Multi-Ethnic Voices Shaping US Society and Politics: Past, Present, and Future (2014)

6th Annual Austria’s Young Americanists Workshop

Multi-Ethnic Voices Shaping US Society and Politics: Past, Present, and Future

October 2-3, 2014

Workshop Report

Austria’s Young Americanists held its 6th workshop titled, “Multi-Ethnic Voices Shaping US Society and Politics: Past, Present, and Future,” from October 2-3, 2014 at the University of Salzburg in Austria. There were 10 participants: 8 PhD candidates studying or doing research in Austria, Germany, and the Netherlands and two US professors, Dr. Paul Lauter and Dr. Doris Friedensohn. The following is a detailed report of the workshop and a reflective summary.

Thursday, October 2nd

The workshop began with a general welcome by the organizers, Saskia Fürst and Yvonne Kaisinger, followed by an introductory activity. Yvonne then formally introduced Dr. Paul Lauter, and the first workshop event was an opening discussion, led by Paul. As part of the format of the workshop, Paul provided his paper on multi-culturalism and a paradigm shift in approaching literary, political, and social studies in the US to the participants ahead of time to read and formulate questions. During the discussion, participants asked questions to further clarify his proposed concept of a changing approach to studying the US and even challenged his concept.

After a short coffee break, the first panel on “Women’s Voices” began, featuring two papers. Silke Jandl presented her initial thoughts and ideas on contemporary female voices in Dakota literature and the participants, including Paul and Doris, gave her constructive and useful advice and suggestions on how to better define her theoretical approach to the literary texts. Martina Koegeler-Abdi followed Silke and focused her talk on excerpts that she provided ahead of time from the unpublished memoir by Rosemary Hakin, “Arabian Antipodes.” This is one of her primary sources for her project on Arab-American women’s narrative agency in the US. The following discussion revolved around better defining her categories of identification, definitions of representation, and narrative techniques employed within the text. Several participants suggested additional, useful theoretical approaches and pointed out the aspect of irony, which was missing from her analysis.

The first day of the workshop concluded with a more general discussion on research areas, events occurring in Europe and the US, and general interests from the participants at the nearby restaurant, ARGE Beisl. Paul and Doris joined the participants in a lively discussion which continued within the less formal environment.

Friday October 3rd

Refreshed from their overnight stay at the Altstadthotel Wolf in the historic old town of Salzburg, the participants met again at the University of Salzburg to continue the workshop. The first panel, “Black Voices,” featured presentations focusing on African American performers, literature, and artwork. Bryan Banker began the session by explaining the Hegelian influence in W.E.B. DuBois’ notion of “double consciousness” and exploring to what extent and in what ways the performer Paul Robeson effectively engaged in his own “multiple consciousnesses” as a Hollywood actor, an artist, and a representative of the working classes. During the ensuing discussion, Bryan was encouraged to look at the politics of body representation, Black masculinity, and the degree of influence Robeson, as an artist, had in determining his roles and actual speech in Hollywood productions. Antonia Purk, following Bryan, closely analyzed the cover images of two novels from the Antiguan-American writer, Jamaica Kincaid. She argued that these fictional images, once read through the lens of the novel, provide visual cues as to how both The Autobiography of my Mother and Mr. Potter should be read, thereby transferring knowledge from the text to the images. While elaborating in the discussion that the purpose of these images is not necessarily to “reclaim” a past but to provide a collective memory for the Caribbean experience, the participants commented that the two novels presented seem to establish subjectivity for American-Caribbeans, and that this concept should be further explored in her dissertation project. The final participant in the panel, Saskia Fürst, showed various art pieces featuring older Black women produced by African Americans, such as Jeff Donaldson and Kara Walker, and discussed the ways and usefulness of juxtaposing these images to advertisements featuring older Black women in the US. Aspects of memory and consciousness-raising, for both Blacks and Whites, were discussed and suggestions were made for articles and concepts surrounding memory that may be useful for a theoretical approach to the paper.

During the break, the participants took a group picture and enjoyed the beautiful weather while getting refreshments. Then the final panel, “Trans-Atlantic/National Voices,” with presentations from Maximilian Feldner and Marta Mancelos took place. While focusing on writers from two different countries, Africa and Japan, they both engaged on the theme of transcribing “outside” voices onto “inside” perspectives. At the start of his research project, Max presented several ideas and approaches he is interested in using to analyze Chimamanda Adichie’s Americanah. During the following discussion, the aspects of fictions of migration and postcolonial issues proved to be the two key areas Max would like to focus on, while the aspect of class will figure only marginally and racial tensions in the US will not be a focus of Max’s project. Marta, in a later stage of her research, presented some of the difficulties as well as the artistic and creative aspects involved in translations.

Focusing on Sawako Nakayasu’s translations of Japanese poems into English, which were published in the book Mouth: Eats Color, Marta explained how Nakayasu creatively and purposefully calls attention to the translation itself, her position as the translator, and the stages involved in translating. Presenting a rather complex approach to her primary source, the discussion then allowed Marta to clarify the goals of her research and some of the participants suggested looking at similar approaches from other translators as a possible means for comparison. As the workshop was running over time, the participants agreed to officially end the session and the workshop, while continuing the discussion more informally at the Guerrilla Burger restaurant.

While having lunch, it was possible to wrap up some of the lingering thoughts, discussion, and ideas generated by the workshop. The organizers also gathered informal feedback from the participants, which indicated that the exchange of ideas was useful and everyone was also pleased to learn more about what fellow colleagues were researching. In this informal setting, there was the possibility to exchange information about scholarships and working possibilities at the respective universities. All the participants indicated an interest in attending future AYA workshops and agreed to stay in touch via e-mail about ideas, research questions, and interesting conference call for papers. While saying goodbye to the newly made acquaintances, several of the participants will attend the Austrian Association for American Studies Conference in Graz in November and expressed their joy at seeing each other again soon.

Reflections on the AYA Workshop 2014

As the AYA is the graduate section of the AAAS, having a workshop that is targeted towards advanced MA students and PhD candidates allows not only the opportunity for participants to receive individualized feedback and suggestions on their research projects, but it establishes a network of young academic research scholars that will prove beneficial for the AAAS. The participants made initial contact with other European scholars of American Studies that will certainly be useful for completing their current research and will assist them in later academic projects as well.

Having an extensively knowledgeable professor from the US to provide impetus and feedback for the students provided an invaluable advantage for European scholars in the field of American Studies here in Austria. At an early stage of their research, several participants expressed their gratitude at being provided the opportunity to present their ideas and goals in a closed environment, which was nonetheless highly stimulating and rewarding. Some participants, at a more advanced stage in their research, discussed the different possibilities and opportunities at their respective universities, with the goal of establishing future combined projects and exchanges of information within the field of American Studies. The promise of diverse, interesting, and academically valuable research was evidenced at this workshop, and everyone seemed to gain renewed energy and focus in their respective areas. The format of this workshop proved to be very useful for all the participants and we are very grateful to the US Embassy for having made this event possible.