Brian T Edwards - "After the American Century" - Deborah Nelson - CMES

Wednesday, January 27, 2016 - 6:00pm - 7:30pm

“After the American Century offers a fascinating tour of the appropriation and deployment of American popular culture in a globalized, restless Middle East. From cinema and novels to hip-hop and comic books, this wonderfully written and richly observed book presents novel and exciting readings of familiar cultural forms in new political environments.” —Marc Lynch, author of The Arab Uprising: The Unfinished Revolutions of the New Middle East

Brian T Edwards discusses After the American Century: The Ends of U.S. Culture in the Middle East. He will be joined in conversation by Deborah Nelson, Associate Professor of English and the College at the University of Chicago. 

Co-sponsored by CMES

At the Co-op


About the book: From Egyptian cyberpunk to dubbed versions of Shrek in Iran, this book examines the emergence of new forms of culture in circulation and their geopolitical implications.

When Henry Luce announced in 1941 that we were living in the “American century,” he believed that the international popularity of American culture made the world favorable to U.S. interests. Now, in the digital twenty-first century, the American century has been superseded, as American movies, music, video games, and television shows are received, understood, and transformed.

How do we make sense of this shift? Building on a decade of fieldwork in Cairo, Casablanca, and Tehran, Brian T. Edwards maps new routes of cultural exchange that are innovative, accelerated, and full of diversions. Shaped by the digital revolution, these paths are entwined with the growing fragility of American “soft” power. They indicate an era after the American century, in which popular American products and phenomena—such as comic books, teen romances, social-networking sites, and ways of expressing sexuality—are stripped of their associations with the United States and recast in very different forms.

Arguing against those who talk about a world in which American culture is merely replicated or appropriated, Edwards focuses on creative moments of uptake, in which Arabs and Iranians make something unexpected. He argues that these products do more than extend the reach of the original. They reflect a world in which culture endlessly circulates and gathers new meanings.

About the author: Brian T Edwards is Crown Professor in Middle East Studies and Professor of English and Comparative Literary Studies at Northwestern, where he is also the founding director of the Program in Middle East and North African Studies. His previous books include Morocco Bound: Disorienting America’s Maghreb, from Casablanca to the Marrakech Express (Duke 2005) and Globalizing American Studies (coeditor, Chicago, 2010)and he has contributed to a wide range of publications, including Public Culture, The Believer, McSweeney’s, Foreign Policy, Chronicle of Higher Education, and the Chicago Tribune. Twitter: @briantedwards

About the interlocutor: After receiving her PhD and a certificate in Women’s Studies from the City University of New York in 1996, Nelson joined the faculty at the University of Chicago, where she teaches late 20th-century US literature and culture in her position as an Associate Professor of English and the College. Nelson is the author of Pursuing Privacy in Cold War America (Columbia University Press, 2002), the forthcoming Tough Broads: Suffering and Style. She edited “Gender and Culture in the 1950s,” an issue of Women’s Studies Quarterly and “Around 1948” in Critical Inquiry. Her articles have been published in American Literary History, Contemporary Literature, Feminist Studies and in several edited collections. Nelson received a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship and recently led a Mellon-funded Sawyer Seminar called “@1948.” She is a founding member of the research collective, Post45, which publishes a book series at Stanford University Press and an online journal.

About the co-sponsor: The study of the region extending from Morocco to Kazakhstan since the rise of Islam is coordinated, encouraged, and stimulated at the University of Chicago by the Center for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES). Established in 1965, the CMES has been supported by the Divisions of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Chicago and by grants from the U.S. Department of Education and the Mellon Foundation for more than forty years.

Event Location: 
Seminary Co-op Bookstore
5751 S. Woodlawn Avenue
Chicago, IL 60637