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

Silvia Nunez Garcia - “Through this social transformation that is taking place domestically, the US is going to have a new way of performing globally”
Silvia Nunez Garcia - “Through this social transformation that is taking place domestically, the US is going to have a new way of performing globally”
Heather Jaber 

An important issue in the potentially changing global balance is the internal demographic shift in the United States, particularly in regards to the Hispanic population. Silvia Nunez Garcia, researcher and professor from Mexico, discussed inevitable social changes at the latest program of the Salzburg Global Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA), The Search for a New Global Balance: America's Changing Role in the World.

Nunez is the director of the Center for Research on North America at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (CISAN-UNAM). Her work focuses on social inequality and structure in North America. According to Nunez, the transformation of the US's position in the world is strongly related to the transformation of its society. “There is a very deep transformation within the US society and we need to understand this because the United States through this social transformation that is taking place domestically, it is going to have a new way of performing globally,” she explained in an interview with Salzburg Global.

Among other issues, Nunez discussed the impact of contact between the Hispanic community, the wider United States society, and the “home countries” of Latino Americans. “Because they have experienced the core values of American society, the Hispanic or the Latino community is also a very pragmatic group of people. I think one of the positive trends with regards to the growing number of the Latino community in the United States is that they have been strengthening their relations with their home countries.” Nunez explained.

Nunez also discussed the high levels of uncertainty at a more global level, with many countries - not only the US - addressing the changing balances of power. “The world has become more complex; all the countries now face a sort of interdependence because of globalization. So in this way, I see the United States transforming itself as the rest of the world in need to transform all over.” Despite their differences, especially as the rhetoric around illegal immigration is growing in the US, Nunez urged both the US and Mexico to recognize that they face the same problem “on both sides of the border” with regards to the environment and climate change, and to seek solutions together. 

Having previously attended the Salzburg Global session Eclipse of the Nation State in 1997, Nunez highlighted the need for continued communication on a large scale in such fora as Salzburg Global Seminar: “[Salzburg Global] has not only been able to survive and overcome the economic crisis, but also to strengthen the level of the dialogue.”

Listen to her discuss the transformation of North American societies and more in the interview below.


Silvia Nunez Garcia was a participant at the Salzburg Global Program The Search for a New Global Balance: America's Changing Role in the World, which is part of the multi-year series Salzburg Global Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA). The series/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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The Search for a New Global Balance: America’s Changing Role in the World
The Search for a New Global Balance: America’s Changing Role in the World
Heather Jaber 
Is America’s long-standing international power on a downward spiral? From the South China Sea to the Middle East and Eastern Ukraine, current events are sparking debate about the once unchallenged role of the United States as the sole global superpower.  Addressing this issue in an increasingly interconnected world, the Salzburg Global Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA) is hosting a session called The Search for a New Global Balance: America’s Changing Role in the World, with 58 academics and professionals from 27 countries gathering at Schloss Leopoldskron from September 24 to 29. Salzburg Global has offered sessions in American Studies since its beginnings in 1947, but in recent years much has changed for America and the global power balance. China is now an established economic powerhouse. Russia is flexing its military muscles again. Both state and non-state actors are causing widespread strife and destabilization in Middle East and forcing millions from their homes in search of asylum across the region and into Europe. Climate change is impacting countries the world over. Despite the global nature of these issues, the United States remains one of the most significant actors. But what is the former hegemon’s role in addressing these challenges? How has this changed and how will it continue to change?  The USA itself also faces power balance changes at home as demographics shift and domestic politics become increasingly polarized. Although the USA claims a longstanding title as the model of democracy, its involvement in drone warfare and alleged violations in communications surveillance make this status debatable also.  The five days of presentations, panels, and working group discussions in Salzburg will examine this shifting global balance, with discussion topics including American exceptionalism, foreign policy, and power relations with countries in the Middle East and Europe, as well as Russia, China, Japan, and India, and its closer neighbors in Latin America. Recent practices in social media and international media coverage of foreign affairs will also be discussed. Long-serving SSASA faculty member and former director of SSASA’s predecessor the American Studies Center, Ron Clifton will chair the session. The retired counselor in the Senior Foreign Service of the United States will be joined by co-chairs Alex Seago, chair of the Department of Humanities at the American International University London, and Kees van Minnen, director of the Roosevelt Study Center. Additional faculty members include Irakli Alasania, former Minister of Defense of Georgia; Thomas Bender, professor of humanities at New York University; James D. Boys, associate professor of international political studies at Richmond University, London; Edith Chapin, acting executive editor of NPR News; and Ted Widmer, journalist and historian at Brown University, USA.  This 13th SSASA program is in partnership with the Roosevelt Study Center in Middelburg, the Netherlands, and is supported by 11 U.S. embassies around the world.  Previous SSASA and earlier American Studies Center programs have covered topics such as the impact of sustainable urban living, film and television, and race and immigration. Last year’s SSASA session was Defining America: New Writing, New Voices, New Directions, which discussed new voices and identities in American writing. 
The Salzburg Global program The Search for a New Global Balance: America’s Changing Role in the World is part of the multi-year series Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association. The session is being hosted in partnership with the Roosevelt Study Center. More information on the session can be found here: www.salzburgglobal.org/go/SSASA13. For more information on the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association, please visit: ssasa.salzburgglobal.org 
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Re-envisioning Salzburg Global Seminar
Re-envisioning Salzburg Global Seminar
Salzburg Global Seminar 
Salzburg Global Seminar proudly presents its new periodical, The Salzburg Global Chronicle. Replacing the traditional annual President’s Report, the new publication “chronicles” Salzburg Global’s programs at Schloss Leopoldskron and around the world, including profiles on both “up-and-coming” leaders and high profile Salzburg Global Fellows, and features on the impact Salzburg Global Seminar, its programs, staff and Fellows have in the world beyond the Schloss.

Highlights include:

15 Faces for the Future  

Salzburg Global Seminar’s mission is to challenge current and future leaders to tackle problems of global concern. To this end, Salzburg Global brings young, emerging leaders to Schloss Leopoldskron, not only for our Academies programs, but for every Salzburg Global session. Nearly 500 of our 1844 Fellows who attended sessions between 2011 and 2013 were under the age of 40, in addition to the more than 800 Academies participants. Below are just 15 of our remarkable young Fellows.

The Power of Partnership 

Salzburg Global Seminar’s programs would not happen without our partners. Partners provide not only the intellectual capital and input to drive the session forward but often the much needed financial capital necessary to bring Fellows and faculty to Salzburg. But what do partners get out of working with Salzburg Global?

A Distinct History, a Universal Message  

For three days, at a palace once home to the local Nazi party leader, experts from across the globe considered the value of Holocaust education in a global context at a symposium hosted by Salzburg Global and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. They proved the Holocaust is more than just a European or Jewish experience.

Strength in Diversity 

LGBT rights are moving up the international agenda, and while progress is being made, at the same time some countries are passing increasingly regressive laws. In June 2013, Salzburg Global convened its first ever Salzburg Global LGBT Forum addressing LGBT and Human Rights: New Challenges, Next Steps, starting a truly global conversation.

An Unlikely Constellation of Partners  

Historically Black Colleges and Universities and the Appalachian College Association, member institutions of which serve predominantly white students, do not seem like the most obvious of partners. But this did not stop them from coming together to transform their schools into sites of global citizenship through the Salzburg Global Seminar-led, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation-funded Mellon Fellow Community Initiative.

Media Change Makers

Since helping to launch the program in 2007, Salzburg Global President Stephen L. Salyer has taken a hands-on role in the Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change: helping to devise the program, delivering lectures and mentoring students. This year, he met with student representatives from each region represented at the eighth annual program to find out how the Academy is helping shape them. The Chronicle is available online at chronicle2013.salzburgglobal.org and to download as a PDF and in our ISSUU Library    Download the Salzburg Global Chronicle as a PDF Print copies are available at Hotel Schloss Leopoldskron and all upcoming Salzburg Global Seminar events and programs.
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Defining America: Authors Explain Their Creative Processes
Defining America: Authors Explain Their Creative Processes
Jonathan Elbaz 
While in Salzburg for the "Defining America" session in September, authors Susan Straight and Karen Tei Yamashita spoke to Salzburg Global about their creative processes and their experiences at Schloss Leopoldskron. Straight, who writes "mixed-race novels" and teaches creative writing at UC Riverside, spoke about the importance of storytelling for any profession. She teaches her students that if you're a writer, lawyer or entrepreneur, you must know how to engage your audience with a compelling narrative. She also mentioned the two biggest compliments you could ever give a writer: "I stayed up all night to finish your book and I had to call in sick to work... Or, you made me cry and I looked like crap at work the next day." Watch the full interview with Susan Straight:
Yamashita, an author and professor at UC Santa Cruz, elaborated on an idea from her lecture at the session. Thinking back to the internment of her parents during World War II, portrayals of Asians in Star Trek, and predictions about China's hegemonic role in the 21st century, Yamashita presents a widespread, subconscious fear that our future will be dominated by emotionless Asian cyborgs. Yamashita pulls references from history, her personal story, politics and pop culture to reveal this growing stereotype of Asian culture. Watch the full interview with Karen Tei Yamashita:
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What One Piece of American Literature Shaped You?
What One Piece of American Literature Shaped You?
Jonathan Elbaz 
In a new video, we asked Fellows from a recent Salzburg Global Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA) session to name one piece of American literature that shaped them. The Fellow were at Schloss Leopoldskron for the "Defining America: New Writing, New Voices, New Directions" session, where novelists, publishers and academics traced new developments in the American writing and publishing industries. And during one afternoon in the Max Reinhardt library, they reflected on the writing that was most influential in their lives. Watch the full video below.
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Writers, Academics and Publishers Unite to Trace New Directions in American Writing
Writers, Academics and Publishers Unite to Trace New Directions in American Writing
Jonathan Elbaz 
A diverse group trickled into Schloss Leopoldskron last Saturday: novelists and academics, Ph.D. students and seasoned professors, optimists and skeptics—all seeking the “new" in American literature. These 56 people from 26 countries were hunting for cutting-edge ideas at “Defining America: New Writing, New Voices, New Directions,” the twelfth session hosted by the Salzburg Global Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA). So what is new? That depends on whom you ask. Writer and professor Karen Tei Yamashita warned of the “future Asian cyborg” stereotype emerging in the Western consciousness, a day before Cornell professor Mary Pat Brady presented the poignant poetry written by victims of the U.S. border crisis. Publisher Julia Kostova heralded an era of digital and print coexistence, just a day after writer and academic Christopher Bigsby posited that really there's nothing new and we’re looking in the wrong places anyway. Evidently, it’s difficult to isolate the few major trends in American literature because contemporary writing is so varied and meanwhile entangled with identity, politics and technology. During four days of lectures and discussion at the Schloss, central ideas began in one place and eventually were pushed in a dozen different directions. Bigsby, a core faculty member who helped plan the session, owed this dynamism to the organizers’ emphasis on gathering diverse voices, not just a group of academics interested in promoting their doctoral theses.  “When we were planning the session, I said that there ought to be writers at the session, not just academics talking about writers, but actual living writers, moving amongst us,” Bigsby said. “And there ought to be someone from the world of publishing, particularly someone who knew about the new digital revolution. You have to disrupt the way academics can isolate themselves from the actual business of writing on the one hand, publishing on the other, and I’m tempted to say reading on the other.”  This diversity of people and ideas, matching the diversity of new American writing, was the propulsive force of the session. Because no final product or report was needed, many of the discussions were allowed to float into whatever areas the participants suggested. Fellows got insight into the creative processes of authors like Susan Straight and Karen Tei Yamashita, and later examined digital publishing platforms that could tectonically shift the roles of authors and readers. They investigated Bollywood representations of disability and American foreign policy, and meanwhile studied Chicano literature, mixed race novels and lizard, yes lizard, evolution. One defining aspect of the session was the mix of first-time Salzburg Global Fellows with the SSASA veterans who had attended sessions in the past. Salzburg Global—originally called the Salzburg Seminar in American Studies—was founded in 1947 to exclusively examine American Studies. One of the three founders thought the only way to get Europeans to talk to each other after World War II was to discuss something totally foreign: the emerging superpower across the Atlantic. “In 1947, how do you get people together who had been shooting at each other… and have a conversation about the future,” said Stephen Salyer—Salzburg Global President and CEO—during the session’s opening presentation. “Most of the people wanted to reach across the table and continue the war. So three young people came up with the idea that we’d use American Studies, something that almost nobody in Europe knew anything about, as a core curriculum.” Salzburg Seminar focused solely on American-themed topics until 1950, when the organization started integrating more global issues. In 1994, when only a thread of the American Studies foundation remained, “Defining America” co-chair Ron Clifton started the American Studies Center and subsequently held more than 30 sessions in nine years. Then in 2003, Marty Gecek sparked the creation of SSASA, which hosts annual American Studies sessions covering literature, foreign policy, economics and other subjects. Ultimately, the diversity of participants at “Defining America” was only constructive in a venue like Salzburg, where everyone isn’t itching to leave the site immediately after lectures end. Many participants praised the session as being totally unlike the conferences they’ve attended in the past.  “Usually you go to conferences and everybody has to give a paper, then there’s a Q&A, it’s over in a half-hour, and then everybody goes out to lunch somewhere,” said session participant Alexandra Ganser. “You stick with the people you already know. Here you have a joint lunch and you sit a table and there will be other people every single day. It really builds a sense of community."
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Christopher Bigsby: “There is an America. Believe me, there is an America.”
Christopher Bigsby: “There is an America. Believe me, there is an America.”
Jonathan Elbaz 

Christopher Bigsby, part of the faculty for “Defining America: New Writing, New Voices, New Directions” is one of the world’s most respected literary analysts. His definitively-British wit and skepticism are surpassed only by his panoramic understanding of literature. He wasn't afraid to sprinkle in some darker thoughts into the discussion when he addressed the participants one morning during the session. He says that while people strive to look for something new and exciting in literature, they often push many contemporary writers to the margins because they don’t fit a certain model of relevance. He also firmly denies others’ claims that you can’t isolate America and generalize about it anymore, because oh yes… there certainly still is an America.

Jonathan Elbaz, Salzburg Global Seminar: Much of your lecture at the session dealt with what the literary world is missing as it searches for something new. You’ve said that people are often looking in the wrong places.

Christopher Bigsby: There’s a tendency to look at one place within literature. There is kind of the ruling orthodoxy of the moment, as there is at anytime I suppose. And it has been recently to do with transnationalism, transculturism, and so on. There are a whole list of American writers who never get mentioned because they don’t fit into that model. A number of Nobel Prize winners are filtered out because people don’t think of them as Americans, even though they’re American citizens. And Jewish writers I find get excluded. There are an enormous number of exclusions because there’s a flavor of the month, a flavor of the last few years, which has had to with transnationalism.

SGS:
What else are we missing?

CB: We don’t look at genre writers or crime writers, a number of whom have been enrolled in television, something they would never have touched before. Largely because of cable, writers have had a dominant position. They’re very significant, and they’re regarding television as a place where they can tell their stories publicly. Very often they write social stories to do with the state of America and because they’re crime writers—The Wire for example—which covers homicide on the street, these come from non-fiction books, which is another area which I think we’re not looking at. Non-fiction books have been absolutely key and they’re beautifully written, and if you look at the cinema, documentaries are making a comeback.

There are people in literature who think of writers in a very restricted way so I was trying to say I think we’re slicing the cake too thin, that there are other major figures who we’re no longer looking at.

SGS
: What do you think causes this restricted view of contemporary literature? 

CB: We’ve had a succession of theoretical approaches to literature, or ways of understanding literature, and they follow fast upon one another. Each one has had its own jargon and restrictive language. Every time you do that, you exclude other things, and it’s the exclusionary nature of particularly American Studies that has slightly disturbed me. And they seem in America not to realize that transnationalism is fundamental to European Americanists. After all, they’re German or Dutch and they’re British and they look trans-Atlantically at America and see a different America. They’ve been doing it for centuries, going back to Alexis de Tocqueville.

SGS
: With what frame do you find academics theorizing about modern America?

CB: Because of this insistence on the transnational and the other, there is a feeling that you can no longer talk about America, that you can no longer generalize about America because it’s a series of contentions, disagreements, and tensions within the society. Yet if you move away from America and view it from Europe, there’s most certainly an America. If there’s a drone flying overhead, you don’t ask if it’s being controlled miles away by a white Anglo Saxon Protestant or by a Latina woman. It’s America. And you’re on the end of that.

There is an America. Believe me, there is an America. And it’s not like Europe. There’s never been a dominant socialist party, and there’s a reliance on religion, despite its alleged secular nature that you don’t find in many European countries. Also, it’s attitude towards armed citizenry. Somehow 89 out of 100 Swiss men have guns, amazingly they don’t end up killing each other or walking into schools shooting each other. There’s something going on there that is American.

It’s a society on the pursuit of happiness, it’s that tomorrow things are going to be better. People went to America to reinvent themselves. They didn’t go there on the hope that one day things would get worse. They went there because they believed they would get better, and they would no longer be the same person.

SGS:
At this SSASA session, there’s been an interesting balance of novelists and academics, coming from very different worlds. How do you think that has affected the discussion?

CB: When we were planning the session, I said that there ought to be writers at the seminar, not just academics talking about writers, but actual living writers, moving amongst us. And there ought to be someone from the world of publishing, particularly someone who knew about the new digital revolution. You have to disrupt the way academics can isolate themselves from the actual business of writing on the one hand, publishing on the other, and I’m tempted to say reading on the other. It was to disrupt those patterns.

There’s a feeling that you have to reject the past in order for the new to be born, which is again very American. Writing is circular, you go back to earlier influences, you build on the past, but you don’t reject it. I was quoting The Crucible, which is constantly produced around the world, and it would not be if it were a museum piece. It’s staged around the world because people see it applying to now, not to 1692 and not the 1950s and the House Un-American Activities Committee, which may have been the reason for it existing in the first place. Arthur Miller once said, “I don’t write plays, I write metaphors.” And the essence of a metaphor is that you’re constantly reinterpreting it. The past is not dead, and it can be new because every time you see a play for the first time, it’s new. It’s new to you, the observer, the audience. Every time you read a book it’s new to you.

SGS:
How has being at Salzburg Global Seminar affected you, and how has the discussions and the environment here influenced you?

CB: It can do one of two things. It can confirm you in what you’re doing already because you’ve found that there are other people doing that as a kind of community. The other thing is that you can be exposed to ideas that are different, and have your ideas challenged. And you can discover things are happening that you didn’t know about. I came here and met the stage designer of A Streetcar Named Desire and Death of a Salesman. That changed me, because I hadn’t really thought about design very much. That changed the way I went about things. And I started attending rehearsals. As an academic, I kept myself pure, judging the text from a distance. Now for the first time, I got in there. I talked to the directors, the actors, recorded what went on rehearsals. I went to libraries and looked at earlier drafts of the same plays. And certainly it transformed things. That was kick started here at Salzburg and I think that was valuable.

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