American Studies: Nation, Knowledge, and the American University, 1937-2001
This dissertation examines the cultural work of American Studies programs in the United States and the ways in which it shifted from the 1930s, when these programs became first established in the academy, to the 1990s, when they were lambasted by a younger generation of scholars as intellectually dubious expressions of Cold War politics. Based on archival research in institutional records and personal papers, it investigates the politics of the various parties involved in these programs, including the academics who were affiliated with them, the administrators who established them at universities, and the government and philanthropic organizations which provided funding for them. Focusing on the relationship between nationalism and knowledge production, it provides a detailed account of the historical processes through which higher learning and national belonging have become intertwined, resulting in what scholars today refer to as “methodological nationalism.” By examining the emergence and evolution of American Studies, this dissertation focuses on the case in which knowledge and the nation most explicitly overlapped, and where the issue was most extensively debated. Tracing the careers of some of the field’s most prominent scholars, including Daniel Aaron, Henry Nash Smith, Leo Marx, and John William Ward, it shows that the relationship between American Studies and its object of study has been ambivalent from the beginning, and that Americanists have always had to balance affirmation and adversarialism toward their object of study.