SSASA » Overview

A Long History of American Studies Programs at Salzburg Global Seminar

Since Salzburg Global's founding in 1947, with the first American Studies program at Schloss Leopoldskron, the study of America has played a vital role in the history of this organization. For decades, scores of prominent intellectuals - academic and non-academic - have gathered in Salzburg to examine and debate American politics, foreign policy, economics, literature, history and culture, and America's role in the world. More than 30 American themed seminars have been organized, all are self-funded.

Session in 2016:

Images of America: Reality and Stereotypes
September 23 to 27, 2016


Interviews and coverage from our SSASA programs

Report now online Images of America - Reality and Stereotypes
Report now online Images of America - Reality and Stereotypes
Oscar Tollast 
A report of the fourteenth symposium held by the Salzburg Seminar America Studies Association is now available to read, download, and share. Images of America: Reality and Stereotypes took place at Salzburg Global Seminar between September 23 and September 27, 2016. The session reviewed the ambivalent, conflicting and contradicting images of America worldwide. This program included 58 participants from 25 countries. Among those invited were academics, post-doctoral students, journalists, and diplomats. The program was supported by eleven US embassies and consulates, as well as the Austrian Association for American Studies, the Emory Elliott Scholarship Fund and the United States Airforce Academy. During the session, participants were treated to thematic presentations by distinguished speakers and panel discussions. Participants also split up into small theme-based focus groups, reviewing various topics related to the session's theme.  Participants described and discussed the nature and sources of conflicting images, while remembering the images of America are what they are seen to be in the eyes of the viewer, regardless of the actual reality. America is portrayed through many different mediums, perhaps more so than ever before. The purpose of this session was to discuss the origins and implications of the various images of America. The major outcome was to enable critical thinking about how images and stereotypes contribute to or complicate relations with others.  Salzburg Global Seminar was founded in 1947 as the Salzburg Seminar in American Studies. The study of America has played a significant role in the organization's history. Minds from all sectors and backgrounds met in Salzburg over several decades to discuss American politics, foreign policy, economics, and much more. From 1994 to 2003, the Center for Academic Studies focused sessions on research for new curriculum. A decade later, the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA) was established to continue this work. Images of America: Reality and Stereotypes was the fourteenth program since the Association began operating in 2014.
Download the SSASA Images of America: Reality and Stereotypes report (PDF) The Salzburg Global session, Images of America: Reality and Stereotypes is part of the multi-year series Salzburg Global Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA). More information on previous sessions can be found here.
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Martha Bayles - “The urban singles sitcom offers the world a new version of the American dream”
Martha Bayles at the SSASA symposium "Images of America: Reality and Stereotypes"
Martha Bayles - “The urban singles sitcom offers the world a new version of the American dream”
Jessica Franzetti 
The ubiquity of young Americans living independently in affluent urban areas seems to be a common thread among many popular American sitcoms from the nineties through to the present.  “As I discovered through talking with over 200 informed observers of pop-culture in many different countries, the urban singles sitcom, from Friends to Sex and the City to The Big Bang Theory, now offer the world a new version of the American dream,” said Martha Bayles. Bayles, a writer as well as a professor in the Arts and Sciences Honors Program at Boston College in the US, spoke about the impact of American cultural exports, namely, television shows and movies, on other countries perceptions of Americans, during the session, Images of America: Reality and Stereotypes, held by the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA) at Schloss Leopoldskron in 2016.  Speaking at the session, Bayles noted: “The original American dream was about ordinary people working hard to give their children a better future. That dream is now global needless to say, but so is the new American dream portrayed in these urban singles sitcoms. In the new one, there are no ordinary people, very little hard work and certainly no families. There is a fantasy of young, unattached men and women living in affluent urban settings, with little or no contact with their families or communities of origin and enjoying personal freedom, including sexual freedom, that is unheard of in most societies.” Bayles has long studied and written about American popular culture. Her most recent book, Through a Screen Darkly: Popular Culture, Public Diplomacy, and America’s Image Abroad, considers the spread of American culture spread to most corners of the globe and how what is viewed on the screen creates images of America that are often juxtaposed with many Americans’ realities.  In discussing American sitcoms, she references the highly popular nineties sitcom, Friends, saying, “According to its producers at Warner Brothers, this sitcom about young, single Americans living in New York has been telecast in 135 different countries, reaching an average of 14 million viewers per telecast. “What I learned through my travels is that this [image] is rather alluring to many young Nigerians, Egyptians and Indians, but that allure also has a downside. I spoke with a young woman from a Bedouin village about her impending visit to America, and as she put it, ‘Americans don’t have families, in the media they are always alone.’”  Bayles remarked that people who had never been to America were likely to believe that the sitcoms and entertainment they watched from the US were largely reflective of America as a whole: “Some of the people I spoke to were big fans of US popular culture and some were not, but even the biggest fans – if they had not been to the United States or did not know many Americans – tended to assume that the values portrayed in popular culture are shared by most Americans.” While the divergence between reality and perceptions of America exists in regards to American cultural ideals of youth, freedom and connectedness to families, its largest, most potent gap appears in reference to images of Americans with deadly weapons as well as a perpetuation of violence.  “More poignant than this image of Americans without families, was this image of Americans with deadly weapons. To Europeans, there is probably no aspect of our popular culture more unsettling than this ever vivid blood and gore. Yet while America is more violent than most modern democracies, it is nowhere near as violent as the images portrayed on the screen,” Bayles explains.   Bayles highlighted a concern raised frequently during the session: how does popular culture and the multitude of images portrayed in American media perpetuate misconceptions as well as form opinions about America and American society? “In my mind, screen violence, is only a symptom of a deeper problem, namely the entertainment industry’s present obsession with the most lurid aspects of American life – drugs, crime, family breakdown, and dysfunctional government.” Bayles believes that the over-exaggeration of these parts of America, making them seem more prevalent than they in fact are, creates great friction in how other nations may view a modern America – often analyzing these facets in cultural exports as a depiction of US modernity – as they question what modernity means in their own societies. Martha Bayles was the keynote speaker at the session Images of America: Reality and Stereotypes, held by the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA) at Schloss Leopoldskron in 2016. 
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Images of America - Reality and Stereotypes
Images of America - Reality and Stereotypes
Jessica Franzetti 
Each day the world is confronted with conflicting and fallacious images of America. These images emerge through exposure to the culture, policies, institutions, and people of the United Sates. Yet, as American mediums of expression continue to evolve and achieve greater global reach, perceptions of America do not always conform to reality. To further explore these diverse opinions of America and the role that they play on the international stage, the session, Images of America: Reality and Stereotypes will take place at Schloss Leopoldskron from September 23-27, as part of the multi-year series Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA). Originating from twenty-five different countries, these experts in American academia, arts and journalism, and diplomacy will convene to examine some of the most pressing questions concerning myths and realities of America. Recognizing that images of America are determined by the viewer, and are often juxtaposed with reality, participants will dialogue about the influence of these perceptions on America’s soft power. Regardless of accuracy or factuality, these views of America impact international endeavors of foreign policy, commerce and trade, and cross-cultural institutional efforts. Participants will tackle complex questions in determining the impact of the international popularity of many American media forms, inaccurate perceptions of American ideals, and the prominence of American cultural exports on the United States’ role in foreign affairs.  The upcoming session, as part of SSASA, continues Salzburg Global’s long history of studying America since its inception in 1947. The most recent session in the series, The Search for a New Global Balance: America’s Changing Role in the World, focused on America’s evolving role in a shifting world balance. While Salzburg Global Fellows of this most recent session of SSASA analyzed a multitude of sources that depict the position of America in world affairs, the upcoming session will utilize a lens focused on images of the United States perpetuated by American media.  Led by co-chairs Christopher Bigsby, award winning novelist and biographer and current professor of American Studies and director of the Arthur Miller Centre for American studies at the University of East Anglia, UK, and Ron Clifton, former associate vice president of Stetson University and retired counselor in the Senior Foreign Service of the United States; the seminar will consist of close to sixty participants.   The Salzburg Global session, Images of America: Reality and Stereotypes is part of the multi-year series Salzburg Global Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA). More information on previous sessions can be found here: ssasa.salzburgglobal.org/related-sessions/past-sessions.html.
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Report now online - The Search for a New Global Balance: America's Changing Role in the World
Report now online - The Search for a New Global Balance: America's Changing Role in the World
Louise Hallman 
The report from the latest symposium of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA) is now available online to read, download and share. The September 2015 session The Search for a New Global Balance: America's Changing Role in the World examined how the US has influenced the current geopolitical environment, what challenges the US now faces, and how the US may change its position in relation to other rising global powers and intervene (or not) in future conflicts.  In chapters titled "Looking Back," "Looking (from) Abroad," and "Looking Ahead," the report chronicles the debates had in Salzburg and offers key insights from the diverse group of Fellows who came from 27 countries on five continents. The session is part of the long-running series on American Studies held by SSASA since 2004, which itself was a follow-on series from the earlier American Studies Center which held sessions from 1994 to 2003. Salzburg Global Seminar has a long history in American Studies, having been founded as the Salzburg Seminar in American Studies in 1947.  The 2015 session was held in partnership with the Roosevelt Study Center in the Netherlands, with scholarships and travel supported by US Embassies in 11 countries. Download the report as a PDF (low-res)
To read more about the session, please visit: www.salzburgglobal.org/go/ssasa13 
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Riham Bahi - The US’ non-interventionist approach is exacerbating the Middle East crisis
Riham Bahi - The US’ non-interventionist approach is exacerbating the Middle East crisis
Heather Jaber 
Recent events in the Middle East, including the Arab Spring, the Syrian Civil War, and the offshoot of ISIS, are shining a spotlight on the relationship between the US and the region. At the most recent Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA), The Search for a New Global Balance: America's Changing Role in the World, Fellow Riham Bahi discussed the US' non-interventionist approach, its implications for the region, and misconceptions about the Middle East. In the past three presidential administrations, said Bahi, assistant professor of international relations at Cairo University, we have heard that human rights and democracy promotion are important components to US foreign policy. But these seem to be at the bottom of the list when it comes to their approaches to the Middle East, she said. “It's more about security and stability, again, one more time, in the old sense,” said Bahi. “As if nothing has happened, no revolution took place, no Arab Spring took place.” Part of the issue seems to come from the mischaracterization of the region as undemocratic, violent, and religious, said the assistant professor. “It’s not fair to say that the region is undemocratic,” she said. “This is not fair to the thousands and thousands of people who lost their lives, men and women, who are in prison because they defended or demanded democracy, social justice, freedom, equality.” Nor is the region inherently violent, said the Fellow, as opposed to what some may posit. Bahi cited the 18 days of peaceful protest that removed Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, rather than the years of violent extremism by Al Qaeda. And while representations of the region may paint it as religious, the same region removed Islamist president Mohamed Morsi. In terms of violent Islamism, ISIS fighters do not only come from the region, but are recruited from abroad. One of the biggest obstacles to the relationship between the US and Middle East is the Arab-Israeli conflict, which is not witnessing serious plans for peace negotiations. Another issue is the foreign policy of the US and Europe towards the region. “This non-interventionist approach has led to the exacerbation of the crisis,” said Bahi. “We should have dealt with Syria in the beginning of the conflict instead of waiting. Four years later we have this big refugee problem facing Europe.” Still, the atmosphere at the seminar led to dialogue of timely issues such as these. “The collegial atmosphere that people are tough on the issue but easy on each other [was] really good,” said Bahi. “Where else do you get to see participants from 27 countries? It is as international as you can get.” Check out the full interview below. Riham Bahi was a participant at the Salzburg Global Program The Search for a New Global Balance: America's Changing Role in the World, which was held by the Salzburg Global Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA). The session was hosted in partnership with the Roosevelt Study Centre. More information on the session can be found here: ssasa.SalzburgGlobal.org.
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Wang Dong - China and the US must strive for co-evolution, not collision
Wang Dong - China and the US must strive for co-evolution, not collision
Heather Jaber 
A hot topic in international relations today is the evolving relationship between the US and China. How can these global powers maintain their national interests but avoid a collision course? Wang Dong, associate professor school of international studies at Peking University, commented on these issues at the latest Salzburg Global Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA), The Search for a New Global Balance: America's Changing Role in the World. Dong is also deputy director of the Institute for China-US People to People Exchange at Peking University. His areas of focus include American foreign policy, US-China relations, Chinese foreign policy, and international relations. He was part of a panel discussion which looked at policy trends in China, India, Japan, and the West. In his view, there are three main perspectives on America’s changing role in the world: that it is in a state of decline and is no longer hegemonic, that it remains vibrant and prosperous, and a third and perhaps more nuanced view, which falls between the two. Dong belongs in this academic camp. “They acknowledge there’s a relative decline of American power in certain aspects,” he said, “but while believing that on an overall power basis, America remains the most powerful country in the world.” Economically speaking, he said, the world is becoming more multipolar. While US GDP currently surpasses China’s in terms of world GDP, estimates say that in the next decade, Chinese economy will overtake the American economy as the largest in the world. Still, American military spending and its network of allies makes it perhaps the most preponderant global power, he said. “China, in my view…is transitioning from a regional power to a global power,” said the Fellow, “but that process probably will take another 20 years or even longer for China really to learn how to…behave as a global power.” Some of the biggest obstacles in balancing between a US-led alliance system and China’s growing influence in the region, said Dong, come in the form of misconceptions. From an American perspective, there may be fears of China pushing America out of Asia, and from a Chinese perspective, of American containment. These misunderstandings must be dealt with through pragmatic cooperations, said Dong. Here, strategic communication is key. “I think they should try to increase their strategic trust and try to avoid misperceptions and misunderstandings about each others intention.” An example of this, he said, was in the recent meeting between US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping on issues of cyber security. Co-evolution and not conflict or confrontation is key, he said. In order to co-evolve without running on a crash-course, the powers must instead identify mutual interests in order to work together. The meeting between the nations’ presidents then reflects this co-evolution, showing that “…together they are able to work together to try to solve the global and regional challenges and to demonstrate that there are more constructive ways to think about US China relations going forward.” For more on China’s transitionary path to becoming a global power and its relationship with the US, listen to the interview below. Wang Dong was a participant at the Salzburg Global Program The Search for a New Global Balance: America's Changing Role in the World, which was held by the Salzburg Global Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA). The session was hosted in partnership with the Roosevelt Study Centre. More information on the session can be found here: ssasa.SalzburgGlobal.org.
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Hasan Ayoub - Without functional nation states, instability will dominate international relations
Hasan Ayoub at the SSASA program on America's Changing Role in the World
Hasan Ayoub - Without functional nation states, instability will dominate international relations
Heather Jaber 
The discussion of US foreign policy would not be complete without considering America’s relationship with the Middle East. Hasan Ayoub, assistant professor at An-Najah National University in Palestine, offered insight into the impact of US foreign policy in the region. Ayoub, who was a participant of the latest Salzburg Global Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA), The Search for a New Global Balance: America's Changing Role in the World, touched on strategic mistakes of American foreign policy, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and the potential impact of the future US administration in an interview with Salzburg Global during the session. “I would say that in the last maybe two decades, it seems like what Winston Churchill said once about American foreign policy - that America does the right thing all the time, but after exhausting all other wrong options - seems to hold in this case.” Mistakes made by American administration in the Middle East, said Ayoub, are having impact in regional conflicts, including the failure of states and new alliances which serve to further exacerbate tensions. “In some respect, foreign policy of the US in the region in the last 20 years was counter-productive,” he said, adding that trying to figure out the best course of action for these complex tasks will not be easy. “I don’t believe the United States can with one prescription solve all those problems.” At the heart of the matter, though, said Ayoub, is the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. In order to stabilize and maintain a balance between national interests and the interests of those in the region, new approaches will need to be taken. “Maybe it’s time for the United States to think of the Palestinians not as a liability,” he said, “but as a nation who deserves the full attention of the United States and the full recognition of the United States.” Without addressing this question, said Ayoub, there is little chance of success in the region. Looking to the US presidential elections next year, Ayoub reflected on the potential impact a Republican administration would have on the legacy and impact of Obama’s foreign policy, which was marked by a stress on less interventionism and more reliance on allies to ease tensions and conflicts. A Republican administration, said Ayoub, would reduce the accomplishment and impact of strategies like the recent Iran nuclear deal or a new openness to Cuba. To maintain national interests and a global balance, the answer may lie in the delicate balance between the basic units of the international community, or the nation state, said Ayoub. “There’s no single state that can isolate itself today apart from the effects of…the foreign policy of other states, [the] interests of other states.” Appreciation and understanding of this interdependence then is necessary in balancing the national and the global, he said. Listen to him discuss US foreign policy in the Middle East and more in the interview below. Hasan Ayoub was a participant at the Salzburg Global Program The Search for a New Global Balance: America's Changing Role in the World, which was held by the Salzburg Global Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA). The session was hosted in partnership with the Roosevelt Study Centre. More information on the session can be found here: ssasa.SalzburgGlobal.org.
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