This is the second installment in the “what is my field?”-series, and “American Studies” is definitely my favorite answer in most situations. Everyone, especially here, has a sense of what I do when I say I’m in American Studies, and at the same time the category is so broad that whatever it is I really do, it could easily come under the label of American Studies. American Studies studies America, but other than that, there is little specification. It includes American history, literature, anthropology, sociology, politics – just pretty much everything to do with the United States.
While this vagueness is comfortable as well as annoying to me – the label does not bind me to a type of question or method – it is also really true that I find America particularly intriguing. This is in part because it refers to both a nation and an ideology (think capitalism, democracy, Christianity, etc.) that remains dominant in the world, and that is obsessed with its own storytelling (and really good at narrating and indeed marketing itself). Really what I am interested in is storytelling, particularly entities (individuals, instituations, countries etc) telling their own stories, and America is one of the most successful and intriguing case studies around.
On the other hand, it is of course not the only one, and while this is a case I know better than most others, I am in principle no less interested in the others. So whereas “American Studies” as field doesn’t give much guidance or impose limitations about what questions I might be asking, it does rather obviously limit the objects I might wonder about in a way that I’m not yet sure I will stick to. But I might. There’s enough still totally incomprehensible to me about America to keep me busy for another 50 years at least.