced courseware. Fourth, all institutions, Ivies and medallions included, may see their undergraduate franchise eroded as enrolled students appear in the registrar‘s office with brand- name course credits taken over the Web. More broadly, an essence of distance learning is that it knows no boundaries of time or place; it is inherently transnational. A big fear among U.S. university leaders and post-secondary start-ups alike is that — just as happened in banking and health care — major international combines will emerge to quash today‘s smaller-time competitors. What would the post-secondary marketplace look like if (say) Microsoft, Deutsche Telekom, International Thomson, and the University of California combined to offer UC courses and degrees worldwide? In time, its only competitor could be a combine of like standing and deep pockets: an IBM-Elsevier-NEC-Oxford combine, for example. We shall see. Second, it means that education within the university is likely to be transformed along the same lines that have already transformed non-academic institutions – although the changes will undoubtedly be slower, more painful, and therefore even more costly. For example, just as in the world outside, it will mean the flattening of hierarchies and the redistribution and reconfiguration of power and authority; it will mean the replacement of formal structures -- rigid and reliable things that they are -- with processes that are unstable and flexible and unreliable; and it will mean profound changes in the notion of expertise which must, both as status and as commodity, move away from individuals and toward various kinds of collectivities – groups, associations, teams. And that, in turn, will mean that intellectual property will be contested for, on the one hand, by the larger institutions and, on the other, by the groups that can also lay claim to it. For both of the contenders, of course, there is also the disturbing possibility that the difficulty of establishing title and
  11. 11. the costs of maintaining it will become prohibitive -- and the question of intellectual property for low profit margin operations like academia will be mooted. Each of these is, I suspect, troubling; in the aggregate, they suggest that we are about to be treated to a major reconstruction of the ways in which, not just American Studies, but all information, is acquired, processed, and distributed. The question, at this point I suppose, is less why should AS care about all this, because it should be clear by now that I think we must care because we are at some risk of being rendered simply irrelevant. More important than saving our own necks, however, the new technologies offer us an opportunity that is really remarkable – if not entirely unique to American Studies. If we go back to Professor Radway‘s call for a new AS and if we focus, not on her nomenclatural solution but on the ways she describes what she understands to be the new models of cultural process we pretty much agree about, we see something very interesting. The terms she used to describe the cultural process all point toward the complexity and dynamism of cultural process: it‘s an process of ‗intersecting,‘ ‗interweaving,‘ and ‗interacting,‘ ‗interrelationships,‘ that ‗mutually ‗transform‘ one another as a host of parties navigate ‗borderlands,‘ and create ‗hybridities,‘ perform an endless interactive and in-animating, endlessly ‗fluid,‘ ‗mobile,‘ and ‗flexible‘ ―process.‖ The answer is that the New Technologies offer us, for the first time, the means to do exactly this kind of American Studies. Radway is right, In the beginning, the models of American culture were fairly simple. When we spoke of myths, symbols, and images, The West or the South, Agrarian America, Industrial America, The Country or The City, whatever, we were telling stories about ourselves, constructing narratives to make sense of our own contemporary world by configuring the past – distant or recent -- as largely linear narratives. Not insignificantly, most of these stories were spun out in texts that were themselves derived principally from other texts. (HNS?) Since those beginnings, a new consensus has emerged about both the way cultures work: that they are carried not merely in written texts -- high or low -- but in a welter of crypto-, pseudo-, or proto-texts, images, sounds, events, built and un-built structures. And the multi-media capabilities of the new technology gives us the power to really incorporate all of these other kinds of texts in a single space. More importantly, I think, we now know that these various kinds of texts never amount to a single narrative, but eddying in agitated arrays of inter-relation and inter-dependency, meaning and action; that this process is less linear than synchronous – and asynchronous; that it is less monolithic that multi-vocalic and multiply situated ; that culture is not ―centered‖ but radically de-centered. I.e., ―culture‖ now looks less-like-a-book than like,......, well, like a web,.... of signification and interrelation, effect and affect. And that, of course, is where the technology gives us a platform of sufficient power, scale, and complexity, not so much to tell stories about that world out there, but to mirror it, to create something like a simulacrum, not so much of that world itself, but of its intricate inter-connected-ness as a dynamic processes. VII - I really don‘t know how we go about doing it, but I‘d ask you to look at two sites, both at The University of Virginia, that seem to be pointing in new directions: The Valley of The Shadow Project, The Sixties Project and AS@UVA. The Valley of the Shadow Project ( ) is the brain child of Edward Ayers, an excellent American Historian who writes about the social history of the South. It is focused on two communities in the Shenandoah Valley from 1859-1866 and has created a huge database of newspapers, court records, photographs, correspondence, etc., etc., etc., -- some 18 GB worth – from a Confederate town, xxxxx in the middle of the Valley and xxxxx, a Union town at the Valley‘s northern end. The whole thing is searchable, of course, images, headlines, church registries and all. But it is far more than simply a archive, a kind of town midden, Ed and his team have built a site that is theoretically approachable from any intellectual angle and have made it user-friendly enough that people from grade-schoolers to octogenarian civil war re-enactors use it. It is also an argument, about both the complexity of the social history of the period when viewed in this detail and about its difference from our conventional models of life in the period. The Valley has used the technology to assemble an amount of information that would be
  12. 12. impossible to house or to make sense of without it; it is also employing the technology like a lens to view that material and, like the telescope or the microscope, it alters radically what one sees. The Valley of the shadow has also become a gateway to those interested in the Civil War and American Social History, an educational resource and tool for teachers, an intellectual space where a community of scholars and lay persons meet to share a common passion, and a paradigm, I think, of how Social History will be done in the future. AS@UVA is a Master‘s Program in American Studies designed from the ground up to integrate American Studies and the new technologies. It is a thoroughly rationalized curriculum, wrong-headed perhaps, but rational; at each stage in the year long program students are learning something about AS&NT by doing it. We begin with an intensive Bibliography and Research Methods course and go on to build their own portal for AS resources organized by sub-field (‖ ); we learn scanning, image, audio and video manipulation by creating collaborative hypertexts ( ) and virtual exhibitions ( ); we design and construct thematic or period sites that are then added to over time in an effort to complicate and complicate them ( ) . At the conclusion of the program, each student creates a major project that is intended to stand as a capstone exercise and demonstration of both the technological skills acquired and the ability to use them, to return to the metaphor I used above, as a lens for analysis and a medium for conveying to an educated general public the cultural process seen at work. At this point in the term, students are mounting a display space tentatively titled: ―Imaging the Depression‖ ( ). This is a ―first generation‖ project and we‘ll ―grow it out‖ over the next few years, but it now contains a set of iconic moments from print, film, radio and photography in the 1930s, each selected to suggest something about the critical issues, attitudes, and forces of the period. The project stands alone, but also in relation to a project begun last year on the 1930s (….. ) which will be further amplified by the present group before semester‘s end. The Valley of the Shadow and AS@UVA , from one perspective, very different. The Valley is what might be termed a top down model: well supported by traditional funding organizations – the University of Virginia, , staffed with highly qualified technical support people and equally well qualified researchers, and given a very significant amount of institutional support by the University. AS@UVA looks, in contrast, like a bottom up model: no foundation support, starting off with out of date equipment and no technical support, staffed only by students who, technical support provided of a learn-what-you-must to fix it yourself basis, designed, built and produced exclusively by students, AS@UVA is really a kind of Children‘s Crusade. However, they share certain crucial features. First, they begin with questions rather than answers; second, they work very close to the ground, something particular and bounded and concrete; third, they are both rising out of questions rather than built to support existing answers, both are heuristic, built to evaluate hypothesis by submitting them to the hard test of those particulars and accustomed to reformulating the hypotheses when the particulars won‘t conform; fourth, they are collaborative and collaborative in some fashion, incorporating the perspectives and talents of a various kinds; fifth, they implement the new technologies as fully and imaginatively as possible, not for how they look but for what they can, uniquely, do; sixth, they both try to bridge a series of gaps, the gap between teaching an learning, between research and teaching, between the academy and the general public. So, we have two possible models, and a range of other models that probably stand between and around them. Both suggest, however, a radically different way of doing AS. These NT are seriously destabilizing, subverting modes of thought and the social and institutional structures they support. They
  13. 13. tend to proliferate competing organizations that claim to do better what we do and that are willing to battle us for the territory. They proliferate various kinds of ―gray literature,‖ work outside traditional and established centers of authority; allowing almost anyone to ―do AS‖ and do it with the authority that the technology itself confers, and to do it without either the traditional internal and external markers of legitimacy and reliability. They bring into question the very notion of ―expertise,‖ create a multitude of questions about faculty roles and rewards, shift power to they young who know the machinery and away from their elders who know the field. They involve substantial capital investment to be effective, not merely, perhaps not even most importantly in money, but in the retraining of faculty, the development of management and quality control principles, and the continued maintenance costs for projects and procedures that may, in some sense, never be completed. They argue for collaborative work, across institutional, spatial and temporal boundaries in an academic culture that, whatever its claims, is a thoroughly specialized, highly individualistic and competitive business. They require flexibility, patience, trust, commitment, in a arena grown thoroughly professionalized 1- re-examine the relationship between teaching and learning, should draw on student as collaborators rather than as consumers – embrace the collapsing of hierarchies, look to students to bring to bear the technological savvy you don‘t have; 2- should seek opportunities to do work of interest and use in the larger society, should seek to address the same audience PBS and The Smithsonian now address; 3- should explore collaborative partnerships within courses and programs and with both other educational institutions and with other AS ―providers.‖ – create more powerful virtual communities. 4- Focus on 5- Take on larger projects that can be grown out over time in greater fullness and complexity; 6- Should incorporate training in the technology into the curriculum, something that is becoming increasingly possible without either institutional technical support or a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering; 7- Should press for creation of discipline specific standards for evaluation web-based publishing. VII - Conclusion As I mentioned when I began, Professor Radway gave a sympathetic nod to Gene Wise‘s article ―Paradigm Dramas‘ in American Studies: A Cultural and Institutional History of the Movement.‖ In that paper, the unusually thoughtful and trustworthy Wise suggested that American Studies was -- and ought to be -- less like science than like theatre, less a formal methodology than an extended dance of paradigms which, in all their riotous variety and sometimes rancorous energy nevertheless exhibited a single constant, a unifying ―dedication to countering the worst sin‘s of today‘s multiversity.‖ to doing something ―more decent and humane.‖ Drawing a kind of balance sheet for the successes and failures of American Studies, he found that: On the negative side, we in the movement have been much too ready, especially in past decades, to make peace with the dominant structures of the academy; we have too frequently allowed our ritual rhetoric of newness to substitute for actually thinking or doing our work creatively; we have often let intellectual flabbiness get by as "openness" or "innovation." And, most basically, we have been too faint of heart in our commitment to a distinctive American Studies venture, and all too often have retreated to our disciplinary havens when matters threaten to get precarious in the field.
  14. 14. I particularly like the phrase, ―our ritual rhetoric of newness.‖ It captures pretty much the world that Radway inadvertently reveals, one where we agree to disagree and believe that we can attain a new lease on life by changing our name and moving to a new city. The value of the New Technologies for American Studies, from this perspective, this subjectivity, is that it offers a real challenge to the way we have come to think, to teach, in effect, to do business. It is a genuinely new force in the world, not just a rhetorical one, one which will necessitate genuine thought; it poses an actual threat from which we will not be able to ‗retreat to our disciplinary havens‘ or our even our offices and conventions. Instead, we will have to re-organize everything, the way we think about our field, the way we do research and analysis in that field, the way we think about our disciplinary and institutional objectives, the way we do our daily work. If I‘m right about this, we face an impressive number of obstacles to actually doing this, internal and external obstacles, obstacles embedded in the discipline and inherent in the technologies; transformations that are both threatening and challenging, exactly the sort of thing that, to paraphrase Gene Wise, might kill us, or give us back our souls. Another way of saying it: there was an IBM commercial on television some years ago that began with a close up of the face of what eventually turns out to be a WW I cavalry officer, his horse moving nervously under him, his face intensely focused on something he seems to hear but that we cannot. Eventually, the sound level increases to the point where we know what it is, the sound of tank treads, and what it means, disaster. The new technology is in the field again and the choice is simple, get out of the way, get run over, -- or learn how to do it yourself.