On Friday 22 March, the 21st annual Amerikanistendag of the Netherlands American Studies Association (NASA) took place for in Nijmegen. The American Studies department the Radboud University organized the day under the title ‘American Crossroads: Transnational American Studies.’ The program offered an interesting day with a keynote lecture, no less than 7 parallel sessions containing at least three presentations each, and a panel discussion regarding the implications of the movie Zero Dark Thirty. Not discouraged by the traveling distance, students and researchers from all across the Netherlands had come to Nijmegen to participate. After words of welcome Frank Mehring, professor of American Literature at the Radboud University gave the keynote lecture. He opened his performance with a life rehearsal of jazzy songs from the musical legacy of Kurt Weill, a German Jew and composer who emigrated to the United States in 1935. Mehring analyzed Weill’s music and written documents to demonstrate how the composer integrated American jazz and blues with European opera styles into his work.
The morning and afternoon sessions covered a wide variety of topics that touched upon American crossroads in terms of film, gender, music, race, power, transatlantic relations, culture and identity. The sessions gave students and researchers from the Netherlands and abroad the opportunity to present and discuss their papers with fellow Americanists. The conference ended with film fragments and a panel discussion between Dr. Mathilde Roza, Maarten van Gageldonk, Vince Klösters and the audience about the film Zero Dark Thirty which documents the search after al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden after the September 2001 attacks. It was an intense debate about genre, authenticity, (the lack of) moral messages, the portrayal of women, the function of torture in security policies, and audience responses to this documentary film. Around 5 p.m. the official program of the 21st edition of the Amerikanistendag was concluded off with drinks and music in the Radboud CultuurCafé.
Based on the program elements that I attended, I conclude that the Amerikanistendag demonstrated its value to all participants: multidisciplinary topics, interesting research ideas, renewed contacts between colleagues, fresh inspiration, and 22 new NASA members. As an International Relations student I was somewhat of an outsider in the audience and more than once I observed that American Studies is indeed a completely different domain than IR or history. Nevertheless, I was struck by the innovative approaches that many Americanists utilize in analyzing American culture. The parallel sessions in particular were very useful in two respects: they allowed to exchange ideas on the merits and flaws in papers in a constructive manner, and they put together Bachelor, Master and PhD-students, postdoc researchers, and professors with different backgrounds in one room to discuss each other’s work irrespective of the diverging levels of experience. Finally, and certainly not to be dismissed, the coffee breaks, lunch time, and drinks afterwards gave the opportunity to exchange experiences and ideas with fellow students in an informal and encouraging way.
March 2013, Erika van Leeuwen