Keywords for American Cultural Studies

Keywords for American Cultural Studies

Keywords for American Cultural Studies

Keywords for American Cultural Studies


Since its initial publication, scholars and students alike have turned to Keywords for American Cultural Studies as an invaluable resource for understanding key terms and debates in the fields of American studies and cultural studies. As scholarship has continued to evolve, this revised and expanded second edition offers indispensable meditations on new and developing concepts used in American studies, cultural studies, and beyond. It is equally useful for college students who are trying to understand what their teachers are talking about, for general readers who want to know what's new in scholarly research, and for professors who just want to keep up. Designed as a print-digital hybrid publication, Keywords collects more than 90 essays--30 of which are new to this edition--from interdisciplinary scholars, each on a single term such as "America," "culture," "law," and "religion." Alongside "community," "prison," "queer," "region," and many others, these words are the nodal points in many of today's most dynamic and vexed discussions of political and social life, both inside and outside of the academy. The Keywords website, which features 33 essays, provides pedagogical tools that engage the entirety of the book, both in print and online. The publication brings together essays by scholars working in literary studies and political economy, cultural anthropology and ethnic studies, African American history and performance studies, gender studies and political theory. Some entries are explicitly argumentative; others are more descriptive. All are clear, challenging, and critically engaged. As a whole, Keywords for American Cultural Studies provides an accessible A to Z survey of prevailing academic buzzwords and a flexible tool for carving out new areas of inquiry.


Bruce Burgett and Glenn Hendler

I. What Is a Keyword?

In contemporary usage, the term “keyword” generally refers to a type of data or metadata. the Oxford English Dictionary’s primary definition is “a word serving as a key to a cipher or code,” one that provides “a solution or explanation” or one that is “of particular importance or significance.” Dating from the mid-eighteenth century, these usages represent keywords as data that unlock mysteries. the oed’s second definition is a term “chosen to indicate or represent the content of a larger text or record” in an “index, catalogue, or database.” Dating from the early nineteenth century, this usage represents keywords as tools for information retrieval within various archiving systems. This second meaning points toward the most familiar usage of the term today. Keywords are forms of metadata that authors, librarians, book indexers, concordance makers, web designers, and database builders add to a print or digital text to guide users to significant clusters of meaning. the interactive information ecologies of “Web 2.0” extend this usage in interesting ways. They enable consumers of information to produce their own metadata, which can then be visualized as keyword clouds or tag clouds. Metadata becomes a user-centered and interactive means of organizing, customizing, and sharing data.

When you look up a term in Keywords for American Cultural Studies, you will find that these definitions are both resonant and limited. the essays you will encounter synthesize a great deal of information about the historical and contemporary meanings of terms that structure the fields of American studies and cultural studies. By discussing how the meanings of those terms have developed over time, they may unlock some mysteries and crack a few codes. in this sense, the essays help readers to understand the concepts they encounter and to chart relations among them. But Keywords for American Cultural Studies is not a reference guide . . .

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