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"An Eldorado of New Thoughts and Ideas"

Students report on GAAS 66

Five students from Marburg were able to attend the 66th annual conference of the German Association for American Studies held at Hamburg from June 13-15, 2019. The conference focused on "U.S.-American Culture as Popular Culture." Here is what they say:

  • "The GAAS Conference in Hamburg—An Eldorado of New Thoughts and Ideas" (Julia Kipar)

    Popular Culture, which was the thematic focus of this year’s annual meeting of the German Association for American Studies, as a quite current and important topic, has continuously, in one form or another, spanned through my course of studies and also aligns well with my personal research interests.

    But what really makes such a conference so unique is that it is a gathering place of a community, where the members of the GAAS from all over the world come together and present only the best of their ideas and findings, which are often the outcome of years of dedicated research. It is thus not only a meeting place of people, who are all connected by their fascination for American Studies, but a reservoir of ideas. Being able to take part in this academic conference, I was absolutely amazed by the plethora and wide range of topics covered and the innovative ideas for research, ranging from indigenous futurisms as a sub-genre of speculative fiction and the importance of telling your own story; to the use of web comics, a new form of illness narratives, as a means for a son to keep alive the memories of his father who has been suffering from dementia, to, and how could this be any different, Trump and his use and abuse of new media.

    All of these individual projects can often be really specific in their thematic foci, but all of them taken together create an astonishing Eldorado of new thoughts and ideas. During this short time we spent in Hamburg, I came across an abundance of new topics, some of which I would have otherwise never encountered; and I hope that I will be able to combine many of these new ideas with my own projects in the future. To be invited to see, and be part of, this community and the exchange of new and creative ideas was absolutely inspiring for me, and, therefore, a truly special experience that I will cherish for many years to come.

  • "U.S. Consul General Speaks about the Impact of American Culture" (Zakhar Pokudov)

    The conference took place on June 13-15 in Hamburg. The focus of the conference was “U.S.-American Culture as Popular Culture,” and during three days we had the opportunity to attend different lectures, presentations, and workshops, which covered a variety of topics from American comedy to rightwing populism. Those topics were covered by various scholars, mostly from the U.S., Germany, and Canada. Personally for me, the most inspiring conversation was by the U.S. Consul General in Hamburg, Richard Yoneoka, speaking at the conference opening. He gave a speech about the power and worldwide impact of American culture. As an example of that impact, he mentioned Tyler, the Creator, and explained that he was surprised that people in Europe or elsewhere would know this artist and could actually talk about him. Tyler, the Creator is also one of my favorite artists, and because I have already been a couple of times in a situation when my American friends or classmates were surprised about my extended knowledge of Tyler, the Creator’s songs, I felt connected to the speech of a U.S. Consul General. Among the workshops, I might point out two that were the most interesting for me: “Rightwing Populism: Remapping Popular Culture in the Age of Trump and the Alt-Right,” and “Indigenous Popular Culture in North America.” It is also important to notice that at the end of the conference we had a closing party on the boat, which was a “cherry” on top of the conference. During the conference, we also had a buffet and coffee breaks, which helped facilitating discussions about lectures and workshops, and also forging connections between participants.

    Overall, during the conference, I have heard lots of interesting thoughts, which I might use in my Master’s thesis that I am currently writing. It was inspiring to listen to academics from different countries, talking about American Studies and analyzing America from diverse perspectives. Undoubtedly, I have enriched my understanding of American Studies, and the opportunity to participate gave me a sophisticated boost and a smorgasbord of ideas to finish my Master’s thesis. Personally for me, it was exciting to participate in an international academic conference and to feel like a part of the academic world and the international scholars’ community. To those who would like to apply next year, I will say do so, and you will not regret it.

  • "The Exciting New Field of Game Studies" (Sabine Walter)

    Attending the conference “U.S. American Culture as Popular Culture” has been an enriching and exciting opportunity for me. Aside from getting a glimpse at the academic community and listening to lectures on a broad range of topics and thereby broadening my own academic horizon, I also got the chance to reflect on my own journey as a student of American Studies. What made the conference most appealing to me was the chance to learn about research in fields I hadn’t heard of before and might not have come across, if it wasn’t for the conference. In addition to that, seeing how various scholars examined cultural phenomena like Netflix, fan fiction, Black Mirror’s Bandersnatch, web comics, and Internet memes, made me aware of how the culture that surrounds me in my day-to-day life can be examined through the lens of literary theory. It encouraged me to look more closely at the various components that constitute culture and made me realize that there is much more to take into account than literature, politics, pictures, and movies when trying to examine the cultural landscape of a country. Listening to the keynotes and talks in the workshops also helped me to shift and broaden my perspective and gain new insights by connecting concepts, I hadn’t been able to connect before. The interdisciplinarity of the conference also enabled me to learn about the exciting new field of Game Studies. As a gamer, gaming had only been a joyful recreational activity for me and I had not paid much attention to the amount of world-building and storytelling involved in a good game. The journey to Hamburg left me with plenty of inspiration in regards to American Studies and research and lots of happy memories in regards to exploring the beautiful city with my fellow students as well as enjoying the party on the ship at the end of the conference.

  • "Popular Helps to Resist Hegemony" (Ying (Jasmine) Wang)

    The 66th annual meeting of the German Association for American Studies (GAAS) convened in Hamburg this year with a thematic focus on “U.S.-American Culture as Popular Culture.” The title is self-explanatory in the lively, inclusive, and interdisciplinary nature of the conference. For the first time in the history of American Studies, popular culture which is commonly considered as “low culture,” becomes the subject of a highly intellectual academic event and is examined from a wide range of perspectives and disciplines, be it media, literature, history, politics, and so forth. The interdisciplinarity of the convention not only inspires me to see things from different points of view but to unite such a diverse force in order to address problems that face all humanities. With growing interdependence among things, it necessitates joint efforts to unravel the complexity of issues. Another aspect that makes the event extremely appealing lies in its relevance to everyday life, which everyone, scholars or laypeople alike, can somehow relate to. The multiple expressions of popular culture explored in the conference, from novels to music, video games, dance, and fashion industry, remind me that we are all part of the creators of popular culture and, in one way or another, help reinforce certain social norms manifested in popular forms, whereas it also opens up potential space to resist hegemony where every person can make a difference. Despite the backlash in current times, it is those inspirational discussions and brilliant scholars and critical thinkers whose commitment to American Studies has always been a source of motivation to me that give me hope and strength. I feel grateful having such wonderful opportunity to attend the conference and to connect with people from different fields of research.

  • "American Studies Is Everything" (Marie Zarda)

    American Studies is everything. In a lot of ways, it’s what you hear about in the news. It’s what you talk about with your friends. It what you see when you look at your phones, your television. One of the most prominent effects of globalization is how interconnected cultures become, and how many different cultures you come into contact with throughout the day, how much you consume, how much you connect with. Especially the field of American Culture has found it’s way into our everyday life, not only as an academic subject, but as the contents of modern mass media, as Popular Culture.

    I don’t think that I ever realized how multi-facetted and broadly spread the field of American Studies really is until I attended the 66th annual conference of the German Association for American Studies in Hamburg. Especially with this year’s focus on “American Culture as Popular Culture,” the influence of American cultural products on, well, basically everything becomes particularly clear. How different and possibly ambiguous the experiences with American Culture can be was colorfully showcased by the diverse and immensely interesting program of the conference.

    In three keynote lectures, different aspects of American Studies were illuminated, with an apparent focus on media and, in light of recent events, politics. Similar topics were discussed on the “Current Events Panel,” where very individual experiences and opinions were voiced by three panelists and a moderator. The different backgrounds of the participants made for a very interesting discussion about what it means to be an American in our day and time and what this means for the field of American Studies.

    In the workshops, the topics were even more diverse. A plethora of essays and texts were thematically organized and presented to smaller audiences, enabling even more participation and intense discussions. And once again, the immense range of topics even within the given themes was incredible. From specific analyses of singularities in American Culture to general observations about media, from Westerns to Netflix, from Graphic Novels to Memes and Twitter, and so much more. Out of twenty different workshops, I was able to attend two, both with severely different focal points and subjects.

    But quite possibly the most intriguing thing about this conference was not the actual lectures and workshops. Instead, what struck me most was that I found that the discussions never seemed to cease after the presentations and were not at all confined to the lecture halls. All throughout the weekend, at every moment, people were discussing the texts, the lectures, and possibly most importantly, their individual experiences and opinions.  Especially for me as a student still very much at the beginning of my studies, this was a wonderful possibility to ask questions and to come into contact with aspects of American Studies that I had not been aware of beforehand. The exchange, especially on this particular academic level where so many people from so many different backgrounds come together, driven by a shared passion for American Studies in all its forms was simply something to behold. 

    So, to conclude, this conference showed me the incredibly broad range of American Studies. It gave me the possibility to connect with so many people and to learn so much from them. It enabled me to gain insights into topics I hadn’t considered before, and I guess that it showed me that American Studies really is, or at least can be, everything.