International Conference at the Bayreuth Institute for American Studies (BIAS)

University of Bayreuth, Germany
31 January and 1 February 2008

Concept: Georg Kamphausen, Susanne Mühleisen, Michael Steppat
Organizer: Michael Steppat

General  Interviews and Documents  Program  Staff  Venue


The idea of an American singularity has not only been one of the founding pillars of national self-perception but has also worked as a keystone of identifications, adaptations, and dissociations within and without the boundaries of the United States. Many of the twentieth-century cross-Atlantic discourses on politics, religion, and culture have thus been influenced by a perceived or real dichotomy between American and European concepts and ways of life, between Americanisms and Anti-Americanisms. However, any static and homogenous view on the very concept of Americanism can only be misleading. The plural form of this singularity is therefore intentional, as it invites a long-overdue reflection on regional and ethnic forms of such identification patterns. Furthermore, demographic shifts and a growing influence of immigrant groups from outside the traditional European settler groups have made the boundaries of the United States as well as of Canada fuzzier than a look at the world map suggests. Perhaps most importantly, the trauma of the 9/11 attacks has led to a deep uncertainty in the way the United States is to perceive and position itself, and as a consequence it would appear to invite acts of inward renewal. Such a period of transformation presents an ideal time to take stock of the various consequences of the idea of an American singularity, as well as of old and new forms of Americanism(s) on both sides of the Atlantic.

This interdisciplinary conference sets itself the task of analyzing the state of the art of American exceptionalism and its multi-faceted adaptations and reactions in politics, law, geography, ethnology, film, media, language, and culture. Some of the key questions to be explored are:

  • How is American exceptionalism mirrored in European developments in economics, politics, and culture (compensation, modernization, etc.)?
  • In what ways are institutional discourses (e.g., in law, the media, religious institutions) formed by way of concepts of Americanism?
  • How do the "fringes of Americanism" and the transgression of geographical, linguistic, or ethnic boundaries threaten or renew an identification with America?
  • In what ways has transatlantic exchange contributed to the emergence of hybrid forms of culture (e.g. in music, theatre, etc.)?
  • How are Americanisms mirrored in contemporary literature and film?
  • And how does Canada position herself in the discourse of Americanisms?


Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft | With support of the U. S. Consulate General Munich and the U.S. Embassy Berlin | Bayerische Amerika-Akademie | The German-American Fulbright Commission | Universitätsverein Bayreuth e. V.