As part of the Post-exam Enrichment program (PEP), a conference will be organised on Monday, May 23rd under the theme ''The Idea of America: Myths, Doctrines and Narratives''. Our guest speaker for this event is Professor Saber El Asri.
The aim of the present talk is to introduce the field of American studies—a vast pluri-disciplinary field of study whose subject matter is as vast, diverse, and complex as America (or, more accurately, the United States) is, using tools, methodologies, and theories developed in various disciplines, notably, literature, history, sociology, anthropology, political science, economics, to name but a few. I shall start by defining the field, giving an overview of its main developments, and highlighting the two paradigm shifts that the field has seen in the process of its development and expansion. Then I shall examine the subject-matter itself by examining some key founding narratives or myths, at the core of cultural identity formation, as well as some of the elements and forces which have shaped American character and American culture(s). More specifically, I propose to look at the narrative of Discovery; the myth of the Promised Land; the myth of the melting pot; the myth of the American West; and the myth of the American Dream. These are all popular and powerful narratives and myths which have become anchors and key references in discourses of “Americanness,” past and present, but they are also slippery terrains replete with paradoxes, contradictions, contending voices, and counter-narratives which I shall also highlight.