Friday 19 December 2008

Breaking News: AMS 2nd in 2008 RAE

As is currently being trumpeted on the UEA homepage, the School of American Studies has been placed second nationally in the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise. With this achievement, Containing Multitudes signs off for the year and wishes all our readers a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. See you in 2009.

Sunday 7 December 2008

Research Seminars: Peter Boxall

At this semester's final research seminar, Dr Peter Boxall of Sussex University, author of the forthcoming Since Beckett: Contemporary Writing in the Wake of Modernism (London: Continuum, 2008), will speak on "Slow Man, Dangling Man, Falling Man: DeLillo, Bellow and Beckett in the ruins of the future."

Monday December 8, Room A2.51, 5pm. All welcome.

Thursday 4 December 2008

Research Seminars: Catherine Clinton

In a change to the usual schedule, this week's research seminar is taking place tonight (Thursday December 4). Professor Catherine Clinton (Queen's University Belfast), author of Battle Scars: Gender & Sexuality in the American Civil War (OUP, 2006), will be talking about "Breaking the Silence: Sexual Hypocrises from Thomas Jefferson to Strom Thurmond." Next week, we're back to Monday.

Thursday December 4, 5pm, A2.51. All welcome.

Thursday 27 November 2008

News: Happy Thanksgiving!

Above you can view Charlie Chaplin's Thanksgiving scene from The Gold Rush (1925), in which he cooks and eats his shoe. It sets the tone for a Thanksgiving that has been dominated by echoes of previous hard times. Wary that shoes might be on the menu again soon, much attention has been given this year to thoughts about Black Friday - the now traditional post-Thanksgiving shopping blitz. The Financial Times, at least, is not optimistic:
It is hard to see where consumers' cash will come from. The savings rate is low. Credit is scarce. Mortgage equity withdrawal, which averaged $150bn a month for the past five years, was just $10bn in each of the first two quarters of 2008, Creditsights says. Wage growth is running at just 2 per cent, while 1.2m fewer people are employed compared with last December. Consumer confidence has shown its greatest collapse of the post war period. Happy Thanksgiving.
For some more up-to-date, though no less relevant, Thanksgiving-based comic relief, you can take a look at Sarah Palin's now infamous turkey-massacre interview here. And George Bush pardoned his last Thanksgiving turkey yesterday, and there's got be a joke in there somewhere. Time magazine offers up a brief history of Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, whilst EarhCam is going to be streaming the event here. And President Elect Obama? Handing out food to the needy, as if you had to ask. And finally: the Boston Globe looks at the historical development of Thanksgiving celebrations with reference to Sarah Josepha Buell Hale, author of Northwood (1827) and "Mary Had a Little Lamb" (1830), also known as "the Mother of Thanksgiving."

Website: Shelf Life @ Texas

As blogs become an increasingly ubiquitous presence in university life, we're very happy to highlight the University of Texas at Austin's new literary blog, Shelf Life. In their own words:
ShelfLife@Texas is a space for book lovers to discuss literary news and events at The University of Texas at Austin. Public affairs professionals from across campus will blog about books by faculty and staff members, students and alumni of the university. We’ll also feature interviews with writers, and scholarly commentary on publishing trends.
And it looks good too.

Monday 24 November 2008

Research Seminars: Steven Casey

At this week's research seminar, Dr Steven Casey (London School of Economics), co-editor of Mental Maps in the Era of Two World Wars (Palgrave, 2008), will be talking about "The American Home Front and China's Intervention in the Korean War, November 1950-April 1951."

Monday November 24, Arts 2.51, 5pm. All welcome.

Sunday 9 November 2008

Research Seminars: Martin Halliwell

At this week's research seminar, Professor Martin Halliwell (University of Leicester), author of numerous books including Images of Idiocy (2004), will be talking about "Combat Fatigue, American Psychiatry and World War II."

Monday 10th November, A2.51, 5pm. All welcome.

Friday 7 November 2008

News: Toni Morrison at UEA

by Katie McFarlane

Last Thursday, October 30th, Nobel prize winner Toni Morrison returned to Norwich to give a reading from her latest novel, A Mercy. A guest of UEA’s Literary Festival for the third time, Morrison drew in a packed lecture theatre as she discussed the enduring legacy of slavery, a theme which runs throughout her work, growing especially prominent in what is now her ninth novel.

In his introduction to Morrison on Thursday evening, Professor Chris Bigsby spoke of “the curse of slavery and its aftermath that ricochets through the centuries.” Morrison’s work delves beneath a surface portrayal of slavery, recognising that the enduring effects of this institution still continue to resonate today.

Truth, Morrison identified, is the most important element within life. Thus, if memories of the past become disturbed or erased then it is impossible to move forward until this has been rectified. Slavery and racism she likened to “a married couple.” The flux and uncertainty that rocked the U.S. during the years of slavery is mirrored now in the endurance of racism in the twenty-first century. It is for this reason Morrison sets her novels in the past, acknowledging that it provides an infinitely rich source material, whilst also comprehending that it is only through addressing the fundamental issues of race, those issues that remain engrained within U.S. culture today, that one can look to progressing towards the future.

Morrison was, of course, speaking on the eve of one of the most publicized and controversial presidential elections in history, and there was a palpable sense that the road to change was opening. As Morrison put it, “the pieces are available, they are just not yet fused.” She nationally publicised her vision for the future earlier in the year in a letter of endorsement to President Elect Barack Obama.

As Morrison revealed on Thursday night, “I am holding your hand all the way.” No one is alone in this battle any longer. Morrison writes both to, and for, the entirety of America, as well as the global community. In the wake of Obama's victory, Morrison's hope that the progress of African-Americans can no longer be held back forever seem vindicated, now that the legacies of the past are being re-acknowledged and addressed.

The UEA Literary Festival, now in its seventeenth year, is run each autumn semester by the Arthur Miller Centre for American Studies. Guests this year have also included Cherie Blair, Geraldine Brooks and David Gutterson, whilst in the upcoming weeks Richard Holmes, Sebastian Barry and Juan Chang will be presenting their works. For more information and ticket enquiries please contact the UEA box office. Furthermore, recordings of selected previous guests can now be found here.

Wednesday 5 November 2008

Election Result: Yes He Can

And the transcript of Obama's Chicago victory speech in full:

Hello, Chicago.

If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.

It's the answer told by lines that stretched around schools and churches in numbers this nation has never seen, by people who waited three hours and four hours, many for the first time in their lives, because they believed that this time must be different, that their voices could be that difference.

It's the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled. Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been just a collection of individuals or a collection of red states and blue states.

We are, and always will be, the United States of America.

It's the answer that led those who've been told for so long by so many to be cynical and fearful and doubtful about what we can achieve to put their hands on the arc of history and bend it once more toward the hope of a better day.

It's been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this date in this election at this defining moment change has come to America.

A little bit earlier this evening, I received an extraordinarily gracious call from Sen. McCain.

Sen. McCain fought long and hard in this campaign. And he's fought even longer and harder for the country that he loves. He has endured sacrifices for America that most of us cannot begin to imagine. We are better off for the service rendered by this brave and selfless leader.

I congratulate him; I congratulate Gov. Palin for all that they've achieved. And I look forward to working with them to renew this nation's promise in the months ahead.

I want to thank my partner in this journey, a man who campaigned from his heart, and spoke for the men and women he grew up with on the streets of Scranton and rode with on the train home to Delaware, the vice president-elect of the United States, Joe Biden.

And I would not be standing here tonight without the unyielding support of my best friend for the last 16 years the rock of our family, the love of my life, the nation's next first lady Michelle Obama.

Sasha and Malia I love you both more than you can imagine. And you have earned the new puppy that's coming with us to the new White House.

And while she's no longer with us, I know my grandmother's watching, along with the family that made me who I am. I miss them tonight. I know that my debt to them is beyond measure.

To my sister Maya, my sister Alma, all my other brothers and sisters, thank you so much for all the support that you've given me. I am grateful to them.

And to my campaign manager, David Plouffe, the unsung hero of this campaign, who built the best -- the best political campaign, I think, in the history of the United States of America.

To my chief strategist David Axelrod who's been a partner with me every step of the way.

To the best campaign team ever assembled in the history of politics you made this happen, and I am forever grateful for what you've sacrificed to get it done.

But above all, I will never forget who this victory truly belongs to. It belongs to you. It belongs to you.

I was never the likeliest candidate for this office. We didn't start with much money or many endorsements. Our campaign was not hatched in the halls of Washington. It began in the backyards of Des Moines and the living rooms of Concord and the front porches of Charleston. It was built by working men and women who dug into what little savings they had to give $5 and $10 and $20 to the cause.

It grew strength from the young people who rejected the myth of their generation's apathy who left their homes and their families for jobs that offered little pay and less sleep.

It drew strength from the not-so-young people who braved the bitter cold and scorching heat to knock on doors of perfect strangers, and from the millions of Americans who volunteered and organized and proved that more than two centuries later a government of the people, by the people, and for the people has not perished from the Earth.

This is your victory.

And I know you didn't do this just to win an election. And I know you didn't do it for me.

You did it because you understand the enormity of the task that lies ahead. For even as we celebrate tonight, we know the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest of our lifetime -- two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century.

Even as we stand here tonight, we know there are brave Americans waking up in the deserts of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan to risk their lives for us.

There are mothers and fathers who will lie awake after the children fall asleep and wonder how they'll make the mortgage or pay their doctors' bills or save enough for their child's college education.

There's new energy to harness, new jobs to be created, new schools to build, and threats to meet, alliances to repair.

The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even in one term. But, America, I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there.

I promise you, we as a people will get there.

There will be setbacks and false starts. There are many who won't agree with every decision or policy I make as president. And we know the government can't solve every problem.

But I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree. And, above all, I will ask you to join in the work of remaking this nation, the only way it's been done in America for 221 years -- block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand.

What began 21 months ago in the depths of winter cannot end on this autumn night.

This victory alone is not the change we seek. It is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were.

It can't happen without you, without a new spirit of service, a new spirit of sacrifice.

So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism, of responsibility, where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves but each other.

Let us remember that, if this financial crisis taught us anything, it's that we cannot have a thriving Wall Street while Main Street suffers.

In this country, we rise or fall as one nation, as one people. Let's resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long.

Let's remember that it was a man from this state who first carried the banner of the Republican Party to the White House, a party founded on the values of self-reliance and individual liberty and national unity.

Those are values that we all share. And while the Democratic Party has won a great victory tonight, we do so with a measure of humility and determination to heal the divides that have held back our progress.

As Lincoln said to a nation far more divided than ours, we are not enemies but friends. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.
And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn, I may not have won your vote tonight, but I hear your voices. I need your help. And I will be your president, too.

And to all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces, to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of the world, our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared, and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand.

To those -- to those who would tear the world down: We will defeat you. To those who seek peace and security: We support you. And to all those who have wondered if America's beacon still burns as bright: Tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity and unyielding hope.

That's the true genius of America: that America can change. Our union can be perfected. What we've already achieved gives us hope for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.

This election had many firsts and many stories that will be told for generations. But one that's on my mind tonight's about a woman who cast her ballot in Atlanta. She's a lot like the millions of others who stood in line to make their voice heard in this election except for one thing: Ann Nixon Cooper is 106 years old.

She was born just a generation past slavery; a time when there were no cars on the road or planes in the sky; when someone like her couldn't vote for two reasons -- because she was a woman and because of the color of her skin.

And tonight, I think about all that she's seen throughout her century in America -- the heartache and the hope; the struggle and the progress; the times we were told that we can't, and the people who pressed on with that American creed: Yes we can.

At a time when women's voices were silenced and their hopes dismissed, she lived to see them stand up and speak out and reach for the ballot. Yes we can.

When there was despair in the dust bowl and depression across the land, she saw a nation conquer fear itself with a New Deal, new jobs, a new sense of common purpose. Yes we can.

When the bombs fell on our harbor and tyranny threatened the world, she was there to witness a generation rise to greatness and a democracy was saved. Yes we can.

She was there for the buses in Montgomery, the hoses in Birmingham, a bridge in Selma, and a preacher from Atlanta who told a people that "We Shall Overcome." Yes we can.

A man touched down on the moon, a wall came down in Berlin, a world was connected by our own science and imagination.

And this year, in this election, she touched her finger to a screen, and cast her vote, because after 106 years in America, through the best of times and the darkest of hours, she knows how America can change.

Yes we can.

America, we have come so far. We have seen so much. But there is so much more to do. So tonight, let us ask ourselves -- if our children should live to see the next century; if my daughters should be so lucky to live as long as Ann Nixon Cooper, what change will they see? What progress will we have made?

This is our chance to answer that call. This is our moment.

This is our time, to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth, that, out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope. And where we are met with cynicism and doubts and those who tell us that we can't, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes, we can.

Thank you. God bless you. And may God bless the United States of America.

Tuesday 4 November 2008

Election Night Special: Results Map

So you can keep up to date right here:

Election Night Special: Distractions

Tired of waiting? Getting twitchy? A smattering of links to keep you occupied. First of all, the polls. Below, a map detailing when the polls close where:
Next, where are you going to get your results? Huffington Post has a whole host of solutions, though CNN might be the best looking pick. Stay tuned though: Containing Multitudes is going to host an automatically updated google map that will keep you on point with events as they happen. And when are they going to happen? If things fall right, it could be pretty soon. Over at FiveThirtyEight you can find out what we might know by 7pm. Still jittery? You can remind yourself about the journey so far at the New York Times or review a musical timeline of the campaign at Drowned in Sound (or examine musicians' campaign contributions at Passion of the Weiss. You could also give some thought to your election day playlist - "A Change is Gonna Come" might be a popular pick. Yet more? Find out what goodies American voters have been promised at the New York Daily News. And one final story: "Barack Obama for President", by Andrew Sullivan at the Atlantic.

UPDATE: If you want some more laptop distractions whilst watching the rolling results, the BBC is liveblogging the election here. But most compelling is Twitter's election site - updating each and every second as soon as someone mentions the election. And boy, are people mentioning the election. History in real time.

Election Day Special: Letter from America: Kirsty Callaghan

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The world's media might have decamped to the US for today's election, but at Containing Multitudes, we have our own roving reporters. AMS student Kirsty Callaghan is in Florida for the election, and she sent us back this first-hand account of the Obama campaign in Kissimee:
Yard signs dot neighbourhoods, campaign ads fill commercial breaks, news schedules are filled with stories of candidates’ state-hopping and polling data. The election is well and truly upon us.

Tuesday will see voters electing candidates to a number of positions, with a ballot paper that can take up to ten minutes to complete. The electorate will also decide on Amendment 2 to the state’s constitution, similar to California’s Proposition 8, which would define marriage only as between one man and one woman. If the amendment achieves the support of sixty percent of voters, it will become part of the Constitution of Florida.

Despite the plethora of positions to be filled - members of Congress, local Sheriffs and Supervisors of Elections - it is unsurprising that the Presidential race is the most discussed and debated. Here in Florida, one of the 'battleground states', the outcome is of particular interest. Florida is one of a handful of states for which the result is not already a largely foregone conclusion (although polling in even some of the traditionally strongly red states, like Indiana, is indicating the possibility of major gains for the Democrats). Candidates are keen to keep campaigning here until the last moment: both Obama and McCain and each of their running mates having visited the state in the past week. As home to a high proportion of Latinos, who have tended to vote Democrat (with the exception of Cuban-Americans, who tend to vote Republican), Floridian campaigning materials and ads in Spanish are widespread, such as Obama’s ‘¡Basta Ya! Unidos Por El Cambio’ (‘Enough Already! United for Change’). The state’s large retiree population has also been targeted, through initiatives like ‘The Great Schlep’, a movement organised in part by the Jewish Council for Education and Research, in which young Jewish Americans have visited their grandparents in Florida to encourage them to vote for Obama. The state has gone Republican in all but one of the last four Presidential elections, with 2000 being one of the most memorable and fiercely contested battles in the state’s history, eventually coming down to a ruling by the United States Supreme Court in Bush v. Gore. Polling data currently indicates a lead for Obama of a few percentage points, although McCain-Palin yard signs in more rural areas and a notable presence on car bumpers show that they are not without support here. Only Tuesday night will show us which way the state has swung.

I took the opportunity to visit the Democrats of Osceola County Obama Office in Kissimmee three days before the election to witness some of the campaigning first-hand. Nilsa, a mother of ten (four her own, three adopted and three more raised by her!), originally from Puerto Rico but resident in the US for 50 years, has been volunteering at the office since the beginning of August. I asked her, a first-time campaigner, how and why she got involved this time. She first explained that her children have now grown-up and she has recovered sufficiently from recent heart surgery. When she was invited to volunteer, she initially spent just a few hours working in the office, gradually getting more and more involved, to the point where she now feels out of place at home. As we spoke, the campaign office bustled around us, with phones ringing, yard signs being carted through the building and a whiteboard saying that home-cooked food for those working on the main volunteer floor upstairs would be greatly appreciated. The diversity of Democratic support was demonstrated by the variety of materials around the office and the parking lot outside, with posters and bumper stickers bearing slogans like ‘Women for Obama’ and ‘Arab-American Democrat.’ One of the volunteers sported a ‘Teamsters for Obama-Biden’ t-shirt.

Nilsa, in discussion with another volunteer, said that on election day they would be providing water to all the voters in line at the Polling Places – Republicans, Democrats, whoever – “we don’t discriminate”. Long lines have been a great issue even in the days up to the election, with many voters taking the opportunity to vote early but still having to wait up to ten hours in line. Nilsa spoke of her desire for a new kind of President: “we need an intellectual, a smart man. I’m going to send him a lot of Puerto Rican food – rice and beans!” Asked about how confident she feels, she said “I’m not singing yet. I’m behind the curtains, gargling warm water with salt… We don’t look at the TVs or the polls – we can’t.” And if Tuesday goes well? “We’ll be cleaning up, celebrating and continuing our progress.”

“Rosa Parks sat so Martin Luther King could stand. Martin Luther King stood so Barack Obama could run. Barack Obama ran so our children could fly” – from a leaflet in the campaign office.

It’s 00:15 Eastern Time, November 4th 2008 – the first results in the US Presidential Election 2008 have just come in from Dixville Notch, New Hampshire - a small village of just 21 registered voters, which has not voted Democratic since Humphrey in 1968. McCain: 6, Obama: 15. So the election begins…

Election Day: Watching History

Everyone knows that today is the last step of a long journey, and the first step of another one. Containing Multitudes has been along for the ride, and you can review our extensive election coverage here. Attempting to summarise today's media storm would be quixotic. So instead, here's Larry David from the Huffington Post:
Five times a day I'll still say to someone, "I don't know what I'm going to do if McCain wins." Of course, the reality is I'm probably not going to do anything. What can I do? I'm not going to kill myself. If I didn't kill myself when I became impotent for two months in 1979, I'm certainly not going to do it if McCain and Palin are elected, even if it's by nefarious means. If Obama loses, it would be easier to live with it if it's due to racism rather than if it's stolen. If it's racism, I can say, "Okay, we lost, but at least it's a democracy. Sure, it's a democracy inhabited by a majority of disgusting, reprehensible turds, but at least it's a democracy." If he loses because it's stolen, that will be much worse. Call me crazy, but I'd rather live in a democratic racist country than a non-democratic non-racist one.
Stay tuned for an election day special.

Monday 3 November 2008

Letter from America: Myles Oldershaw

Myles Oldershaw is currently spending his year abroad at Reed College:

Seattle, the oldest and biggest city in the Pacific Northwest, was our destination as we left campus in minivans at five-thirty in the morning. As part of fall break, the international student group of Reed College had arranged a day trip to Seattle, and twenty-eight of us made the uneventful four-hour trip up Interstate Five between Portland and ‘The Emerald City’. Seattle is the third American city I have seen, after New York and Portland, and the immediate impression when we arrived downtown was that Seattle was more like the former. The tall buildings and wide roads of the business district were much more reminiscent of midtown Manhattan than of any area I have yet seen in Portland.

Our first stop on the tourist trail was the Space Needle, Seattle’s landmark ‘pointy tower’ built for the 1962 World Fair. From the observation deck, which is above a rotating restaurant that sells $25 salads, we could see all of downtown Seattle and some of Puget Sound, the network of inlets and rivers to the west of the city. We could also see the Olympic sculpture park that we later visited, a free outdoor collection of sculptures on the river bank. In the same complex as the Space Needle, reached by a monorail, was the Experience Music Project, a rock and roll memorabilia museum celebrating the musical heritage of a city called home by both Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain.

The rest of the day was spent exploring other areas of downtown, along with the Gasworks park in the Fremont district, a hilly park built around the site of a still-standing redundant gasworks, and the University district in Northeastern Seattle. The area, known as the U district, felt infused with the University in all its aspects in a way completely different from UEA and its surrounding environment. By the end of the day, the whole group was exhausted, but we still felt as if we had seen only a small amount of what Seattle had to offer. What we did see of the city made it seem a very welcoming place, with a recognizable, walkable downtown full of the coffee houses that are such a cliché of the region. Our impressions may have been helped by the fact that another cliché of the region, rain, was unseasonably absent on the day we visited. However, Seattle still appeared as a lively, friendly, green city worthy of its popular status in the ranks of America’s metropolises.

Sunday 2 November 2008

The Cool Kids: They Got the Dyno with the Black Mags

by Jack Ramm

Hip Hop is a concept that carries multiple meanings. Perhaps because of this we feel compelled to subcategorise the genre endlessly. My iTunes player currently lists countless variations on the theme that is Hip-Hop: I have Old School, Hip-Hop/RnB, Electro-Hop, Cocaine Rap, Gangsta Rap, Crunk, Horrorcore, and Jazz Rap - and many more. Recently, though, something new appears to be cropping up all over the blogosphere and filling my computer with two interesting new subgenres: Hipster Hop and Hipster Rap.

To examine this new wave, we're going to concentrate on one of its main players. The Cool Kids have just dropped their first physical release (on a record label and everything) after amassing a vast internet created fan base. Despite reservations from some, the Bake Sale EP has been largely met with critical acclaim - critical acclaim, indeed, from particularly areas of the internet. Both and gave the EP glowing reviews, meaning that their target demographics (young, white, educated and indie) who had somehow missed the hype became aware of them. The effect that this has on the market place is significant: it introduces individuals from social groups not traditionally affiliated with hip-hop to the medium. As Chuck, one half of The Cool Kids, notes: “That is probably the biggest accomplishment we could've done, to take people that wouldn't necessarily have been at a hip-hop show and they'll enjoy it, not just watch.” Cross over appeal has, for the longest time, been the mainstay of popular hip-hop, but this kind of underground momentum represents a growing area within American culture.

The internet has forced musical elitism into decline, it is hard to be obscurist when the freshest, newest and strangest underground music is merely a google search away. Independent music is, for the first time, so accessible that the tag has lost some of its former meaning. Indeed the only way to have truly au contraire musical tastes is to reclaim what was once considered uncool. Hence 80s nostalgia. Hence the bizarre cross genre spanning of MIA and Santagold (or anyone from the Diplo/Switch stable) and the current view that this is acceptable.

The Cool Kids are all about nostalgia and reclamation. Old School beats, “we’re bringing 88 back” and the classic tagline of “new black version of the Beastie Boys” cement their sound in a very specific period of hip hop’s development. Critically different are the thrust of The Cool Kids lyrics. Unlike most of the hip hop their sound emulates it is entirely without political agenda. Think Public Enemy without the enemy part. It seems that 21st century youth culture, particularly (though not only) in America, is growing increasingly uncomfortable with divisive, politically charged music. The war in Iraq produced few memorable protest songs; Barack Obama’s white house struggle has been marked by a wealth of rallying gigs but the music played lacks the head on qualities that typified 60s protest music (even if hip hop has responded to the campaign in a variety of ways); Live Earth was boring and hypocritical.

The Cool Kids fit into this ethos of apathy well. They bring an escapist element that is easier to bear then the grinding drones of ill informed, juvenile protest songs. Our generation’s protest is that of the basement party. In the face of impending economic crisis, hip hop shifts from a fetishism of money to a fetishism of cool. Gangsta Rap is over, and its logical conclusion is a more accessible form. Surely a band that calls themselves The Cool Kids are an evolution of the posturing of the last era. Whereas late 90s/ early noughties hip hop was often concerned with wealth, gain and the material, The Cool Kids are more transcendental. They even tease the intense jockeying that typified the last wave of hip (check: “I can go catfish fishing and come up with a whale”). The focus has become being cool, knowing what is cool before anyone else, being a cool kid. And The Cool Kids are cool kids.


Friday 31 October 2008

News: Happy Halloween

It's Halloween, which means it must be time for our now-annual Halloween round-up.
  • As last year, politics is mingling with Halloween partying in a variety of ways. Unsurprisingly, Sarah Palin is leading the costume race. And as the New York Times reports, it's also a thrifty choice of costume that's in line with the current economic crisis: "Many people will be turning themselves into Sarah Palin this week, and they will do it just by rummaging through their closets."
  • On the other hand, Sarah Hepola runs through what not to wear this Halloween for Salon - and Palin variations run pretty high in the mix.
  • Extreme Mortmain highlights the way that Halloween has crept into campaign rhetoric.
  • More controversially, hanging effigies of both Palin and Obama have been put up - and now taken down.
  • Away from the campaign trail, Bruce Springsteen has cancelled his regular halloween extravaganza.
  • Stephen Moore argues that Halloween ain't what it used to be, for the Wall Street Journal.
  • Maggie Galehouse runs through the unwritten rules of Halloween for the Houston Chronicle.
  • Ever wondered what a witch does on Halloween? Lee Ann Kinkade lets you know, for Slate.
  • And finally: In the Huffington Post, Mari Gallagher, President of the National Center for Public Research, attempts to get parents to reconsider their choice of Halloween treats: "I invite you to 1) give a health-promoting treat or two this year and 2) help kids and parents take the Good Food Pledge."
Are you doing anything for Halloween? If so, please take a picture and let us know about it.

Thursday 30 October 2008

Spirit of theTimes: November 1853

Welcome to Spirit of the Times, the first in a new and occasional series that delves into the ever-expanding world of online resources to recreate what was hot (and, maybe, what was not) in American culture in this month at a certain point in the past. This time, November 1853:
  • Publication of the month: readers of Putnam's Monthly were treated to the first part of Herman Melville's "Bartleby the Scrivener" (with the second part to come in December).
  • With the inauguration of President Franklin Pierce only a few months old, and the Kansas-Nebraska Act in the near future, it is unsurprising that the issue of slavery dominated popular culture. Even in November 1853, the ramifications of Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852) were still being felt. The book was both reviewed in the North American Review and rebutted in DeBow's. (Indeed, 1853 also witnessed the publication of William Wells Brown's pioneering novel Clotel; or the President's Daughter and Stephen Foster's "My Old Kentucky Home".)
  • For all that the presence of American writers and themes was powerfully felt in the pages of American journals, the importance of English writers to American readers was still highly significant. In November 1853, the North American Review ran a review of Charles Dickens' recently published Bleak House. Harper's New Monthly Magazine, on the other hand, ran the first installment of William Makepeace Thackeray's The Newcomes.
  • And finally: Harper's New Monthly Magazine reviewed the fashions for November, whilst Scientific American featured the following recipe for toothpaste - as well as the advice that "Washing the face, hands and feet before retiring to sleep conduces to health and longevity."

Election News: The Obama Infomercial

The title and central theme? "American Stories, American Solutions." In full:

Wednesday 29 October 2008

Election News Roundup

As the big day approaches, a round up of today's election stories:
  • The Los Angeles Times reports that Obama leads McCain in Ohio (49% to 40%) and Florida (50% to 43%)
  • The New York Times, however, outlines the fears of black Floridians "that early voting is nothing more than a new disenfranchisement scam, that early votes are likely to be lost and never counted."
  • Michael Gerson explores what the stump speeches really mean for the Washington Post: "When you strip away the cheap lines and petty attacks from presidential campaign stump speeches, you usually find a deeper layer of . . . cheap lines and petty attacks."
  • Slate visits with Obama's grandmother in Kenya...
  • ...whilst the AP notes that Obama "will be a one-man television blitz on Wednesday, saturating prime-time with a 30-minute ad and popping up on the buzzy late-night TV scene. He is also giving an interview to a prominent network news anchor, and appearing with fellow Democratic star Bill Clinton at a rally that is timed to hit the late-evening news."
  • For Salon, William Shapiro wonders what might have been: "All that would have been required to achieve electoral parity and a plausible road map to the White House would have been for the Republican nominee to have transformed himself into ... (Warning: Mind-bending content ahead) ... the John McCain of the 2000 primaries."
  • CNN, on the other hand, has an eye to the future, pondering the possibility of an Obama / Palin match-up in 2012.
Stay tuned as the countdown continues.

Sunday 26 October 2008

Research Seminars: Research Roundtable

A different (though tried and tested) format at this week's research seminar. AMS PhD students Catherine Barter and Iria Petrou will be talking about their research in an exciting research roundtable setting. They'll be discussing their ongoing projects and giving examples of their works in progress.

Monday 27th October, Room A2.51, 5pm. All welcome.

Friday 24 October 2008

American Psyche: Charles Brockden Brown and the American Wilderness

by Will Greaves

This week, American Psyche goes back to the beginning of America’s literary tradition, exploring one of the nation’s earliest frontier narratives, written by its first serious author.

Writing at the very end of the Eighteenth Century, Charles Brockden Brown employed the Gothic mode, so popular in Europe at the time, to articulate the cultural fears of the young Republic. As he powerfully asserts in his preface to Edgar Huntly (1799), however, the new American writer must reject the vogue for “Puerile superstition…Gothic castles and chimeras” found in Old World Gothic literature, instead choosing “[t]he incidents of Indian hostility, and the perils of the western wilderness” as far more reflective of the national experience.

From the time of the earliest settlers, and in the corresponding captivity narratives such as Mary Rowlandson’s, the American wilderness had been imagined as a paradoxical place: on the one hand, a land of diabolic threat, teeming with ‘savage’ Native Americans that needed to be restrained; on the other, a land of opportunity, a tabula rasa on which the settlers could celebrate their new covenant with God, and establish an exceptional society. This dichotomy proved particularly fertile to Gothic interpretation, and Edgar Huntly exploits this national preoccupation to startling effect.

Within the novel, therefore, the wilderness is clearly presented as an arcane and confusing place:

It was a maze, oblique, circuitous, upward and downward… abounding with hillocks and steeps, and pits and brooks (659).

Brown was writing during an era in which notions of what it meant to be ‘American’ dominated the national discourse. As such, Huntly’s violent confrontation with the ‘Indians’ has been read by Jared Gardner as an attempt to create a national identity, one in opposition to the perceived heathen natives (“Alien Nation: Edgar Huntly’s Savage Awakening,” 1994). In the celebrated cave scene, occurring at the centre of the narrative, Huntly even appears to undergo a ‘rebirth’, surrounded by the familiar trappings of this dangerous landscape, including a savage figure, Indian weaponry, and a carnivorous wild beast.

Upon re-entering the landscape, Huntly is indeed in a New World, in which, “No marks of habitation, or culture, no traces of the footsteps of men, were discernable.” Nevertheless, as Allan Lloyd-Smith has noted in his American Gothic Fiction: An Introduction (2004), Huntly’s subsequent violent subjugation of the Indians essentially exposes himself as just as barbaric as his supposed enemies; his metamorphosis in the cave has conferred a new identity on him, but this identity is in sharp contrast to the rational, enlightened figure Americans wanted for their new character.

Brown’s ambivalence towards the American landscape clearly emerges in the text, therefore, and is confirmed through his depiction of Huntly as a somnambulist: the latter’s oneiric wanderings seem to problematize the very ideal of Manifest Destiny, which had propelled much of the earliest settlers ever further into terra incognita. For whilst his somnambulism could be seen as a reflection of the almost subconscious pioneering streak which coursed through the nation, we may also read it as a metaphor for white settlers’ ignorance, as they desperately sought to expropriate the new landscape without consideration for the consequences.

In Edgar Huntly, the American wilderness is no longer the fertile blank canvas, as imagined by many of the Puritan settlers; rather, it is a place which changes them, a dangerous space which vividly symbolises the national concern over what exactly constitutes an American in this brave new world.

Edgar Huntly is available to read online here.

American Music: 39 Snapshots

As part of their coursework for our module on American Music, UEA students had to write an essay about a piece of American music entirely of their own choosing. Why might this be interesting to the wider world? Because their choices provide us with a fascinating picture of both the development of American Music over the twentieth century (and, in one instance, the nineteenth), and tell us a great deal about the forms of American music that are of interest to today's undergraduates. All 39 individual songs are available to view below as part of a youtube playlist. Some interesting statistics: Bob Dylan is the most represented artist with four songs. Billie Holiday and Don Mclean are a close joint second, though, with three students each electing to write on "Strange Fruit" and "American Pie." Guitar based music, particularly of the sixties and seventies, dominates, though there's a good smattering of country, soul, hip hop and folk. So why not have a browse? I guarantee it will be an education.

Wednesday 22 October 2008

News: Blogging, One Final Time

To cap off an unexpected week of blogging about blogging, it only seems right to highlight a recent story from Wired that gives the other side of the coin. After all, they're not the only ones trying to announce the death of blogging:
Writing a weblog today isn't the bright idea it was four years ago. The blogosphere, once a freshwater oasis of folksy self-expression and clever thought, has been flooded by a tsunami of paid bilge. Cut-rate journalists and underground marketing campaigns now drown out the authentic voices of amateur wordsmiths. It's almost impossible to get noticed, except by hecklers. And why bother? The time it takes to craft sharp, witty blog prose is better spent expressing yourself on Flickr, Facebook, or Twitter.
On the other hand, IzeaBlog has already responded to this death knell, and they're arguing that "blogging will be bigger than ever in 2009." Whichever way things develop, rest assured that Containing Multitudes will be here to document the changing nature of technology and scholarship, and to print all the news that's fit to print about the world of American Studies.

In that vein, now seems a good time to announce our new presence on Twitter. If you twitter, you can now keep up to date with everything on the blog here:twitter / AmericanStudies

Monday 20 October 2008

News: Travel Broadens Your Prospects

Good news for anyone studying in AMS and undertaking a year abroad. A new study by the Council for Industry and Higher Education has just come to the conclusion that graduates who have studied abroad as part of their degree are more employable. The Guardian article on the report is available here, but here's a snippet:

UK graduates are missing out on high-flying international jobs because fewer of them are choosing to study abroad as part of their degree.

New research presented today by the Council for Industry and Higher Education (CIHE) found that international businesses are increasingly seeking graduates who have a global awareness, particularly those who have the initiative to study overseas as part of their learning.

Graduates who have studied abroad tend to be more culturally aware, able to work in multicultural teams and move around the world as part of their career. But UK graduates are less competitive in the international job market as they are now less likely to study overseas than they used to.

Remember that when it comes to writing your CV.

Sunday 19 October 2008

News: Blogging on Blogging, Again

Not that blogging's a self-obsessed medium or anything, but following close on the heels of THE's examination of the state of academic blogging in the UK, Andrew Sullivan has written a compelling ode to the possibilities of blogging for the Atlantic - "Why I Blog" - available here. Lots of interesting arguments and insights - here's the preamble:
For centuries, writers have experimented with forms that evoke the imperfection of thought, the inconstancy of human affairs, and the chastening passage of time. But as blogging evolves as a literary form, it is generating a new and quintessentially postmodern idiom that’s enabling writers to express themselves in ways that have never been seen or understood before. Its truths are provisional, and its ethos collective and messy. Yet the interaction it enables between writer and reader is unprecedented, visceral, and sometimes brutal. And make no mistake: it heralds a golden era for journalism.

Saturday 18 October 2008

Carter Revard Redux: Rattlesnake Meat in the Garden of Walmart

by John Heavens

I consider myself very fortunate to have been present at the first AMS Research Seminar of the new academic year where an American scholar and poet called Carter Revard read and discussed some of his work. Whilst I am no authority on poetry, what struck me at the time was the power of the vocal delivery. Carter Revard juxtaposes an intense intellectual sophistication in the employment of language and imagery in his poetry with a gentle, almost playful articulation which makes for a potent mix in which meaning forcefully ‘comes down’. The vocal delivery at the seminar prompted me to buy a copy of his book ‘How The Songs Come Down’, which was published by Salt Publishing in 2005. There is much in this book to commend it to readers who seek to make sense of today’s chaotic world.

Carter Revard is special because his personal native American traditions have been combined with a scholastic discipline that he refined at Oxford and Yale Universities during the 1960s to produce a unique approach to creative writing. I think that the poem ‘Making Money’ is an excellent example of this ‘double vision’, but also a marvellously apposite observation on the woeful state of the world’s economic affairs. The clever recontextualization of a couplet from Alexander Pope’s ‘On the Use of Riches’ adds even more gravitas to the condemnation of the diabolical machinations of the money manipulators of today’s world, whilst making a poignant appeal to ecological concerns with the plaintive cry, ‘Bulldozers let them be...’ For me, this poem sums up beautifully the potential tragedy inherent in our current global situation, of which we all need to be aware, and I would recommend Carter Revard’s work to anyone who has an interest in finding a way forward.

'Making Money', from How the Songs Come Down (Cambridge: Salt Publishing, 2005) - reproduced with permission of the author.
Stamp a picture on some metal
that you've shaped thin and round
and it's worth lots more.
Same way with planets:
draw your lines across one,
say you've divided it into
small pieces, and it's worth
a million times as much.
The closer you have drawn the lines,
the more each piece is worth.
A field you couldn't walk around in less
than half a day
won't pay it's way
in fruit or cattle, honeybees or deer,
but cut it into single acre lots
and you'll be rich.
Moons are worthless, but
look at the price of moon-rocks.
-This is all true, of course,
only if you make a piece of paper
with certain lines drawn on it, curving
in shapes we call names;
those marks combined
with arabesques that we call numbers
turn Paradise or Death Valley into
real estate, transform a tree
to money order, savages
into good citizens:
Blest paper credit, last and best supply,
That lends corruption lighter wings to fly,
as certain also of our own
poets have said.
Cities become the best machines
for generating capital, as it's called.
Look at them from the air at night,
the twinkling tentacles suckering
a wounded earth -
but in the daylight see the smudge
from which their twinkling comes,
then notice how the great lakes
and power stations in the desert lands
and in the mountains have become
their slaves, the clean air turned
to power and the sparkling lakes and rivers sending
pure heat and light into the heart
of great squared-off deserts of glass
and asphalt where the money's made.
What happens when the lines have all been drawn?
The cities die and rot from inside out,
the weeds come up through asphalt cracks,
blue chicory flowers grow across the sidewalks.
Bulldozers let them be: they're scraping clear
another Garden, toppling
old Trees of Life and Knowledge to plant
a Walmart where the shelves will hold
pulp mysteries and romances, exotic
apples and rattlesnake meat in plastic bags.

Thursday 16 October 2008

Election News: Final Presidential Debate

Any conclusions? Perhaps. The New York Times calls John McCain "angry and desparate", Obama's lead grows, and Joe the Plumber becomes an insta-celebrity.

Wednesday 15 October 2008

News: THE Profiles Academic Blogging

As if proof were needed that AMS was ahead of the curve when it came to all things blog-based, Times Higher Education has just published an article about the state of blogging in UK academia. It has some interesting things to say, and a compelling list of academic blogs. The field is developing in fascinating ways. Here's a snippet:

Although they are still lagging behind their colleagues in the US, British academics are slowly but surely moving into the blogosphere. The appeal of academic feedback, as well as the opportunity for public engagement and the potential for enhancing reputations, has those who blog hooked.


Exactly how many academics are blogging is undocumented, but anecdotal evidence suggests that only a scattering of UK scholars blog. As an indication of scale, Birmingham City, one of the only institutions to list its academic bloggers, has links to 18 blogs.

Most academics seem to blog on platforms outside their universities, using only oblique references to their day jobs. Some even blog anonymously. Younger academics, unsurprisingly, appear more actively involved in blogging.

"There are enthusiasts but I think the enthusiasm is fairly thinly distributed," says Michael Jubb, director of the Research Information Network, who has been closely monitoring blogging trends in universities. "It has not reached the kind of critical mass that it has among US academics ... you are very much at the cutting edge if you are doing it at the moment."

Monday 13 October 2008

News: Happy Columbus Day America! Happy Thanksgiving Day Canada!

by Katie McFarlane

Americans and Canadians are both in festive mood today, the second Monday in October, as they celebrate, respectively, Columbus Day and Thanksgiving.

Whilst spending last year studying at the University of Colorado at Boulder, my American friends were determined to throw more than just a few interesting facts about Columbus Day my way...
  • The holiday was not really acknowledged until 400 years after Columbus first arrived in the Americas on October 12, 1492; it was only in 1892 that President Benjamin Harrison took special notice of the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America.
  • In 1905, with the help of highly influential Senator Barela, Colorado became the first state to officially observe Columbus Day. Barela also played an influential role in setting up the Columbus Day parade in downtown Denver, now recognized as the longest-running Columbus Day parade across the nation. Originally beginning in 1907, this year the parade will celebrate its 101st anniversary. (If you’re one of the lucky UEA students studying at Boulder this year, check it out! We had an awesome time joining in the festivities which spread out across the streets of Denver last year!)
  • It was not until 1937 that President Roosevelt nationally proclaimed October 12th as Columbus Day. However, since 1971 the holiday has officially been observed as the second Monday in October.
  • Despite the fact that Columbus Day is named in memory of Christopher Columbus, some organizations across America have now renamed the holiday Indigenous People’s Day, believing that this name better reflects the realities surrounding this historical event. Native Americans were already inhabiting this supposedly ‘new’ land and they were cruelly pushed aside by the subsequent influx of Europeans. It is thus believed that this holiday should be about commemorating the resistance of the Natives against the oppressive forces which threatened to destroy them, whilst at the same time celebrating the survival and revitalization of Indigenous cultures over recent years.
If you’re experiencing Columbus Day first-hand this year, why not leave a comment telling us what you’ve been up to?

Meanwhile, just across the border, Canadians are already enjoying their three-day Thanksgiving celebration. Family time, turkey dinners and a great deal of merriment – it reminds those of us in England that Christmas will now be fast approaching! Those of you in Canada, please post some pictures of your holiday experiences! (And remember: Canadians are in the middle of their own election campaign, too).

Sunday 12 October 2008

Research Seminars: Malcolm Mclaughlin

L to R: Floyd Paterson, Archie Moore

At this week's research seminar, UEA's Malcolm McLaughlin will be talking about "Ole Mongoose and the Glass Mountain: Archie Moore's ABC Youth Delinqency-Deterrent Program and Conservative Community Activism in the 1960s." 

Monday 13th October, A2.51, 5pm. All welcome.

As a bonus, below you can see highlights of Archie Moore's fight with his protégé Cassius Clay:

Friday 10 October 2008

American Psyche: Nathanael West and the Hollywood Apocalypse

by Will Greaves

This week, American Psyche examines the role of Hollywood in inspiring one of the most apocalyptic novels in American literature: Nathanael West’s The Day of the Locust (1939).

Born and raised in New York, Nathanael West displayed a distinctly lacklustre attitude towards studying whilst at school and college. He did, however, acquire a love for grotesque stories, and, after a short stint living in Paris, West later fell in with a circle of Manhattan writers including William Carlos Williams. It was after becoming a scriptwriter for Columbia Pictures in California that West would be compelled to pen perhaps the quintessential Hollywood satire.

Accompanying a number of ‘serious’ authors, including F. Scott Fitzgerald and William Faulkner, into the lucrative scriptwriting profession, West’s move to California reflected the pull of one particular manifestation of the American Dream: thousands of Americans had been lured by the perceived possibilities of the west during the hardships of the 1930s, as John Steinbeck recorded in The Grapes of Wrath (released in the same year as Locust). And just as in Steinbeck’s novel, this Dream is revealed as nothing more than a delusion.

West’s novel is crowded with characters of “grotesque depravity”: Faye Greener mixes naiveté with a serious manipulative streak; desperate to succeed as an actress, she is willing to sell her innocence as an exchange. Homer Simpson (almost certainly the inspiration for Matt Groening), on the other hand, is a sterile shadow of man, ineffectual in all areas of life. Even Earle, the cowboy, is described as having a “two-dimensional shape that a talented child might have drawn”. The Day of the Locust is, clearly, populated by a series of B-movie stereotypes that suggests West’s frustrations with the illusory world he inhabited, and even, perhaps, his own guilt for contributing to this industry.

In the novel, Hollywood is a myriad of “Mexican ranch houses, Samoan huts, Mediterranean villas […] Tudor cottages,” where even the “dressers are painted to look like pine.” In fact the only certainty amidst this simulacra of gaudy styles is the sheer artificiality of the landscape. Hollywood, an industry centred on the construction of a reality that fulfills our desires, becomes the most poignant manifestation of the corrupted Dream: deluded by the glamour of the screen, West is condemning a society that has misinterpreted this initially spiritual ideal as a desire to achieve wealth and fame. As if to emphasise this corruption, even the Californian oranges – intrinsic to Grampa Joad’s perception of the Dream in The Grapes of Wrath – lose their symbolic promise for West’s characters, being unable to “titillate their jaded palates.”

The apocalyptic and deeply ironic climax sees a crowd of fans descend into a savage mob, clamoring on top of each other, desperate to catch a glimpse of Hollywood stars at the premiere of a new film:
An ambulance siren screamed in the street. Its wailing moan started the crowd moving again and Tod was carried along in a slow, steady push […] It gathered momentum and rushed […] He held on desperately, fighting to keep from being sucked back.
West seems almost to be predicting the mass human suffering of the following decade; indeed his depiction of a society on the verge of anarchy, conveyed through a bleakly humorous writing style, seemed to tarnish the novel’s critical reception: writing to Fitzgerald, a close friend who died only a day before him, West admitted: “So far the score stands – good reviews: fifteen percent. Bad reviews: twenty-five per cent. Brutal personal attacks: sixty per cent.” America, it seems, was not yet ready for West.

The Coen brothers’ 1991 film Barton Fink offers a similarly dark satire on the scriptwriting profession in 1930s Hollywood, even including a fictionalised version of Faulkner as a raging alcoholic.

Wednesday 8 October 2008

Election News: Second Presidential Debate

Thanks again, C-Span. Still no knock-out blow, though instant polls gave the edge to Obama. Slate reviews the print analysis here.

News: AMS at Cinema City

Advance warning about two exciting AMS appearances at Norwich's Cinema City. First, Malcolm McLaughlin will be talking about "Silver Screen, Black Power: The World of Shaft" on Wednesday 15 October at 6.45pm. Next, Sarah Churchwell will be talking about "Fighting For Balance: The Battle of the Sexes in Screwball Comedy, 1934-1946" on Tuesday December 9 at 8.30pm. Book early to avoid disappointment.

Monday 6 October 2008

(PSI) Research Seminar: Andy Rudalevige

No AMS Research Seminar this week (as we anticipate our very own Malcolm Mclaughlin's appearance next week). Fear not, though: Director of the Dickinson Exchange Programme (and Containing Multitudes contributor) Andy Rudalevige will be talking about "The 2008 American Election: Themes and Variations" for PSI on Tuesday afternoon.

Tuesday, October 7, 5pm, A3.26. All welcome.