It was "with very great pleasure" that Rector Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Peter Hommelhoff officially opened the interdisciplinary lecture series "TYPICALLY AMERICAN!" yesterday. The series was prepared by an interdisciplinary initiative for the establishment of a Heidelberg Center for American Studies (HCA).
For the first time in the history of the University of Heidelberg, scientists and scholars from ten different disciplines American studies, economics, geography, history, law, musicology, philosophy, political science, sociology and theology have assembled to inform their audience about significant aspects of the past and present history of the United States from the perspective of their respective subjects. "Their common aim is to make an academic contribution to a more objective and in-depth approach to the debate on America going on in Germany at present. This initiative in itself is worthy of the highest commendation," said Hommelhoff at the opening ceremony.
The significance of this topic for defining national positions at the present stage of history is beyond doubt, the Rector went on. "Everyone knows that the last remaining superpower in the world has a major hand in shaping the destinies of us all. Everyone knows that there is hardly any reform debate in the Federal Republic in which the US does not serve either as an example or a deterrent. Everyone knows the political consequences deriving in Germany from criticism of the policies of the present American administration and from the widespread anti-American feeling encountered notably in the new Federal states. It would be chastening indeed if Europeans should prove unable to establish a European identity without a degree of anti-American feeling." (Hommelhoff)
"But even if this were the case, there is one thing that we Germans should not overlook. Our history prevent us from putting ourselves in line with the French, the Spaniards, the Greeks or the Italians. It is to the citizens of the United States and their governments that Germany owes its return to democracy and the rule of law, protection during the Cold War, the rescue and preservation of Berlin and ultimately, to a high degree, the reunification of the country in peace and liberty. Accordingly, German-American relations are a precious boon and one that we should do our utmost to cultivate."
The interdisciplinary lecture series "TYPICALLY AMERICAN!" is an attempt on the part of the University of Heidelberg to give an "understanding explanation" (Max Weber) of special aspects of political, legal, economic and cultural developments in the US. Many of the lectures will be foregrounding these aspects by way of explicit comparisons with Germany and Europe. The subjects are broad in range: identity in the United States, aspirations and realities in a multi-ethnic society, the situation of ethnic minorities, religious freedom, protection and the ban on hate speech, the relationship between environment and industry, the pan-American free-trade zone. Other issues are the question of whether there is such a thing as American music, the much-debated problem of the Americanisation of Germany, the pragmatic concept of truth and finally the relationship between state and the market in America and Europe.
"As already indicated," Hommelhoff continued, "this lecture series has been organised by an interdisciplinary initiative for the establishment of a Heidelberg Center for American Studies (HCA). Work on the establishment of this Center is being done at various levels. The Rectorate supports this initiative. The establishment of the Center has been one of the cornerstones of my policies as Rector from the outset and has found expression in the guidelines laid down by the Rectorate. In this form it has received the assent of the Senate of the University of Heidelberg."
One of the functions of the Center for American Studies will be to coordinate, deepen and publicise the activities of those scholars and scientists at the University who are concerned in their research and teaching with the past and present history of the Western hemisphere in general and the United States in particular. In its broad range of subjects, the lecture series "TYPICALLY AMERICAN!" reflects the range of fields on which the American Studies Center can be expected to throw light.
The opening lecture on "The Chosen People. History and National Identity in the United States" was held by Professor Detlef Junker. Professor Junker has been Curt Engelhorn professor of American history at the University of Heidelberg since 1999. He spent over eight years in the US, the last six of them (1994-1999) as director of the German Historical Institute in Washington. As Rectorate commissioner for the establishment of the planned American Studies Center he has done much to breathe life into this undertaking, with support from Dr. Philipp Gassert and Christiane Rösch.
Two weeks ago he returned from an excursion with 20 Heidelberg students to the American South. "I am very glad that he got the group back safely despite the depredations of hurricane Isidore," said Hommelhoff. "May he steer the Heidelberg Center for American Studies through all the coming hazards with a capable hand. I wish him and his crew clement weather and plain sailing!"
The other lectures in the series (all in German):
31.10., AMERICAN STUDIES Dr. Dorothea Fischer-Hornung, Prof. Dr. Dieter Schulz
From Melting-Pot to Salad Bowl.
Multi-culturalism and the American Dream as reflected in literature
14.11., THEOLOGY Prof. Dr. Gerhard Besier
Religious Freedom in America and Europe.
21.11. LAW Prof. Dr. Winfried Brugger
Protection or Ban on Hate Speech?
A dispute between America and Germany
28.11., GEOGRAPHY Priv. Doz. Dr. Werner Gamerith
The American Dream?
Ethnic minorities and their education and labour-market situation
12.12., ECONOMICS Prof. Dr. Günter Liesegang
Industry and Environment.
A comparison between America and Europe
9.1., ECONOMICS Prof. Dr. Hartmut Sangmeister
The Americas United under the Star-Spangled Banner?
The project of a pan-American free trade zone from a Latin American perspective
16.1., MUSICOLOGY Priv. Doz. Dr. Thomas Schmidt-Beste
Who Decides What "American" Music Is?
The quest for identity and outside perceptions
23.1., SOCIOLOGY Prof. Dr. Uta Gerhardt
The Americanisation of Germany?
6.2., PHILOSOPHY Prof. Dr. Andreas Kemmerling
Pragmatic Truth and Life-Enhancement
13.2., POLITICAL SCIENCE Prof. Dr. Manfred G. Schmidt
State and Market.
A comparison between America and Europe
Please address any inquiries to:
Prof. Dr. Detlef Junker
Department of History
University of Heidelberg
phone: 06221/542477, fax: 542449
Dr. Michael Schwarz
Press Officer of the University of Heidelberg
phone: 06221/542310, fax: 54317