American Studies in a Moment of Danger

American Studies in a Moment of Danger

American Studies in a Moment of Danger

American Studies in a Moment of Danger

Excerpt

I stumbled into American studies the way most people do, by accident. There were no American studies programs on the campuses where I took my undergraduate and graduate courses. In retrospect, I now realize that I was assigned books crucial to the American studies tradition in my classes, but I never identified them as such. It was only while working as a labor historian researching the massive strike wave in the United States after World War II that I turned to the study of culture. The standard historical evidence I found in archives told me a great deal about the history of government agencies, trade unions, and businesses, but very little about the consciousness of the actual workers whose collective actions and mass mobilizations I was trying to study. I managed to find a few oral history interviews about the strikes and I conducted some of my own, but my most valuable evidence about how and why workers mounted the largest strike wave in American history came from analyzing and interpreting a wide range of working-class cultural practices and products— religion and roller derby, films and fiction, subcultural styles and speech, car customizing and country music.

Researching culture led me to consult American Quarterly, the official journal of the American Studies Association. American Quarterly provided an inspiring array of methods and theories for connecting cultural texts to their social and historical contexts. It made me feel that the kind of scholarship I did might fit into American studies. When advertisements . . .

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