Local Organizer: Prof. Dr. Ruth Mayer
“Modernities and Modernization in North America“
Modernity is a quality that has been associated persistently with the United States, and that became a staple piece of US self-conceptualization. This long-standing ascription and (self-)stylization has been facilitated by the fact that modernity as a concept is highly negotiable; what is considered modern needs to be mapped out against the horizon of what is ancient—while the ancient is assessed on the grounds of what is considered modern. Debates around modernity and modernization stretch from the so-called age of exploration to our present moment. The relevance of concepts of modernity for North America thus manifests well before the founding of the United States: The very processes of settlement and colonization situate themselves, after all, in the context of the early modern period, and fashion themselves as negotiations of the ‘old’ and the ‘new.’ At the turn of the 20th century, such negotiations reached a tipping point when fundamental categories and concepts of spatial, temporal, and moral orientation came to be challenged and redefined.
The conference invites reflections on the technical and scientific implications of modernity and modernization, and on the forcefields of technology, ecology, and economy in the unfolding of Early America and the United States. The processes of industrialization, mediatization, commercialization, and of progressive political projects in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries will constitute important points of contention. Obviously, the idea of the ‘modern’ is tightly interlinked with the more specific idea of the ‘modernist’ in literature, the visual arts, theatre, film, and other areas of cultural expression. But the artistic and cultural engagements with modernity go well beyond the period of modernism, stretching from the colonial period to the present time and signaling across the borders of the North American continent. The conference also plans to address recent political debates on modernity and anti-modernity in their implication on negotiation of rights, belonging, and citizenship.