Un-Americans and the Un-American - to 9/11

Posted by pt91 at Sep 08, 2011 03:51 PM |
International conference at University of Leicester to explore troubling questions around peculiarly American concept

Issued by University of Leicester Press Office on 8 September 2011

Event from 22-24 September, 2011: Contact Dr. George Lewis:  email gdgl1@le.ac.uk

The University of Leicester is hosting a scholarly analysis into the concept of the ‘Un-American’ as part of a British Academy- sponsored research project.

A conference from 22-24 September will showcase the work of 24 scholars from five nations, each of whom has conducted original research that will attempt to answer the beseeching – and often troubling – questions that surround the idea of “un-Americans” and “un-Americanism.”

Dr George Lewis, Director, Centre for American Studies & Reader in American History at the University of Leicester, said:  “In 2008, the then current US presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann referred to future US President Barack Obama as “un-American.” For many, it was an anachronism. The term “un-American” was redolent of Senator Joe McCarthy’s crusade against purported US communists in the 1950s, or the investigations of the House un-American Activities Committee [HUAC], famed for asking its Cold War defendants, “Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?”

“Bachmann was not, however, briefly resuscitating a term form the 1950s: the idea of an “un-American” presence within the United States has been ever-present: it was first coined as the US republic was being founded in the late eighteenth century, and continues to have currency today, most recently reappearing in Tea Party critiques of President Barack Obama’s healthcare reforms.

“This long tradition of “un-Americans” is peculiarly American: there is no working concept of the “un-British,” for example, and few other nations have any similar tradition. Those that do, such as Australia, have seen it used only fleetingly to describe a particular social or political moment.”

The inter-disciplinary conference, Un-Americans and the Un-American: From 1776 to 9/11,  will explore questions such as, What does it mean to be “un-American”? What does the term’s very existence tell us about the nature and character of the United States? What lay behind its creation, and what explains its longevity? Has its meaning and deployment altered over time? To some, it describes a particular strand of internal subversion; to others, the most un-American thing they can think of is Marmite.

These questions have failed to receive sustained scholarly analysis. As part of a wider, British Academy-sponsored research project, Dr Lewis has organised the international conference to probe many of these questions. It will be held at the University of Leicester’s Oadby Student Village from 22-24 September 2011.



The British Academy was established by Royal Charter in 1902, under the full title of 'The British Academy for the Promotion of Historical, Philosophical and Philological Studies'. It is an independent and self-governing fellowship of scholars, elected for distinction and achievement in one or more branches of the academic disciplines that make up the humanities and social sciences, and is now organised in eighteen Sections by academic discipline. There are Fellows, overseas Corresponding Fellows, and Honorary Fellows. Up to thirty-eight new Fellows may be elected in any one year.

The British Academy was established by Royal Charter in 1902 and has been based in Carlton House Terrace in central London since 1998. It is the national body that champions and supports the humanities and social sciences. It aims to inspire, recognise and support excellence and high achievement across the UK and internationally.   For more information, please visit  www.britac.ac.uk

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