Prof. Dr. Heike Paul (Erlangen-Nürnberg): "The Myths That Made America."

Thursday, 08.01.2015, 9:55-12:10 Uhr, U5/02.22

This talk engages with the field of American studies by examining ‘the myths that made America,’ i.e., popular and powerful narratives of US-American national beginnings which have turned out to be anchors and key references in discourses of ‘Americanness,’ past and present. It will address core foundational myths upon which constructions of the American nation have been based and which still determine contemporary discussions of US-American identities. These myths include the myth of Columbus and the ‘discovery’ of America, the Pocahontas myth, the myth of the Promised Land, the myth of the Founding Fathers, the myth of the melting pot, the myth of the American West, and the myth of the self-made man. Each of these foundational myths allows us to access American culture(s) from a specific angle; each of them provides and contains a particular narrative of meaningful and foundational ‘new world’ beginnings and developments in the history of the United States of America as well as iconic visual images and ritualistic cultural practices that accompany and enhance their impact and effect.

Yet, these myths are not fixtures in the American national cultural imaginary: The explanation for their longevity and endurance lies in their adaptability, flexibility, and considerable narrative variation over time and across a broad social and cultural spectrum. A thorough discussion of these myths will trace their complex histories and multivoiced appropriations as well as various semiotic/semantic changes and discursive shifts that are part of these histories.

HEIKE PAUL is chair of American Studies at the Friedrich-Alexander-University Erlangen-Nürnberg and chair of the doctoral program "Presence and Tacit Knowledge" funded by the German Research Society. Her areas of research include American mythology, cultural mobility and interculturality as well as discourses of affect and public feeling.