Much of the most exciting contemporary work in American Studies refuses the distinction between politics and culture — focusing on historical cultures of power and protest on the one hand, or the political importance of cultural practices, on the other. We are excited to announce American Studies Now: Critical Histories of the Present, a series publishing titles that cover these political and cultural intersections, exploring the ways the events of our past continue to shape our present.
American Studies Now publishes short, timely books on significant political and cultural events while such teachable moments are at the center of public conversation.
We spoke with editors Lisa Duggan and Curtis Marez to discuss the goals of American Studies Now and how these books can be usedin the classroom and beyond.
What inspired you to develop the American Studies Now series?
Lisa Duggan: We need new ways to publish and distribute the work of American Studies scholars. The monograph and the journal article have a crucial role in our field, but they aren’t serving us well in the undergraduate classroom. And they aren’t putting our work into circulation in the pressing, scary political present. This new series is one new way to address those needs — short, accessible books on Black Lives Matter, climate change, neoliberalism, BDS, the continuing urban crisis, indigenous politics, queer and trans issues, the crises in higher education and more. They are designed to provide timely, provocative analysis for teaching, for activism, and for engagement now.
The series is described as “critical histories of the present” — could you elaborate on what this means?
Curtis Marez: Given the constant rush and hum of information in our social media saturated worlds, it’s easy to get stuck in the here and now in ways that make it difficult to take a critical perspective on where we are and how we got there. So American Studies Now reflects not only the urgency of the questions raised by each volume in the series but also suggests what we mean by critical histories of the present — scholarship that helps readers think about contemporary problems in terms of their larger historical, social, and cultural significance.
Why the need to publish on a short schedule?
LD: We want to counter the long, slow publication process and relatively narrow circulation of most academic publishing with an option designed for speed and impact, on the timeclock of the political present. Offering broad context provided by deeply knowledgeable American Studies scholars, these books can contribute to classroom and public discussions on issues that matter now.
How will these books contribute to the field of American Studies?
CM: Each book brings American Studies concepts and methods to the analysis of vital contemporary social movements. Authors build on and rethink the field’s historical social movement focus by foregrounding a host of contemporary grassroots movements such as Black Lives Matter, student movements, and movements for sexual justice. At the same time, American Studies Now presents critical accounts of dominant social movements such asthe movement to privatize higher education and to silence dissent; the law and order movement supporting the expansion of police power; climate justice; and the movement for free market fundamentalism that informs contemporary state policies.
The series is also committed to rigorously integrating discussions of gender and sexuality, revealing them as central to understanding political power and social difference. Finally, current and future books in the series will advance what I, several years ago, called in the pages of American Quarterly the “indigenous turn in American Studies.” In contrast with an earlier, postcolonial moment, many of the contributors instead center settler colonial as a historical as well as a contemporary, ongoing process that is far from over.
Who are the forthcoming authors and what perspectives and expertise will they bring?
LD: Just released this Spring 2017 in e-book first, Roderick Ferguson’s We Demand: The University and Student Protests tells the story of conflict and contest as neoliberalism has reshaped higher education. Author of Aberrations in Black: Toward a Queer of Color Critique and The Reorder of Things: The University and its Pedagogies of Minority Difference, Ferguson teaches African American literature and queer theory at the University of Illinois, Chicago, and in 2018, he’ll lead the American Studies Association.
Scott Kurashige’s The Fifty Year Rebellion: How the US Political Crisis Began in Detroit provides a compelling look at the urban crisis through the prism of race and class conflict in Detroit. He is author of The Shifting Grounds of Race: Black and Japanese Americans in the Making of Multiethnic Los Angeles and with Grace Lee Boggs of The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the 21st Century. He teaches comparative race and ethnic studies and the history of social movements at the University of Washington, Bothell.
And coming in e-book Fall 2017 is notorious queer theorist Jack Halberstam’s Trans*: A Quick and Quirky Account of Gender Variability; Asian American and Middle Eastern studies scholar of popular culture and political activism Sunaina Maira’s Boycott! The Academy and Justice for Palestine, and popular literature and radical social movements analyst Shelley Streeby’s Imagining the Future of Climate Change.
What’s on tap for Spring 2018 and beyond: eminent historian of social movements Barbara Ransby’s Making All Black Lives Matter, Macarena Gomez-Barris on the art and politics in Latin America with Beyond the Pink Tide, myself on Ayn Rand and neoliberal greed, and Alex Lubin on the war on terror.
What can readers look forward to learning from the series? How should instructors use these books in their classrooms?
CM: The books are written in an accessible style that will make them useful in classrooms and related educational spaces. In particular, the books make key concepts and terms in American studies accessible by defining them in relationship to specific places, peoples and movements. To take only one example, a number of contributors make a potentially abstract concept such asneoliberalism concrete by elaborating its usefulness in studies of struggles over climate change, contemporary college campuses, and particular contested spaces, from Ferguson to Detroit, Standing Rock, Palestine, and beyond.
Is there anything else you’d like people to know about the series?
CM: The books’ beautiful covers and graphic design suggest the urgency and clarity of the series. Perfect as ebooks, the modest size of the print book, combined with the striking covers, also make them engaging and usefully portable objects, perfect for carrying from desk to classroom, café, public transit, study groups, meetings, and all kinds of learning and discussion spaces.
LD: Intersectional analysis is a hallmark of American Studies Now. Though the definition and implications of the term “intersectionality” is the topic for widespread debate right now, we apply it to ensure that books in the series will attend to the interrelationships and co-determinations of class, race, gender, sexuality, religion, nationality and other social formations, not in an evenly predetermined way, but with regard to the issues at stake. Not every book will attend to all in equal measure, but the aspiration to this kind of intersectionality is definitional for this series.
To learn more about the series visit ucpress.edu/go/americanstudiesnow.
Lisa Duggan is Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis and Director of Gender & Sexuality Studies at New York University.
Curtis Marez is Professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of California, San Diego.