History Act 1

Act 1: The Cold War: learning the ropes

Given the fact of American studies initial embroilment with the institutions of state and with the forces of very subtle, dense, comprehensive and, one might add, opportune propaganda, as shown above, it should come as no surprise the fact that the space of Central Europe to which Yugoslavia could also aspire in the new constellation came to be a contested field and a testing ground for the new educational and reformist model. This “soft diplomacy,” as we shall see quite a formidable, complex and far-reaching project in itself, was also brought to Austria, in particular to its western border town of Salzburg.3  An account culled from the web-site of the Salzburg Seminar, makes us appreciative of the fact that in the increasingly icy climate arising after the initial scholarly and political get-together in the early years of the seminar, the only participants from Eastern Europe who continued to sit in the sessions were actually those from the then Yugoslavia. To rehearse briefly the facts gathered and publicized by Janez Stanonik, the founding fathers and mothers of American studies in Croatia were, respectively, Josip Torbarina in Zagreb (in the years 1945 and 1946) and Mira Janković in Zadar (beginning with 1963) (1973: 22). In the context of pursuing American studies in Croatia, Stanonik is correct in emphasizing the inestimable contribution of the federal Fulbright scholarship programme, and its continuing contribution to the execution of the program in American literature and culture in the former Yugoslavia, and Croatia, since “In 1966 the Fulbright-Hays Act was extended to Yugoslavia” (22).  We could argue, in fact, that the period from 1945-1985 was a period of the unconscious, non-institutionalized pursuit of American subjects without a clearly articulated frame or models of analysis. Even if the argument might seem a bit stretched, I would like to argue, further, that this, in a way corresponds to an unself-conscious pursuit of scholarly goals that was at work in American studies on the domestic turf, as it was immersed in the critical procedures provided by, alternatively, New Criticism and the myth and symbol school, which lacked, as suggested by Bercovitch and Jehlen (1986), by Noble, and similar critiques, the self-consciousness of its own ideological implications. Or, to reverse our argument a bit, it is the unself-conscious pursuit of American literary and cultural themes and subjects at this time, that in itself constituted a telling, if subdued, political statement. Arjun Appadurai in his oft-quoted account of some salient trends of cultural globalization tries to explain the rise of area studies, among which one should also count American studies at the point of their emergence. According to Appadurai, area studies flourish in particular between the two world wars and after World War II (1996: 16). He attributes this development to changing definitions of “culture” and the cultural in anthropology and other social sciences in the twentieth century. That is, the cultural was supposed to dilute the more rudimentary, cruder, as well as more explosive, concept of race and the racial. If we try to apply this insight to the situation in Croatia, albeit moving ahead in time, American studies as area studies, and in particular insofar as they embraced the Marxist paradigm of reading and interpretation, even American-style, could serve certain specific ideological goals quite compatible with the official party line, for instance, or just as easily and unpredictably departing from it. To give an example, even before the institutionalization of American studies as a degree-conferring academic programme of study, it is quite telling to look into reasons why and how some authors and periods of American literature were privileged over others. Even when scouring the archives of translations and academic writing, or considering the readings lists of the university seminars and lectures, it becomes clear that it was difficult to impose a total uniformity, or that perhaps that wasn’t even always the scope. From the focus of study of the most prominent Americanists or people who extensively taught American literature (Torbarina, Janković, Vidan, Bašić, Ivanišević, and others), it turns out that modernism and canonical modernist authors, later on counter-culture and experimental postmodernists prevail over all other periods, writers and texts. Even the best translations from the period and later done by the technically extremely accomplished translators, themselves highly appreciated writers and poets, such as Šoljan, Slamnig and Petrak, or university-level instructors, such as Bašić and, again, Slamnig, preponderantly worked with these highly wrought, self-consciously artistic and less conspicuously socially committed texts. In fact, one could extend this perceived incongruence and strengthen it further with the claim that in the 1950s the new generation of Croatian poets (the so-called Krugovaši, banded together around the literary journal entitled Krugovi [Circles]) self-consciously demonstrated an opening towards Western art as opposed to the prevailing model of socialist-realism and socially conscious realist fiction in general (for these tendencies in Croatian literature, cf. Novak 2004) This is not to suggest that modernist art is wholesale apolitical and predominantly aesthetic to the detriment of other factors of analysis, but it shows that the academics in Croatia, when they were reading and discussing American literature could find themselves more on the side of formalism and New Criticism than any other approach. Still, one was also very likely to come across an author who evinced class and work-related themes in a particular way which could be easily incorporated with the party line (so, for instance, Dreiser compares favourably to some less desirable authors, as made pointedly clear by Professor Levitt’s recollections of his teaching in Zagreb.)Already in the 1970s Željko Bujas formulated the idea of the need to introduce courses in American culture in a heavily Anglicized curriculum. However, first intimations of institutionalized American studies appear alongside some, rather unsuccessful, attempts to reform the humanities curricula in the early 1980s. The paradigm breaking courses, such as American civilization, introduced and taught by Bujas himself, provide a role-model for English studies to follow after a while. 1982 is in many ways the annus mirabilis for American studies in Croatia; the chair is instituted in the Faculty of Philosophy in Zagreb, headed by Bujas, while in Dubrovnik international seminars begin to take place without interruption until the beginning of the war in Croatia in 1991. It should be noted that this came as a consequence of an offer on the part of the State Department for an international exchange programme, which was readily taken up and implemented on our side by the then Rector Jurković and Professor Rudolf Filipović, Head of the English Department. These dynamic, high-powered seminars will foremostly open the door to the setting up of American studies graduate programme in 1986. The institutionalization of such a multidisciplinary programme, unique in its domain in the former Yugoslavia at the time, served as a tacit recognition and a reminder that Croatia, and Zagreb in particular, with the help and participation of colleagues from other Universities in the former country, had a reliable contingent of scholars who, in one way or another, were concerned with aspects of US culture. Professor Bujas’s mid-1980s proposal illustrates a growing awareness of the importance of the study of US cultural phenomena as part of higher education curricula. The rise of the American English and American Civilisation go hand in hand with this change taking place within the standard domain of English philology. Therefore, the introduction of the very concept of American studies actually implies from the start a reconstitution of the traditional disciplinary boundaries, and is thus presciently, but, one hopes, not ominously, foregrounding the latest tide of changes overtaking the humanities and social sciences under the new Bologna regime.

These reflections on the role of the US as a nation-state were appropriately channelled into American studies as an independent, interdisciplinary field of academic research with the explicit aim of studying in a comprehensive and “scholarly” manner “the USA as a complex socio-cultural phenomenon” (Bujas, p. 3). Further, identifying the two most likely approaches for research, the comparative and mono-cultural, the proposal then goes to extol the comparativist mode of analysis which actually, due to its special pedagogical effect, serves the purpose of enhancing the subject’s cultural competence by promoting the student’s continuing engagement with different aspects of American culture and society. Even a cursory look at the programme suggests that the submitters paid attention to specificities of the contents of describing the USA as a discreet social aggregation, especially in view of its regionalism and, for instance, the undeniable role of religion in the overview of US society.
The core of the future postgraduate programme in American studies in Dubrovnik is to be located in a series of very intensive, collaborative ventures by US-American and Yugoslav (although predominantly Croatian) scholars, namely American studies seminars taking place in Dubrovnik from 1982 to 1986 and marking in fact the official constitution of the full-fledged programme. The first seminar of this kind was entitled “The American Social Order and Its Culture: Aspects of High and Popular Culture” and it took place in Dubrovnik from 25 October to 4 November 1982.
In 1983 Dubrovnik hosted the second American studies seminar, “The Crucial Decade: America in the 1960s,” again drawing on a respectable list of domestic and foreign instructors. In 1984 the seminar was dedicated to “Social Conflict and Twentieth-Century American Culture.” The fourth American Studies Seminar, “America Defines Itself” (1985), brought together a wide array of scholars in the humanities and American cultural studies (literature, film studies, sociology of culture, political sciences, sports, economy, music, town planning and architecture, welfare system). The next year, 1986, “America as a Pluralistic Society” offered seminars such as: Hidden Ethnicity: Domestic Foodways; Black Poets on American Culture; The “New Immigrants” and the Public Schools, 1900-1920; Neighborhoods as an Expression of American Pluralism; Memoires up from the Depths: Autobiographical Literary Work of Successful Immigrants; Ancestry of Mother Tongue in the US Census on the Ethnic Background of the Population of the USA; American Cities as an Example of Pluralistic Society; Some Aspects of Neoconservativism and Pluralism in American Society. Lecturers again comprised a wide range of scholars (folklore, women’s studies, education, public and environmental affairs, English, history, law, sociology, political sciences, economics). 1987 saw the Sixth American Studies Seminar entitled “The dialectics of tradition and Modernity in American Culture and Society”; as before, anthropologists, criminal justice, media and cultural studies scholars were all on board. The seventh American studies seminar, “The Texture of Ordinary American Life”, took place in 1988.
The Eighth American Studies Seminar, “American Myths Past and Present” (1989) was an instance of a thematic workshop where a single, overarching theme is considered from a number of relevant perspectives; here notably anthropology, linguistics, political science, history, literature, popular culture, media, art, philosophy (the concept of myth, and specifically American myths). The Ninth American Studies Seminar, “The 1980s, America in Transition” (1990) appropriately offered a retrospective on the previous ten years. The workshop manifests its topicality and a continuing commitment to grapple with the current and the contemporary, from US foreign policy in the 1980s, to American film of the period, the state of literary studies at the time, recent structural changes in the American city, postmodernist architecture, US literacy in the 1980s, recent shifts in the American literary canon and the changes in the marketplace. And then, the war… In 1991, proposal for the workshop was “America: Transcultural Perspectives,” but the seminars never took place, not that year nor later in Dubrovnik in the same capacity.

These reflections on the role of the US as a nation-state were appropriately channelled into American studies as an independent, interdisciplinary field of academic research with the explicit aim of studying in a comprehensive and “scholarly” manner “the USA as a complex socio-cultural phenomenon” (Bujas, p. 3). Further, identifying the two most likely approaches for research, the comparative and mono-cultural, the proposal then goes to extol the comparativist mode of analysis which actually, due to its special pedagogical effect, serves the purpose of enhancing the subject’s cultural competence by promoting the student’s continuing engagement with different aspects of American culture and society. Even a cursory look at the programme suggests that the submitters paid attention to specificities of the contents of describing the USA as a discreet social aggregation, especially in view of its regionalism and, for instance, the undeniable role of religion in the overview of US society.The core of the future postgraduate programme in American studies in Dubrovnik is to be located in a series of very intensive, collaborative ventures by US-American and Yugoslav (although predominantly Croatian) scholars, namely American studies seminars taking place in Dubrovnik from 1982 to 1986 and marking in fact the official constitution of the full-fledged programme. The first seminar of this kind was entitled “The American Social Order and Its Culture: Aspects of High and Popular Culture” and it took place in Dubrovnik from 25 October to 4 November 1982.  In 1983 Dubrovnik hosted the second American studies seminar, “The Crucial Decade: America in the 1960s,” again drawing on a respectable list of domestic and foreign instructors. In 1984 the seminar was dedicated to “Social Conflict and Twentieth-Century American Culture.” The fourth American Studies Seminar, “America Defines Itself” (1985), brought together a wide array of scholars in the humanities and American cultural studies (literature, film studies, sociology of culture, political sciences, sports, economy, music, town planning and architecture, welfare system). The next year, 1986, “America as a Pluralistic Society” offered seminars such as: Hidden Ethnicity: Domestic Foodways; Black Poets on American Culture; The “New Immigrants” and the Public Schools, 1900-1920; Neighborhoods as an Expression of American Pluralism; Memoires up from the Depths: Autobiographical Literary Work of Successful Immigrants; Ancestry of Mother Tongue in the US Census on the Ethnic Background of the Population of the USA; American Cities as an Example of Pluralistic Society; Some Aspects of Neoconservativism and Pluralism in American Society. Lecturers again comprised a wide range of scholars (folklore, women’s studies, education, public and environmental affairs, English, history, law, sociology, political sciences, economics). 1987 saw the Sixth American Studies Seminar entitled “The dialectics of tradition and Modernity in American Culture and Society”; as before, anthropologists, criminal justice, media and cultural studies scholars were all on board. The seventh American studies seminar, “The Texture of Ordinary American Life”, took place in 1988. The Eighth American Studies Seminar, “American Myths Past and Present” (1989) was an instance of a thematic workshop where a single, overarching theme is considered from a number of relevant perspectives; here notably anthropology, linguistics, political science, history, literature, popular culture, media, art, philosophy (the concept of myth, and specifically American myths). The Ninth American Studies Seminar, “The 1980s, America in Transition” (1990) appropriately offered a retrospective on the previous ten years. The workshop manifests its topicality and a continuing commitment to grapple with the current and the contemporary, from US foreign policy in the 1980s, to American film of the period, the state of literary studies at the time, recent structural changes in the American city, postmodernist architecture, US literacy in the 1980s, recent shifts in the American literary canon and the changes in the marketplace. And then, the war… In 1991, proposal for the workshop was “America: Transcultural Perspectives,” but the seminars never took place, not that year nor later in Dubrovnik in the same capacity.

Graduate programme in American studies was established in 1986 and carried out in separate sessions at the premises of the Inter-University Centre in Dubrovnik.

Before the war, there were three generations of students enrolled, 1986-88, 1988-1990 and 1990-1992, before the thing ground to a halt due to the attack on Dubrovnik, well-covered in media worldwide. As evident from the brochure aimed at the prospective candidates, the “Fulbright commission and the USIA (United States Information Agency) ensure regular participation of guest teachers from the United States and European universities” (report by Bujas, 6 August 1988). Not only was Dubrovnik in the early 1980s, in so-called “American Studies Seminars,” a place that drew together truly international congeries of scholars from the United States and our side of the “iron curtain,” but the seminars reflected a growing orientation already inherent in American studies programmes as they were executed in the States figuring as truly interdisciplinary academic ventures and already encroaching deeply into the territory that in the 1980s would increasingly be viewed as the province of cultural studies.

The steady supply of faculty needed for the teaching of graduate programme was ensured by a number or international agreements of co-operation between the University of Zagreb and the relevant institutions in the States (Texas A&M University, Indiana University at Bloomington, UCLA, etc.). It is certainly correct to suggest, as does Grgas,  that the Center functioned as an extraterritorial academic and scholarly haven where international cooperation flourished in relative freedom from the constraints of communist regime and its restrictions on the freedom of speech and intellectual endeavours (personal communication).4

Finally, in June 1986 the council of the University of Zagreb approved the submitted proposal for the graduate programme in American studies. Reading between the lines of somewhat stilted academic language of the proposal we can begin to glimpse the reasons and the logic behind the launching of the programme. Željko Bujas was the driving force and the rallying spirit behind the whole project. What was it that led finally to the location of studies in Dubrovnik? Bašić, in her letter to the Rector in the mid-nineties, reminds that it was “due to a series of circumstances and pressures evinced at the time” that Dubrovnik was selected as the place for American studies in Croatia. She is, however, pleading that the re-instituted programme in American studies now be placed in Zagreb due to a number of reasons: the availability of libraries and the easier accessibility of the teaching staff, the whole academic infrastructure, etc.

Act 2: After the Cold War: self-examination and the quest for a new meaning

Works Cited

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