American Studies: A Sad Tale of Academic Decline

My academic field, American Studies, is the interdisciplinary study of American cultures, past and present. Once it was a vibrant and useful discipline. Today, I’m sad to report, it is a regular source for “What wacky stuff are they up to on campus?” articles and blogs.

These days, when American Studies captures any attention, it’s usually for unfortunate reasons.

Sometimes, a jargon-y article wins an ironic bad writing award. Consider, for example this excerpt from a paper in the Australasian Journal of American Studies:

Natural history museums, like the American Museum, constitute one decisive means for power to de-privatize and re-publicize, if only ever so slightly, the realms of death by putting dead remains into public service as social tokens of collective life, rereading dead fossils as chronicles of life’s everlasting quest for survival, and canonizing now dead individuals as nomological emblems of still living collectives in Nature and History. An anatomo-politics of human and non-human bodies is sustained by accumulating and classifying such necroliths in the museum’s observational/expositional performances.

Sometimes a pop culture class becomes an extramural joke, such as the “Zombie Studies” courses that were all the rage a few years ago. And sometimes an American Studies professor decides to use the classroom for “social activism” where the idea is to substitute studying with protesting.

I might chuckle if I weren’t employed and mentally invested in the field, and if I did not have residual respect for the open-minded, pragmatic approaches which marked American Studies for the first decades of its existence. But sadly, for the last generation, American Studies—beset by a nagging awareness that making interdisciplinarity the norm when studying culture became mission accomplished at least 20 years ago—has scooted pell-mell towards politicization in a misbegotten effort to remain relevant.

The result today is an academic sub-specialty wedded to a tightly-corseted belief that the United States represents the locus of sin (racism, sexism, colonialism, and the like) in the modern world, and that any study of America should restrict itself to call-outs and condemnations. American Studies now serves chiefly as validation system for academicians who know their findings in advance: racism, sexism, and imperialism.

Increasingly, the field is hostile to scholars who don’t want to use it just to berate American traditions and signal their imagined virtue.

That trend reached a new low in 2013. At its national conference, the American Studies Association voted to boycott Israeli academic institutions. Wrapped in rhetoric about replying to calls from “Palestinian civil society,” the boycott’s cynical core was revealed when president Curtis Marez, asked why Israel was singled out, flippantly replied, “One has to start somewhere.” Out of 200 or so nations, precisely one was hereafter infra dig at the ASA.

Several in attendance spoke up in opposition, but they were outnumbered on the speakers roster by about 10 to 1. I was among them, and am a plaintiff in a lawsuit claiming that the boycott violates the association’s mission and voids its tax exemption. Two of my co-plaintiffs explain the suit in this piece. (The case has yet to be heard.)

It was not always thus. American Studies used to revel in wide-open exploration of the nation and cultures that constitute its subject. A look at the field’s precipitous decline from bright beginnings to its current state reveals that American Studies has journeyed from inquiry to inquisition, from multiplicity to uniformity.

Pioneers like Vernon Parrington, who won the 1928 Pulitzer Prize for his book Main Currents in American Thought, and Perry Miller, who sought the wellspring of American identity in Puritan New England, drove the thematic, interdisciplinary approach that was the initial American Studies hallmark.

The first doctorate in “American Civilization” went to Harvard’s Henry Nash Smith in 1940. His dissertation became Virgin Land: The American West as Symbol and Myth (1950), which merrily relied upon dime novels to locate a mistaken but powerful belief among settlers that North America was empty, supine, and fertile, awaiting their ploughs.

Smith’s approach—often summed up as “Symbol and Myth”—gave rise to the field’s early reputation as “history with novels.” A host of interpretive books such as John William Ward’s Andrew Jackson: Symbol for an Age (1953) continued the vogue for all-encompassing accounts of why the United States was the way it was. Theirs was a search for knowledge, not for villains to blame.

Things began changing at a 1967 conference, when rising scholar Bruce Kuklick rang the tocsin when he delivered a paper challenging the supremacy of Symbol and Myth. A host of fresh scholars put their own mark upon the rapidly growing field. Popular culture studies arose, folklore studies too.

The major alteration, however, was an opening up to sources and scholars hitherto left out. Women scholars asked why female-authored texts were so sparse on syllabi; African-American scholars reminded everyone of the centrality of the black experience, including but not limited to slavery, to the entire American enterprise. Other groups inspired American Studies students of all descriptions to work towards what might be best remembered as The Great Opening Up.

John Hope Franklin became the first black president in 1967, Mary Helen Washington the first black female president in 1997. Still, the field’s goal was a deeper understanding of American cultural underpinnings.

But this was also the time when deconstructionism, having washed up on American shores in the late 1960s, went mainstream. That led to questioning of the field’s name and mission. “American” sounded nationalistic. American Studies power-brokers tried to convince themselves that the United States was disintegrating on the wrong side of history. But since world events didn’t unfold that way, they decided they could at least use their field for the purpose of perpetual indictment.

The acme of this phase came at the 2012 ASA meeting in Puerto Rico. There, at the Caribe Hilton—birthplace of the pina colada, for those interested in old-fashioned American Studies subjects—president Matthew Jacobson delivered his address entitled “Where We Stand: U.S. Empire at Street Level and in the Archive.” His message was clear: American Studies was now about finding fault with America, not understanding its culture.

In the movie Z, the 1969 thriller by Greco-French director Costa Gavras, a character advises, “You should always blame the Americans, even when you think you’re wrong. They know you’re right.” Today, the dominant approach of American Studies is as simple as that.

Politician Francois Fillon recently spoke of his own country when he said, “France is not a sum of communities. It is an identity.” I think that holds for the United States as well, but don’t expect the ASA to heed this French thinker. If the United States cannot be ignored or redefined out of existence, then it must be denounced, again and again. That’s dreary, pointless, and a path to academic oblivion.

 

 

  • DrOfnothing

    “John Hope Franklin became the first black president in 1967, Mary Helen Washington the first black female president in 1997. Still, the field’s goal was a deeper understanding of American cultural underpinnings.” So, the subtext here is the same tired saw as so many other PC articles, “everything was terrific until black people ruined it with their activism, the ingrates!” Really, I expected more from someone with a scholarly background.

    Area Studies is on the decline across Western universities, and its not politics that is to blame. Rather, its that these fields never had a solid, discrete theoretical basis to begin with, and that they have risen and fallen as the areas under study have moved in and out of academic fashion. They’re also feeling the pinch of the general decline in interest of non-STEM subjects. Chinese Studies is still running quite strong, especially at UK universities, and Russian Studies is on the rise as well. Languages, as a whole, are on the decline.

    What is most surprising, however, is that even though there is a flight to the sciences across the academy, scientific expertise is getting less and less respect as a whole in American culture (viz. the denigration of the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change). It’s ironic that more and more students want to study sciences, but fewer voters than ever trust it, though the culprit for the latter is obvious.

    BTW, Puerto Rico invented the Pina Colada, but the the best ones are to be had in . . . Cuba! No joke, the secret is using fresh pineapple rather than pineapple juice. http://cubajournal.co/the-best-pina-colada-in-cuba-and-probably-the-whole-caribbean/

    • Glen_S_McGhee_FHEAP

      THE POLITICIZATION OF CLIMATE CHANGE AND POLARIZATION IN THE AMERICAN PUBLIC’S VIEWS OF GLOBAL WARMING,
      2001–2010, Aaron M. McCright, Riley E. Dunlap

      Scholarship on the politicization of climate change examines corporate lobbying and marketing activities, the mobilization of social
      movement organizations, the political behaviors of scientists, and the actions of congressional and administrative actors [citations omitted]. This body of research documents political polarization between elites and organizations identifying the negative environmental consequences of industrial capitalism represented by climate change (e.g., environmental organizations, science advocacy organizations, and Democratic policymakers on the Left) and those defending the economic system from such charges (e.g., conservative think tanks, industry associations, and Republican policymakers on the Right).

      PS. None of this is new, surprisingly!
      “The window of opportunity for the Clinton-Gore administration and the Democratic Congress to deal with climate change closed abruptly with the 1994 national election, when Republicans gained control of Congress in what became known as the “Republican Revolution.” This new majority
      immediately challenged environmental science and policy (Brown 1997). Perhaps nowhere was this more evident than with the issue of climate change. Republican Congressional leaders launched an all-out assault on climate science, especially debunking the peer-reviewed work of mainstream scientists while promoting the non-peer-reviewed
      claims of climate change contrarians (Demeritt 2006; McCright and Dunlap
      2003, 2010).”

      This approach, I think, provides important context for describing any decline in “scientific expertise.” To the extent students favor science, they are choosing 1) potentially higher payouts, in terms of career choices, and 2) a higher status good (ever since Newton’s laws set the bar).

      • mitchelllangbert

        Your assumption that elites disagree with climate change is questionable, given that the chief elites in America, starting with Bill Gates; George Soros; the Rockefellers; most of the conglomerate news channels; virtually all of Hollywood; the New York Times and their elite owners, the Sulzbergers; Pat Stryker; Penny Pritzker; the Ratners, and on and on all support climate change theories. As well, many of the major corporations, such as Dow Chemical, BankAmerica, DuPont, and on and on have come out in support of climate change theories. All of the major universities, including many with tens of billions of dollars in assets and elite in any and every meaning of the word, consistently support climate change theories and suppress any scientists who disagree with the usual anti-science, totalitarian fervor prevalent in America’s anti-science universities.

        Perhaps you should try a different brand of Kool-Aid.

        • Glen_S_McGhee_FHEAP

          The paper I’m quoting from is accessible online.
          THE POLITICIZATION OF CLIMATE CHANGE AND POLARIZATION IN THE AMERICAN PUBLIC’S VIEWS OF GLOBAL WARMING, 2001–2010, Aaron M. McCright, Riley E. Dunlap

    • mitchelllangbert

      DrOfnothing–To create a bogus “racism” charge, you are misstating what he says–one small example of left authoritarians attempting to silence anyone who challenges their authority. What he says is that diversity was NOT the source of the field’s decline: “Still, the field’s goal was a deeper understanding of American cultural underpinnings.” Rather, what has been at fault is absurd nonsense posing as academic scholarship, a small example of which is your deceptive comment.

      • DrOfnothing

        No one called him a racist, Langbert. But it is suggested that the ascension of African-American leadership coincided with a politicization that invariably led to the decline of the field. As for American Studies being “absurd nonsense posing as academic scholarship,” it’s such a wide rubric that, as with any other discipline that came to prominence in the post-war period, there’s a mixture of quality work, mediocre work, and stuff that’s just out-and-out bad. But, good on you for dropping a blanket condemnation of an entire field–about which you know nothing–based on your own irreducible ideological bias.

        • Daniel Rodríguez Herrera

          Actually he doesn’t do that. He is saying that at that time the field was diverse enough to have those people at the top without being the stupid garbage it’s now. So the problem is not diversity as it’s usually understood, but the lack of real intellectual diversity.

          • DrOfnothing

            I can see why you could read it that way, but I respectfully disagree. It’s this passage:
            “American Studies now serves chiefly as validation system for academicians who know their findings in advance: racism, sexism, and imperialism.”
            that leads me to conclude that the author is blaming field’s move towards a focus on race as the beginning of an inevitable slide into politicized claptrap.

            When you think about it, even if your suggestion is right, that he’s saying “look, they even had black leaders and were still avoiding politicization and doing legitimate work despite this!” that’s a profoundly backhanded compliment.

          • stardreamers4

            I can see Dr. of Nothing that you were right on the verge of realizing that you read it wrong, but instead of apologizing, you have to save face and state that a categorical statement in the argument that diversity of race at the top was not responsible for the lack of diversity of ideology within the ranks is somehow a “backhanded” compliment.

            That’s not a factual claim you make, proud as you are of your scientific acumen, but a wounded ego belch or outburst to lash out at one’s perceived enemies at all costs and on all topics.

            ps. As a sidenote to your comments on “global warming” above, let me ask an honest question: (and note I hardly ever weigh in on “climate change” topics due to my woeful ignorance of the topic) If scientists discovered that the only way to feed the current and growing human populations was to foster man-made carbon pollutants (serving as a catalyst for plant life explosion with the consequence of some severe weather and ice lost as a result), should we abandon the government’s new role to regulate all aspects of human life due to it all tying-in to the pollutants or should we suddenly drip our claim of world dictatorship in the name of controlling carbon flows and allow the market to continue and thus ensure food and plenty for the (mostly Non American) masses?

            It is merely a hypothetical, but not an arbitrary claim that has no validity in future human actions, right?

  • John Willson

    I’m not sure the interdisciplinary idea ever inclined. The great pioneers you mention would not have been aided or changed by anything “interdisciplinary”–what they wrote was how they thought. In the 1950s many AmStud programs were put in place for pseudo-patriotic reasons, or at least that’s what the big donors thought they were doing. Instead they fell into the hands of academic entrepreneurs and charlatans who often, from the beginning, had ideological agendas (usually on the left) they could easily manipulate in programs of their own founding. Once the “social scientists” moved in, primarily in the 1960s, American Studies should have been folded up and put in a closet. There is no reforming it. Every single American Studies program leading to a graduate degree should be abolished.

  • Erika525

    Academic disciplines are like neighborhoods “in transitions.” The initial transformation is slow and barely noticed until a critical mass is reached. Smart people already in the field mentally drop out while those thinking about a career go elsewhere. It may take decades before the foolishness burns itself out and the “founding idiots” become just grumpy old farts.

  • mnemosyne23

    My sister, too, has a PhD in American Studies. She hated the forced gender, race, and class dynamics her PhD committee forced her to include in her dissertation. They were unnecessary and immaterial to the subject matter, but they wanted them in there. She shoehorned them in, wedging references to class, race and gender into paragraphs and chapters where they stuck out like a sore thumb, which drew criticism because their relation to her subject wasn’t “fleshed out” enough (no duh, because they weren’t material to the subject matter), Thank God, she got through it anyway.

    I sincerely hope American Studies – and all humanities and social science programs – gets its act together. It can be such an illuminating discipline, allowing students and scholars to dive into the incredible history, culture, and experience of America. Today, unfortunately, American Studies programs have nothing to do with illuminating and everything to do with turning off all the lights that show America as anything positive.

    • JJS_FLA

      Sounds remarkably like what I’ve heard of modern “Climate Research”. Regardless of subject matter, young graduate students are required to shoe-horn Anthropogenic Global Warming dogma into any paper the prepare in order to “prove” it is “au currant” on the most important matters. Such is how false scholarly “consensus” is manufactured.

      • DrOfnothing

        If your claim is valid, there should be vastly more research arguing against the global climate destabilization science. Petroleum companies are some of the wealthiest entities in the world, and have their own massive research apparatus that operates independent of both universities and public funding. They could easily churn out reams of research to the contrary. So where is it?

        Their _own_ scientists, as early as 1968, were warning them about carbon emissions. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/apr/13/climate-change-oil-industry-environment-warning-1968

        • JJS_FLA

          Hardly. My valid claim is the reason there is a dearth of progress in Climate Science explaining why – after 35 years — the predictions of snow-free winters and ice-free poles with 6-m sea-level rise re completely inaccurate. Are you a scientist? I build ultra-sensitive scientific instruments for a living. I trained in Chemical Engineering with a Nobel Prize winner who revolutionized biochemistry. I’ve read thousands of peer-reviewed papers. I live in the real world, the private sector, where results matter. Most of my colleagues are in National Labs and Top Tier Universities worldwide.

          The climate publications are by far the poorest quality I’ve ever encountered. The each recite Hansen’s incantations because no one is allowed to miss elaborate on them or disagree.

          Have you read Hansen’s papers in detail? They are illogical. Hansen’s presentations are more like a Sunday morning revival meeting than any sober Scientific report I’ve ever heard (I’ve heard literally hundreds).

          Guardian is not a recognized scientific publication. Check your observer bias. It’s an essential part of the Scientific Method. If Anthropogenic Global Warming is the most powerful synthetic force ever unleashed on the why is it invisible to Science? Such power should be easily detected since it’s– BY DEFINITION – above the “natural background”. The signal/ noise to detect it should be EXCELLENT.

          • DrOfnothing

            So, most of your colleagues in national labs and top tier universities also disagree with the majority opinion on climate change? They have published work in this vein? Please indicate who they are and I am happy to read their work.

            I never came across the 6m sea-level rise you mention. That’s predicted, if trends continue, sometime after 2100. For current rises:
            http://ocean.nationalgeographic.com/ocean/critical-issues-sea-level-rise/

            But please, do offer links to the thousands of precise, credible, peer-reviewed articles that effectively counter the rest of scientific consensus on climate change.

            Like all good scientists, I am sceptical of your claims, but more than willing to examine any evidence you provide.

          • JJS_FLA

            Incorrect. Your guru, Al Gore ran radio ads for his failed 2000 Presidential Campaign here claiming the State of Florida would soon be under 20 feet of seawater unless Floridians voted for him. Yes, your “climate science” is that crass.

            Here’s a simple question: How is it that the most powerful synthetic force ever unleashed on planet earth – by definition “above” natural background – is somehow invisible to science? It should be easy to detect just based on the power required to heat the planet rapidly.

            71% of the Earth’s surface is covered by ocean yet they extrapolate only terrestrial temperature measurements. Everyone knows that large bodies of water are more thermally stable than air-over-land.

            The ocean surface is in chemical and thermal equilibrium with the atmosphere; the mass of the ocean is 1000 times the mass of the atmosphere. How is it that so much power is being transmitted from the atmosphere to the seawater to heat it rapidly yet this extra power is invisible to science? In truth, insolation is absorbed by several hundred meters of seawater and transmitted to the atmosphere – the exact opposite vector — as shown by the behavior of hurricanes which strengthen over warm seawater and dissipate over land.

          • DrOfnothing

            Al Gore is not my guru.

            Rather than more rhetoric, please provide some details about these aforementioned hundreds of colleagues at top research universities and national labs that have published credible research contradicting the reams of work on human-caused climate change. This would be something that definitively contradicts the findings published by NOAA, etc. I don’t have to explain to you, as you make scientific instruments, how scientific debate works 🙂

            I’m sorry, but you are not an expert on atmospheric dynamics, nor am I. I am only interested in the science itself.

            Citations please.

          • JJS_FLA

            I never said they were pursuing climate research. That’s your scientific obsession. My colleagues work in air quality, aerodynamics, semiconductor processing, biomedical research – you know “real world” stuff where precise predictions have to conform with results. Results are required in the private sector.

            Since you like the GUARDIAN so much, here’s a current claim that 6 meter seawater rise is a concern owing to “Global Warming”.

            https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/jul/10/scientists-predict-huge-sea-level-rise-even-if-we-limit-climate-change

            In fact I am an expert in compressible gas-dynamics, thermodynamics, pneumatics, hydrodynamics, fluid mechanics. Are you???? My instruments detect at parts-per-trillion sensitivity. I know how to collect statistically meaningful measurement data with low signal strength.

            Somehow “Climate Science” excuse themselves from abiding by the Scientific Method and produces a falsifiable prediction. Have you heard one ?? At least one that wasn’t amended repeatedly when they fail. The Climatologists are constantly asking “Why is the Climate conforming to our computer models?” This is the height of arrogance, reveling entrenched observer bias. The proper scientific question, of course, is “Why are our models not conforming to the measured behavior of the Climate?” When they scrap the failed computer models and start afresh, we will know they are practicing science. In the meantime, what they practice is a religion with gullible votaries like you. Al Gore is nearly a billionaire – with millions upon millions made in defrauding GREENS (in both senses of the Word). If you don’t believe me, Google “Molten Metals Scandal” to see Gore’s prototypical “Green Scam” conducted with none other than Maurice Strong – who later became (not coincidentally) the first head of the UN IPCC.

          • Glen_S_McGhee_FHEAP

            If you are an expert in atmospheric dynamics, then you well understand the challenges of accurately predicting where a hurricane will be in a week or two, and where the most damage will be.

            As you point out, mathematical modeling is the problem with making better predictions. What do you see as the major problems with computer models of weather? Is it meaningful to expect improvements to local models to aggregate upwards to complex models needed for climate change? Is the approach scalable? Have you had a chance to look at global convection cells and how they act together? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Convection#Atmospheric_circulation

          • JJS_FLA

            From a closely related field, I am self-trained in climate dynamics — of which the atmosphere is a small part (literally) – James Hanson is a E.E. My degree is in M.E. – much more appropriate background for climate modelling.

            Almost all insolation is absorbed by the oceans and transmitted to the atmosphere. Yet climate research reverses the vector. How is this possible? The ocean surface must be heated to affect Global Mean SURFACE Temperature. Hurricanes gain strength from the ocean and dissipate over land. This obvious fact is ignored in climate models. Don’t forget the search for the “missing AGW heat” in the oceans.

          • DrOfnothing

            Look, I respect your expertise in your field, but you keep rolling out rhetoric without any concrete evidence. “I am a make of precision instruments and understand measurement!” is not a trump card that wins all scientific debate.

            For the record, my expertise lies in law, politics, and history, so I know the difference between a political argument based on claimed technical expertise and a scientific argument based on research. You are extrapolating from the one narrow field in which you are knowledgeable into a vast arena about which you are not. You also used your conversation with “hundreds of colleagues” at major universities and national laboratories to ground your claim, and it now turns out that these folks are not in the relevant field, and they are completely superfluous to the discussion.

            So, for the last time, I will ask for the citations of actual scientific studies made by experts using the appropriate methodologies. Surely, your profession being what it is, you see the value in this. If you cannot or will not provide proper citations, we will simply have to disagree and end this discussion. I recognize and respect your professional background in your specific area, but this does not make you qualified to assess climate change (you have, essentially, admitted as much).

            Also, please stop with the personal insults–they are unnecessary and only lower the tone of discourse.

          • JJS_FLA

            It is well known that non-compliant publication submissions are rejected by the relevant journals. This is part of the “Climate-gate” email revelations.

            My profession has REQUIRED that I read thousands of scientific treatises in such matters as semiconductor processing to advance Moore’s Law. The Climate papers I have read – about two dozen – are universally poor-quality, with illogic and misunderstandings of basic thermodynamics. I read 5 papers purporting to “model” ice-cap melting. Not one employed in their calculations the most important parameter, namely, the latent-heat of ice melting (334 J/g) which vastly outweighs in importance other factors such as the specific heat of air (1 J/g-K). One paper LISTED dozens of numerical parameters used in the “ice-sheet melting” model; notable for its absence was “L” the latent heat of ice melting (and yes, I checked to see if they had listed it under another name; answer: no).

            Thus we have the farce every year of climate “researchers” mounting polar expeditions to document the ice-melt – only to have them get stuck in ice-floes. You NEVER seem to account for this failure prediction.

            In sum, while complex systems are difficult to model in detail, It is possible to do a planetary energy balance to conform with the 1st Law. By omitting the enormous energy required to melt the ice-caps, “Climate Models” violate conservation of energy.

            If you want to see this from a Lawyer’s perspective: Google “Molten Metals” scandal to see Al Gores M.O. for his “Green Scams”. Maurice Strong, the first head of the UN IPCC, plays an important role in the Molten Metals scandal too. Coincidence? I think not.

            Al Gore is nearly a billionaire for fooling gullible GREENS like you. Gore put his flunkies in key spots in the Government’s “climate research” activity during his reign as Czar of his “Reinventing Gov’t Initiative”. Wake up and smell the coffee.

          • DrOfnothing

            You are basing your rejection of the vast scientific consensus in the field, one in which you have no specific expertise, on your reading of “about two dozen” journal articles? Please, find me a field where there aren’t hundreds of papers published a year that are flawed in some way. You are employing the one aspect of one type of these studies in which you have _some_ competence to make a blanket statement about the entirety of a massive, multi-part hypothesis that is, by is very nature, profoundly speculative. What you’re doing is not just bad science, it’s out and out poor reasoning, and apt proof of the old adage that “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.”

            That you even bring up the now thoroughly-debunked “Climate-gate” non-scandal is further evidence of how you are simply not taking this discussion seriously.
            http://www.factcheck.org/2009/12/climategate/

            And once again, you provide no citations. You also continue with the personal insults.

            I was honestly hoping to learn something new in this conversation, or at least have a rational debate, but I think we’re done here.

          • JJS_FLA

            Science is never based on “consensus”. There’s the first flaw in your argument; appeals to authority are ipso-facto illogical. Ask Galileo or Einstein.

        • Terenc Blakely

          One of the keystones of science are making and confirming predictions of a theory. Look way back at the initial predictions of Global Warming. They’ve all turned out to be false but are memory-holed because most of the people pushing Global Warming are far more enamored with the prospect of expanded governmental powers, imposing their ideology, personal fame and of course wealth. And then there is the opportunity for meaningless virtue-signaling.

          Do you really think it’s a coincidence that all the apocalyptic eco-disasters of the past going all the way back to the ‘population explosion’ all require massive expansions of governmental power, massive wealth transfer and a massive diminution of most people’s freedoms and lifestyle? The term ‘watermelon’ is an excellent description of the eco fanatics.

          • Glen_S_McGhee_FHEAP

            I wanted to respond, because it is a valid point that science is about making and confirming theories.

            In this case, predicting long-term weather involves non-linear or chaotic systems, a well-established branch of mathematics and physics. But when I went looking for examples of predictions made using non-linear systems, I came up empty handed (I am probably not looking in the right places). See, for example, the so-called “Butterfly Effect”. Human social systems are another example of non-linear systems. Predicting earthquakes, same thing.
            http://functionspace.com/topic/233/What-are-some-examples-of-a-chaotic-system-

            As it is, and has been since the beginning of modern science, scientific facts are community property, shared and constructed by networks and associations of those working along similar lines, using the same mathematics and the same lineages of instruments. In the West, this goes back to Robert Hook and Robert Boyle, and formation of the Royal Society in England. Randall Collins calls this high-consensus, rapid-discovery science (1998:532-543), and describes it as a social and cultural innovation.

            I have never seen an electron, but they are widely held to exist by scientists, who attribute lightning and electric light to their management. In this case, as with much else, theory follows observation.

          • DrOfnothing

            The “population bomb” was never a broadly-accepted scientific theory, and, in case you didn’t notice, the population has, in fact exploded, and there is widespread famine, massive overcrowding, and social disorder in developing nations as a result. And the predictions have proved true, from the increase in extreme weather to flooding and rising sea levels. The recent announcement by the UK government that major flooding will now be an annual occurrence is just one of many, many examples.
            https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/dec/26/major-flooding-in-uk-now-likely-every-year-warns-lead-climate-adviser-storm-desmond

            I’m not going to argue this with you any more than I would argue gravity or evolution. Any issue that has every major university, non-corporate research institute, and government in the Western world on one side and only a minuscule handful of contrarians (including Trump’s EPA head), talk-radio hosts, FOX news and Breitbart on the other is a non-starter. There is not a single other issue in the post-war period that had such an overwhelming consensus (97% of the scientific community, by last estimate) and was eventually proven wrong.

            But if you want specific responses, with evidence to every argument of climate change skeptics, here it is:
            https://www.skepticalscience.com/argument.php

            And, contrary to your claim, the suggested solutions do not involve “massive expansions of governmental power, massive wealth transfer and a massive diminution of most people’s freedoms and lifestyle.” The countries that have made the most progress in cutting carbon emissions (Germany, Brazil) have done so without any of these changes.

            But really, this is just a ridiculous thing to be arguing over. One can debate the politics of reform, but not the basic science behind its necessity.

  • Glen_S_McGhee_FHEAP

    All these comments are complementing this article — we are all asking for more clarification of the organizational history (Erika, John), and the reputational history (mnemosyne) of “American Studies.”

    Erika notes the transitional nature of academic disciplines, and John teases us with the observation that “In the 1950s many AmStud programs were put in place for pseudo-patriotic reasons …”

    Perhaps, with the help of Andrew Abbott (UoC sociologist), this article can be more insightful. “In The System of Professions Andrew Abbott … arguments are illustrated by three historical case studies. First named ‘a fascinating account of struggles by librarians, computer programmers, operations researchers, and others over the “information” jurisdiction’ [[analyzing success and failure, and the viability of “niches”]].

    Some of the drift could be accounted for using Abbott’s “third [approach that] analyzes ‘the evolution of the personal-problems jurisdiction’ making an accent on the decline of the clergy and the rise of psychiatry.” This is the progressive-wing of sociology, an ever present temptation for disciplines that are starving for recognition.

    “Abbott analyzed academic disciplines in two books, Department and Discipline (1999) and Chaos of Discipline (2001).” Alas, no mention of “American Studies.”

  • Tom Servo

    Abolish it, and disband all of the universities that support it. They are an evil that does no good for anyone.

    • DrOfnothing

      Yet another reasonable, moderate, considered opinion from a clearly knowledgeable expert in the relevant fields.

      • stardreamers4

        After disagreeing with you above, I have to side with you here.

        What kind of hyperbolic and useless over reaction is this hair-brained idea.

        Sadly, though, if one replace, in his answer, the second word “it” with “them” and “universities” with “(quasi) Pro American Studies Professors,” and the last “it” with “American Culture,” one would be right on target to the many secret faculty meetings leading to the abolishment of any anti Marxist/Maoist thought on most campuses today in America.

        So, in effect, his (Tom Servo’s) knee jerk reaction is a direct response and retaliation to what the current Colonial Theorist cult on campuses today stated and acted upon in the past to those whose ideas Tom agrees with.

        So, is the initiator of the academic fraud or the retaliator the more evil of the two?

  • Leri Thomas

    I wanted to major in American Studies in the early 90s, and took every available course at then Mary Washington College. Fortunately I had a professor who was interested in examining the nature of the American. My search for graduate programs only unearthed programs that focused on Historic Preservation, employing students in inexperienced data collection resulting in the tying up people’s property with government regs. Instead, I entered the Social Foundations of Education program at U Va. My committee knew better than to impose the feminism, race, class etc. on me. However, they weren’t helpful either. I think they signed off on my dissertation in self-defense. I mourn the loss of genuine American Studies and failed to locate work in the field, but would gladly contribute whatever I can to the effort to restore the rigorous study of what it is to be American.

  • Servo1969

    American Studies is now “America Sucks” Studies.

    • DrOfnothing

      Don’t worry, Trump University is offering an alternative major, “Make ‘Murica Grat Agin!” Tuition is only $55,000 a term, and we’ve got lots of easy-repayment loan plans. Can I have your credit card number, please?

      • stardreamers4

        This is a picture perfect false alternative (also strawman, red herring/diversion) argument masquerading as glib satire.

        An alternative to identity politics taking over the in depth study of American Culture is not a Real Estate program, even in analogy or satire. It’s actually a bafoonish response to a serious conversation about redeeming academia from the coherent theory of America always bad to the correspondent theory of America the good, the bad, and the ugly.

        Bashing at Trump as a strawman (who you hope to associate as to who and what this author thinks is good about America) by disguising your scorn of “the other” in mock satire, reveals how far afield you are from what many see as the alternative to America bashing.

        Lastly, diverting attention from the low state of public opinion of modern academic thought and action from the “laity” outside the academy onto President Elect Trump, reveals a nihilism and inner shallowness that is revolting to witness; yet, a picture perfect caricature of the know-it-allness and smugness of an uber smart but tiny minded academia.

        Pardon any grammatical errors; I don’t have time for pedantically driven revisions.

  • Earl Tower

    This is why any serious scholar will skip these niche study fields. If a person wants to study the American society properly, become a historian or a sociologist and focus their Master’s thesis and Dissertation on aspects of Americana. Then become as well published as they can on any outlet for studying the American experiment and phenomena.

  • Gugliemus

    Once a fine discipline that produced ground-breaking scholarship, American Studies was transformed in the ’70s, when it sold its scholarly soul to the dime-a-dozen hucksters of identity politics. American Studies, now highly politicized, is not alone, as this site makes clear in its continuing review of the widespread decline of the humanities and social sciences throughout the contemporary “academy.”