"Nature's Nation" Revisited: American Concepts of Nature from Wonder to Ecological Crisis Hans Bak and Walter H. Hölbling, Editors. Amsterdam: VU University Press, 2003.
Straddling Borders: The American Resonance in Transnational Identities Rob Kroes, Editor. Amsterdam: VU University Press, 2004.
Dreams of Paradise, Visions of Apocalypse: Utopia and Dystopia in American Culture Jaap Verheul, Editor. Amsterdam: VU University Press, 2004.
Religion in America: European and American Perspectives Hans Krabbendam and Derek Rubin, Editors. Amsterdam: VU University Press, 2004.
Public Space, Private Lives: Race, Gender, Class and Citizenship in New York, 1890-1929 William Boelhower and Anna Scacchi, Editors. Amsterdam: VU University Press, 2004.
Post-Cold War Europe and Post-Cold War America Ruud Janssens and Rob Kroes, Editors. Amsterdam: VU University Press, 2004.
These are the most recent volumes, numbers 49 to 53 and 55, respectively, of the series titled European Contributions to American Studies, which began in 1979 with Rob Kroes as general editor. (Volume 54 has not been published as of this writing.) According to the accompanying leaflet that advertises these six volumes, the series' aim has always been to internationalize American studies, attempting to locate the United States from a comparative perspective defined as "looking at the country and its culture through the eyes of others." This leaflet also states that the series has always been associated with endeavors to cross-disciplinary boundaries, including scholars from literary studies, history, the social sciences, and cultural studies.
These six volumes in themselves already give a good indication of the wide variety of topics covered by the field of American studies today. The range of topics includes different concepts of nature and their manifold implications in American society; today's globalizing culture, cosmopolitanism, and transnational identities (with the historical experience of the United States supposedly being the first in inspiring the concept of transnationalism); the fundamental and multifaced interplay between Utopian and dystopian strains in American religion, culture, and politics; the multifarious role of religion in American society, and its impact in Europe; race, gender, ethnicity, and class in New York City at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; and post-Cold War America and Europe and their interrelationships at the current juncture of enhanced globalization. For lack of space, I will not go into detail about individual contributions, but will restrict myself to more general remarks on the content of these volumes.
An obvious disadvantage of many conference volumes is the disparate character of the essays brought together under some overarching title. All volumes under review here also have this drawback. None is really tightly structured, with an introduction that brings up leading questions and ties the various contributions together in a systematic, problem-oriented manner, followed by an attempt at giving answers -at least tentative or provisional-to these questions at the end of the volume. Some do better in this regard than others; differences are a partial result of the grip that the editors of each of these volumes were able (or allowed) to have on their selection of essays. The first category includes Religion in America, and Dreams of Paradise, and the latter category includes Public Space, "Nature's Nation," and Post-Cold War. The voluminous "Nature's Nation" contains only a brief preface with a perfunctory overview of the volume's wide-ranging set of no fewer than thirty-five essays. Post-Cold War offers a brief, not very informative introduction to the volume, followed by an essay about the imaginary Americas in Europe's public space, a large part of which contains the editor's personal experiences and reminiscences after 9/11. Some volumes are …