The Department of English at UC Santa Barbara has created a new interdisciplinary Center for innovative research and teaching initiatives in the study of American cultures. Drawing on various strengths of its own, as well as interdisciplinary connections to the departments of Black Studies, Feminist Studies, and Global Studies (to name a few), it seeks to broaden the cultural study of the United States by situating it in a transnational context. The Center is thus attentive to an expansive understanding of culture and forms of cultural production beyond the category of literature traditionally conceived. The Center encompasses within the term “culture” all that is currently meant by it in the American Studies Association: literature, the visual arts, religion, politics, the media, class, music, ethnicity, race, gender, sexuality, law, commerce, and so on. The Center also seeks to recontextualize the study of American cultures in their multiple intersections, exchanges, and impacts by exploring how they have been complicated, problematized, and sometimes reconfigured as a result of their global extensions and interconnections. By “global,” then, we refer to processes themselves inter- and cross-disciplinary, as well as cross- and intra-national, by which the world has been, from a time long before, in Edmundo O’Gorman’s phrase, “the invention of America,” woven and rewoven into something more and more resembling an interlinked but variously concatenated structure.
The Center’s intention to bring the study of America’s cultures into closer contact with the study of global developments derives from the belief that recent events from the end of the Cold War to September 11, 2001 have only made it more imperative than ever to examine America’s cultural histories and practices in terms that are comparative, dialogic, and international. Not only is there is an argument to be made that culturally, if not politically, America was in fact global long before it was anything else; now at the beginning of the 21st century, it could hardly be clearer that while the boundaries between America and the rest of the world have not by any means dissolved, they have been undergoing a process of continuous redrawing that has only accelerated and become still more complex and richly imbricated in the centuries since first European settlement. Embracing local, regional, and hemispheric as well as global studies, then, including those that interrogate the conflation of America with all that was once associated with the expression “New World,” the American Cultures and Global Contexts Center seeks to achieve a more expansive vision for the field of American Studies itself, one more commensurate with the world in which its subject matter has always been situated.
The Center possesses a curricular, pedagogical and research mission. Equipped with a small library of key resources in the field and state-of-the-art computing equipment to support web-based research, the Center provides a unique site for inter- and trans-disciplinary collaborations among faculty and students. The Center also intends to facilitate closer working relations among American Studies scholars throughout the UC system. Providing a physical as well as virtual setting in which faculty and students can engage in research as well as curricular development, the Center will disseminate research to an international audience by converting the results of major conferences it hosts into collected volumes and web-based publications. In addition, the Center will inaugurate a series of working papers that come out of smaller colloquia. The Center is committed to combining these research efforts with the construction and circulation of new pedagogical approaches to American Studies at all levels of the educational system.