Early American Studies after “History”


Panel organizer: Marion Rust, University of Kentucky  MARION.RUST@UKY.EDU


Philip J. Deloria claims that early American studies began as an interdisciplinary act of political protest. It came into being as “a point of resistance against the domination of British letters within the American academy” by offering “a place from which to infuse historical context into literary studies” (American Quarterly, March 2009). And yet the term “historical context” remains an unstable staging ground for acts of resistance.  As Hayden White wrote in The Content of the Form, “the text/context relationship, once an unexamined presupposition of historical investigation, has become a problem,” given “the undecidability of the question of where the text ends and the context begins” (1987).  This undecidability is not something all historians have been eager to embrace. According to Richard Evans, for instance, “history . . . is concerned with the content of knowledge rather than its nature” (In Defense of History, 2000).  Might it be, then, that early American studies is ready for another act of academic resistance, this time against the very field that once shaped it?  What benefits could accrue from disavowing the “empirical discipline” (Evans) in favor of what fellow historian Dominick LaCapra calls the scholar’s “implication in the . . . object of study”? What forms of scholarship do we expect to emerge from such a departure or challenge?  Where has this disavowal already begun? In addition to creating new knowledge, how might scholarly innovations reshape historical investigation and its place in early American studies?

Send your 250-word paper abstract to Marion Rust at MARION.RUST@UKY.EDU by Friday, September 7, 2012.