"The Radical Roots of American Studies": Presidential Address to the ASA, 11/9/95

By Elaine Tyler May

American Studies needs to loosen its canon and consider for inclusion works of public intellectuals of the 30s and 40s (like Du Bois and C.L.R. James) who were 'doing' American Studies even as they worked outside the 'academy'. As interdisciplinary scholars, we can not only transcend the borders of specialized fields of study but also the jargon of sound bites and paranoia that passes for political debate. Americans still don't know who they are (the polls show...) and thus cannot make informed policy decisions. As such, we are called not only to educate but to elicit as broad a discussion as possible. One solution that our forbears espoused, and to which we must be devoted, was to forge alliances across class, ethnic, gender and racial lines. We might now add 'academic' to the list.