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

Asif Efrat – The New U.S. Administration Has Shown Less Interest in International Cooperation
Asif Efrat at the 15th symposium of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association
Asif Efrat – The New U.S. Administration Has Shown Less Interest in International Cooperation
Mirva Villa 

In 2010, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) published a report on “The Globalization of Crime.” The report examined 16 crime problems, 13 of which were deemed intercontinental. An extract from the report’s conclusion reads: “From a global perspective, national or even regional efforts made in isolation can be worse than ineffective, they can be counterproductive, as the problem is pushed from regions that pose resistance to those that do not, or cannot.” More can be achieved from working together than by working alone.

The buzzword of the time, however, is “sovereignty” – something which does not align well with international cooperation. That’s the view of Asif Efrat, an associate professor of government at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC), in Herzliya, Israel. He spoke to Salzburg Global while attending the 15th symposium of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA).

At various points in recent history, the United States has been considered the world policeman but rhetoric expressed by President Donald Trump during his election campaign and first months in office have prompted many people question whether this role would change. What effect might this have on the efforts to limit transnational crime?

Efrat, author of Governing Guns, Preventing Plunder: International Cooperation Against Illicit Trade believes it will take time for the implications to reveal themselves. Commenting in general, however, he said, “This administration has signaled that it has less interest in international cooperation .”

In his book, Efrat focuses on the illicit arms trade, the trade in looted antiquities, and human trafficking. He said, “There are some people who say that globalization has a ‘dark side’: the rise of global crime. This is one of the undesired side effects of globalization and in the recent years, governments have been trying to work together to try and address problems of transnational crime. These efforts of suppressing transnational crime are the center of my analysis.”

Since taking office, despite his rhetoric on the campaign trail, President Trump has reaffirmed the US’s commitment to NATO. He also made his first address at the UN general assembly where he said countries must “work together and confront together” others who threaten with chaos, turmoil, and terror. On both occasions, however, Trump also referred to the cost burdens the US has carried. The  concern remains that diminishing international cooperation is still a possibility. The picture remains unclear.

Most of the international initiatives against international crime have been led by the US, says Efrat. If there is less leadership shown from the US, Efrat believes this will not bode well for international cooperation in general. “The international regime against drugs has been led by the United States since the beginning of the early 20th century. International efforts against money laundering, international efforts against human trafficking – these are all American initiatives. [They are] very important American initiatives in my view, and I’m concerned that the new administration has much less interest in international cooperation.”

The US justice system as seen from abroad

In addition to assessing the international role and responsibilities of the US, this year’s symposium – Life and Justice in America: Implications of the New Administration – saw participants reflect on the US justice system in several ways. There were rich discussions around issues of legal rights, immigration policy and discrimination, and changes in policy over the past seven decades. During the symposium, Efrat led a small group discussion on how the US justice system was perceived from abroad, drawing on his current research examining ethnocentric views on legal standards and justice. In his work, Efrat examines how countries view foreign legal systems and the extent they are willing to cooperate with them.

The US justice system is not looked upon favorably by other countries, Efrat has found: “There are various attributes of American justice that are seen as completely unjust to foreign audiences. One is the very harsh American attitude towards criminal justice.

“The United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world… America locks up many people for very long periods of time. American sentencing policies are seen as very unjust.”

Efrat said the use of juries during trials also raised eyebrows among foreign audiences. He said, “For Americans, a trial by jury is the ultimate expression of justice: you’re being tried by your peers. But for foreign audiences, juries are sometimes the exact opposite of justice .” In many countries, a judge or panel of judges decide the guilt of a defendant – seen as some non-Americans as fairer than a jury of non-professionals.

Salzburg Global spoke to Efrat the day after the symposium’s keynote presentation was given by Elaine T. May, Regents professor of American studies and history at the University of Minnesota. The talk was titled “The American Dream and the Quest for Security – the Promise and the Perils.” Reflecting on the keynote, Erat says, “It identified this kind of broad theme of fear in American society, and the interests that are driving this fear. It helped to put the current administration – the current mood in the United States – into a broader perspective, and I think this is one of the nice things about this seminar.”

“We tend to think of our times as very unique, and very special, but you can see that this is actually part of a much broader historical trend.”

Asif Erat was a participant of the Salzburg Global session Life and Justice in America: Implications of the New Administration, which is part of Salzburg Global’s multi-year series Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA). More information on the session can be found here. You can follow all of the discussions on Twitter by following the hashtag #SSASA.

Judge Nancy Gertner - "Lawyers should effect social change"
Judge Nancy Gertner in conversation at the 15th symposium of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA)
Judge Nancy Gertner - "Lawyers should effect social change"
Mirva Villa 

Known for her work in advancing civil rights, civil liberties, and human rights in the United States (U.S), Judge Nancy Gertner remains a trailblazer for women working in the legal profession. Her work, first as a criminal defense lawyer and later a federal judge, received many acknowledgements from her peers, not least the American Bar Association who awarded her the Thurgood Marshall Award in 2008.

Her appearance at the 15th symposium of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association was a perfect fit for the program’s topic – Life and Justice in America: Implications of the New Administration. Alongside others, the now retired Judge Gertner spent five days discussing issues of justice, discrimination, criminal law and legal rights. For Gertner, now a senior lecturer at Harvard Law School, the experience was “remarkable.”

“When I came, I had only read the biographies of the people who were invited – both the other participants and the seminar leaders – and I don’t think I fully understood how accomplished, cosmopolitan and interesting they were,” said Gertner. “So, the ability to talk to people and get a sense of the depth of their background was wonderful.”

Gertner has had an extensive career in the legal profession and has written widely about employment, criminal justice and procedural issues. But what was the original spark that inspired Gertner to enter the profession in the first place?

“Well, I think I wanted to run for president of the United States. Then I figured that you had to be a lawyer in order to get to be a senator first. I got stuck at the first stage!” Gertner laughed. “But you know, I love public policy issues. I went to law school at the time that the civil rights movement was at its height, and women's movement, and anti-war movement –  and lawyers were the vehicle for social change. So that's how I became interested in it.”

Mass incarceration was one of the issues that was discussed at this year’s SSASA symposium. Toward the end of 2010, the American Civil Liberties Union reported more than 2.2 million people in the U.S. were behind bars. Gertner spoke to participants about mass incarceration and the structures in the justice system that had exacerbated it.

“For a 100 years, the principal purpose of sentencing was rehabilitation. Rehabilitation was essentially using a medical model to deal with crime. Other kinds of professions also went through this. The judge was looking for a cure. The belief was that everyone could be cured, and the idea was that he would come up with ways of solving the crime in a way: not just finding the perpetrator but solving the criminal - and that judges had virtually unlimited discretion to figure out what the appropriate sentence would be.”

Things changed in the 1980s, due to a whole host of factors. There was a spike in the crime statistics and the implications of the Vietnam War stayed in the American people’s minds. The public were concerned about discrimination in sentencing and the discretion of judges to cast sentences. The media became increasingly focused on covering crime. Toward the end of the decade, the phrase “If it bleeds, it leads” appeared in the lexicon and became a mantra for many.

“Suddenly, we essentially rejected rehabilitation as a rationale for sentencing, and moved to retribution,” said Gertner. “So, rehabilitation asks, ‘What will help the offender not offend anymore?’ Retribution asks, ‘What does the crime deserve?’ So, it was a very different question and it led to different answers, and the answer is that retribution led to mass incarceration.”

The concern over the discretion of judges and inconsistencies between sentences issued across the U.S. led to the creation of a set of guidelines that provided objective standards for sentencing. “That essentially is to wish there was no judgment, no discretion.  So, you focused on the nature of the crime, and you focused on the nature of someone's criminal record,” said Gertner.

That would, for example, lead to drug-related cases being judged on the basis of the quantity of the substance and past convictions alone, with no regard to the individual’s situation and the judge’s discretion on whether they thought the accused was likely to re-offend.

Gertner said, “You focused on objective factors that [some] believed could be objectively enforced. Of course that wasn't true. Those objective factors were often the product of decisions made by others down the line, which we're not so objective.”

In 2011, Gertner published her memoirs, fittingly entitled In Defense of Women: Memoirs of an Unrepentant Advocate. Now, she’s working on another book about judging –  not an aspirational one but one on the "hard work of judging." More specifically, she will be reflecting on her own experiences as a judge, working in a system that she didn’t always deem to be fair.

For her book, Gertner reached out to some of the people she had sentenced to find out what happened to them. “I found it easiest to write about the people I had sentenced because that was a situation in which I was most acutely aware of the difference between my beliefs and what the law required,” Gertner said. “I was obliged to impose mandatory minimum sentences. I was obliged to use mandatory guidelines. And I felt the difference between what I was obliged to do and what I believed in all the time. So, this book is about the men that I sentenced.”

The book paints the portraits of several men, who they were, what Gertner learned about them and the legal framework she had to use to evaluate them. Moreover, the book discusses how they should have been sentenced in a “humane system”, according to Gertner. “These are portraits that will help us understand how punitive and inhumane the system became.”

Gertner was appointed to the federal bench in 1994 by President Bill Clinton. Since retiring in 2011, she has continued to teach subjects including criminal law, criminal procedure, forensic science and sentencing, and has written about women’s issues around the world. Whether she’s in the court room, the lecture hall or writing her book, her work continues to be a source of inspiration for Gertner.

“I believe that lawyers should effect social change. That's what animates me as a lawyer, as a judge, as a professor. These are remarkable tools and a remarkable education that should be used to serve the public good.”

Judge Nancy Gertner was a participant of the Salzburg Global program Life and Justice in America: Implications of the New Administration, which is part of Salzburg Global’s multi-year series Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA). More information on the session can be found here. You can follow all of the discussions on Twitter by following the hashtag #SSASA.

Dreamscape – Exploring race and justice in America
Rickerby Hinds at the Salzburg Seminar for American Studies Association
Dreamscape – Exploring race and justice in America
Mirva Villa 

Ahead of the 15th symposium of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA), participants were warned to expect a “highly participatory” four-day program. Daily thematic presentations, plenary discussions, and panels on topical issues were all designed for participants to debate life and justice in the US. at a theoretical and analytical level. A special performance of Rickerby Hinds’ Dreamscape in Schloss Leopoldskron’s Great Hall midway through the program helped bring these issues further to life.

The play depicts the final moments of a young African-American woman shot by the police while sleeping in her car. Mixing the elements of beat-boxing, hip hop, dance and poetry, the award-winning performance tells the life story of Myiesha Mills, who dreams through the impact of the 12 bullets that kill her. The play is a meditation and reimagining of the shooting of Tyisha Miller in 1998 in Riverside, California.

Hinds, the writer and director behind Dreamscape, revealed the incident inspired him to tell a wider story. “In 2004, I decided to write a play that would address that issue of the relationship between the African-American community and the police,” Hinds said.

“I went back to the Tyisha Miller incident and decided that this will be a good vehicle for exploring this issue, for a couple of reasons. One, because she was a young woman, and two, because there was enough information for there to be a dramatic exploration of the relationship, so it wasn’t so black and white. There were gray areas to allow the conversation to be a little more nuanced.”


Prior to the performance, participants at this year’s SSASA symposium had already begun to reflect on legal rights, justice, and racial issues in the US. The fact Dreamscape was performed at a symposium discussing the very issues his play was addressing made Hinds a “little bit more nervous than usual.”

Hinds said, “As the director, you’re always thinking about how the play would land on your audience who have studied these issues, who are scholars and experts on the field. Plus, we had met our audience, so we knew them! It’s very unusual!”

Dreamscape’s current cast includes Natali Micciche and John “Faahz” Merchant. Both have been performing the show for about five years, both in the US and abroad.

Discussing her performance as Myiesha, Micciche said: “It was absolutely beautiful. It was a great interlude, sitting in the presentations, talking about this subject and the topics, and then [to] go and perform, because the energy is heightened around the subject and everybody is fully invested.

“The reception was great. It’s more than I could ask for. It’s always moving. In a space where I can see the audience it’s super effective because you watch people and their emotions. Afterwards it was just great to hear feedback on my movement and my artistry.”

Merchant, who played the role of a police officer and a dispassionate coroner, incorporated his beat-boxing talents to help create the play’s unique soundscape. “It was probably one of the most exciting and exhilarating feelings,” Merchant said. He added it was great to see their work transcend across different audiences – even 6,000 miles away from home.

“It’s a great feeling because it means that our work over the past years has been doing what it’s supposed to do.”

The Salzburg Global program Life and Justice in America: Implications of the New Administration is part of Salzburg Global’s multi-year series Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA). More information on the session can be found here. You can follow all of the discussions on Twitter by following the hashtag #SSASA.

SSASA symposium reflects on implications and global reactions to Trump administration
SSASA symposium reflects on implications and global reactions to Trump administration
Salzburg Global Seminar 

Academics, legal profession representatives, and others working to protect and improve life in the U.S. have considered the implications and global reactions to the new U.S. administration.

The conversations took place on the final day of the 15th symposium of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA), which took place at Schloss Leopoldskron. 

This year's program - Life and Justice in America: Implications of the New Administration - included presentations and conversations on racial issues, immigration, populism, wealth, media, legal rights, civil rights, and criminal law. 

These issues, which will be covered further by Salzburg Global in the coming days, were considered alongside a broader topic of what "the American Dream" means in today's world, whether it still exists, and what this dream represents. 

The program was split into three themes: 70 years of trends and events; quality of life and opportunity; and fairness and justice.

In the last presentation of the session, three speakers provided comments on President Donald Trump’s administration before taking questions from the audience.

Participants heard from one speaker that U.S. prosperity was partially dependent on the Asia-Pacific region and political relations had improved under President Barack Obama, particularly in Myanmar and Vietnam.

The same speaker said President Trump’s win had come as a shock to many in Southeast Asia and countries in the region were now looking forward to see how the U.S. maintains its commitment to the region.

Anne Mørk, an assistant professor of American history at the University of Southern Denmark, said when one looks at the rhetorical presidency theory, it is no surprise President Trump won the election.

Trump has used social media to communicate with the public. When he makes statements on Twitter, he is speaking to his followers without a filter. Mørk described the role of the president in the 19th century as that of a manager - a role she believes President Trump appears to have little interest playing.

Mørk suggested President Trump’s “angry” and “macho” rhetoric almost became a form of entertainment similar to wrestling. She concluded by suggesting the rhetoric had become a policy in itself.

Alex Seago, dean of communications, arts and social sciences at Richmond, The American International University in London, said he pursued American studies because he was enamored by the country and culture. Seago, who’s also a professor of cultural studies, suggested President Trump was making a deliberate attempt to undermine America’s soft power. 

While “the American Dream” may still exist, Seago believes the U.S. has become less attractive to people. He later said the U.S. had a global image of a nation acting as a leading light for people to follow. This image showed the U.S as democratic and a country which gave people opportunities. However, the sense of “you can do anything if you work hard” is a lot less apparent now. 

In his concluding remarks, Ron Clifton, chair of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA), said two things had really struck him during this year’s program – one being how fairness and justice can depend on factors such as social status and race. The other thing which he felt was left to consider were the implications of the changes underway in the U.S., especially under the new administration.

He said, “I like the phrase that [a participant] just came up with which is, “At this moment it would seem to me that America is looking less good.” The question is what does that imply for the future and when and where will the turn occur? Of course, being an American, we are optimistic and hopeful, we have a burden to carry and that burden we carry is to make things better and to invite people to join in with us and progress.”

The Salzburg Global program Life and Justice in America: Implications of the New Administration is part of Salzburg Global’s multi-year series Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA). More information on the session can be found here. You can follow all of the discussions on Twitter by following the hashtag #SSASA.

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.
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. 
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:
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