Un-American activities: conference debates the nature of widely used term

Posted by mjs76 at Sep 21, 2011 10:45 AM |
Three days of debate and discussion at interdisciplinary event.

Academics from both sides of the Atlantic gather in Leicester tomorrow for the first ever conference on ‘un-Americanism’. The term ‘un-American’ is widely used (it gets over five million hits on Google) but where did it come from and what does it mean to different people.

Wikipedia defines ‘un-American’ as “a pejorative term of US political discourse which is applied to people or institutions in the United States seen as deviating from US norms” but notes that its most famous usage – the House Un-American Activities Committee which rooted out alleged communists in the 1950s. – was described by former President Truman as “the most un-American thing in the country today.”

Un-Americans and the Un-American: from 1776 to 9/11 is being organised by our Centre for American Studies and Leicester academics presenting over the three days include: George Lewis on ‘Redemption? Un-Americanism, HUAC and the Ku Klux Klan’ and Zoe Knox on ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Doctrine of Neutrality: Scriptural Injunctions, Religious Rights, and Patriotism’.

Other speakers have travelled here from California, Arizona, Alabama, Illinois, Maine and elsewhere in the United States and there are also representatives of institutions in Germany, Switzerland and Finland. Topics under discussion include:

  • Inventing Un-America: Thomas Jefferson and American Nationhood
  • All-American Activities: Anticommunism in American History
  • Yellow Peril or Americanised Pupils? Perceptions of Chinese and Chinese Americans from 1850 to 1950
  • Americanism, Un-Americanism, and the Gay Rights Movement, and
  • 'Russia’s Most Effective Fifth Column': Cold War Perceptions of Un-Americanism in US Churches

The conference, which is sponsored by the British Academy, the British Association for American Studies and the US Embassy in London, forms part of a wider project researching ‘un-Ameericanism’ from its earliest origins to the present day.

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