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New International Center And Undergraduate Major Will Focus On Understanding America From Many Viewpoints

March 28, 2002-- The University of Virginia, home to rich resources in American history, society and culture, is establishing an International Center for American Studies to strengthen teaching and understanding worldwide about America. The University also will launch a new interdisciplinary major in American Studies next fall. The undergraduate major will offer a broader range of courses than any other U.Va. program.

With growing interest at home and abroad in American issues -- an interest intensified after last fall’s terrorist attacks -- the center will aim to make U.Va. a main exchange point for research, discussions and teaching about America, said William B. Quandt, Vice Provost for International Affairs. Both the international center and the new interdisciplinary major will be directed by Stephen Cushman, the Robert C. Taylor Professor of American Literature and a noted scholar and writer.

To begin to develop connections among American Studies teachers throughout the world, the center will bring a group of leading foreign scholars to U.Va. in May to discuss plans and possibilities for the effort. Countries represented include China, Turkey, Israel, Mexico, England, France, Italy and Germany.

With U.Va.’s close association with Jefferson and other American founders, its renowned library holdings of rare American texts and documents, its highly rated faculty, its proximity to Washington, D.C., and its leadership in using new technologies to make its resources widely available, "we have the potential to become the central place for international scholars to look to for American Studies," Cushman said.

The center, established by U.Va.’s Vice Provost for International Affairs office, will encourage the work of foreign scholars in their home countries as well as that of American scholars teaching abroad. "We also want to deepen our own awareness of the many ways in which the United States is perceived and understood by people beyond its own borders," Cushman said. "It is important that we ask, ‘What do we look like to you?’"

Among many possibilities for the American Studies center would be traveling fellowships for foreign scholars to use the library and to lecture here, international conferences, more faculty and student exchange programs and new scholarships for foreign graduate students studying American topics.

The new American Studies concentration within the University’s interdisciplinary major, approved March 27 by the Faculty of Arts & Sciences to start next fall, will have as one goal "to teach students to think of the United States as a country held together in argumentation and discussion about different stories of nationhood," Cushman said. "We will encourage a comparative perspective of these national narratives as they have emerged over the last five centuries."

More than 180 courses on American themes will be offered initially from 17 departments: Afro-American and African Studies, Anthropology, Architectural History, Art History, Economics, English, Environmental Sciences, Drama, Politics, History, Music, Philosophy, Psychology, Religion, Sociology, Studies in Women and Gender, and Technology, Culture and Communication.

The program will accept 15 students a year at first and aim to eventually have 60 in the major, "without sacrificing the benefits of a small learning community," said Cushman. "It will be an ideal major for students interested in America and a wonderful double-major, complementing much of the work in individual disciplines."

U.Va. has offered an American Studies concentration for English and history majors since 1975. Arts & Sciences Dean Edward L. Ayers said the new major will build on the success and popularity of that program, which has been directed by English professor Alan Howard.

Howard will continue to direct the popular M.A. program in American Studies. The M.A. program, with its emphasis on electronic scholarship, has helped make U.Va. a leader in integrating new technologies into the humanities and in establishing a global reach through the Internet for the vast resources in the University Library. Howard will go to China later this year to give a presentation on electronic scholarship.

"The absence of a full American Studies major has been glaring at an institution so closely associated with many aspects of American society, politics, government, history, literature and the arts," Ayers said.

The new major, planned by an advisory committee of faculty from numerous departments, will require 30 credit-hours and 10 courses in an individually designed program of study. One of its goals will be for each student to demonstrate an ability to transcend disciplinary boundaries. "Although we affirm the necessity and integrity of individual disciplines, we want our American Studies students to understand the assumptions and methods of several of them," Cushman said.

Since Sept. 11 both the international center and new major "seem to me more urgent than ever," he said. An aim of both will be "seeking a realistic and informed understanding of America and of the effects we have around the world."

Contacts: Ken Kipps, (434) 243-8960 or Bob Brickhouse, (434) 924-6856

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Contact the Office of University Relations at (434) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (434) 924-7550.

SOURCE: U.Va. News Services

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