American Exceptionalisms: The ‘City upon a Hill’ in the 21st Century
Goldsmiths, 15th June 2013
Confirmed keynote speaker: Anna Hartnell (Birkbeck)
From John Winthrop’s 1630 declaration aboard the Arabella that America shall be a ‘city upon a hill,’ to the widely held belief in Manifest Destiny in the nineteenth century, to its emergence as a global economic and military superpower in the twentieth century, the notion of America as not only different from other nations, but exceptionally so has repeatedly pervaded political and cultural discourses. To initial settlers, and right up until the early twentieth century, the abundant beauty and wealth of untapped resources that the vast continent offered were further proof of its uniqueness.
Yet, American Exceptionalism not only contains a wealth of paradoxes, but has continually been subjected to critique and questioning within American culture and politics. It is a concept that fetishizes the landscape; even as it is ruthlessly plundered for its natural resources. More recently, the similarly fetishized commodities of liberty and freedom have been reduced following the events of 9/11 and the subsequent ‘war on terror.’ The USA Patriot Act, Guantanamo Bay detention centre, the othering of Muslim communities within American cities (for example, the reaction to the ‘Ground Zero mosque’) have all undermined democracy and liberality and create a twenty-first century version of what Donald Pease, following Agamben, refers to as a ‘state of exception’ to the ideals that set America apart as exceptional. However, political discourse has painted these ‘states of exception’ as wholly consistent with the idea of American Exceptionalism: in fact they are necessary to protect America from those who seek to destroy democracy and freedom.
This interdisciplinary symposium aims to explore the multifaceted and paradoxical construct of American Exceptionalism, placing particular emphasis on how it may be interpreted in a twenty-first Century context. Bearing in mind that America is currently enduring its greatest recession since the 1930s, and amid the emergence of competing global economies, is it valid to ask if the concept of Exceptionalism still exists? If so, what new forms does it take? Indeed, does it take new forms or is it possible to transpose former ideas of American Exceptionalism into a twenty-first century context?
We invite proposals for 20 minute presentations loosely based upon the ideas outlined above as articulated through the arts and humanities, media, film, social sciences and other scholarship connected to these areas.
Please send individual abstracts of 250 words to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Deadline for submissions: 1st February 2013
Presenters may wish to consider the following topics:
-Interrogations and explorations of ‘American Exceptionalism’
-The state of the nation post-9/11
-The American novel in the 21st Century
-Global theories of the nation
-Security, foreign policy and border-control
-Federal responses to Hurricane Katrina
-The War on Terror
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