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21-22 May 2016

Fulbright Conference:
Imperial Benevolence: U.S. Foreign Policy in American Popular Culture Since 9/11

* Fulbright Conference 2016 Website

Dates: May 21-22, 2016
Venue: The University of Hong Kong

click to see poster

“We don’t seek empires. We’re not imperialistic. We never have been. I can’t imagine why you’d even ask the question.” So snapped Donald Rumsfeld at a reporter for Al Jazeera in 2003, just weeks after the George W. Bush administration launched its invasion of Iraq. While most historians speak without hesitation about the United States as an imperial power, much of the American public, like the former secretary of defense, maintains otherwise.

Imperialism is a bad word in the American political lexicon – it’s something they do, not us. Millions of Americans prefer to see their government’s actions abroad as selfless, benevolent, even divinely inspired. This exceptionalist mentality has deep roots, from the humanitarian objectives ascribed to eighteenth- and nineteenth-century continental expansion to the more recent characterizations of the United States as a global policeman tasked with upholding international norms and laws.

This conference will examine the ways that American popular culture since September 11, 2001, has broadly presented the United States as a global force for good, a reluctant hegemon working to defend human rights and protect or expand democracy across the planet from the barbarians determined to destroy it. While there have been notable exceptions, much of popular culture since 9/11 has assumed American innocence. The United States may occasionally appear a bungler, and there can be rogue elements that attempt to undermine the government’s official policies, but the basic goodness that drives American foreign relations – its diplomacy, its military interventions, its peopleto-people encounters – rarely gets challenged.

From Latin America and Asia to the Middle East and beyond, how has American popular culture since 2001 elided American imperialism? How has it worked to present the United States as humanity’s greatest hope? We invite papers that illuminate these questions.

Small, intimate, and with the goal of producing an edited volume to be published by Hong Kong University Press, “Imperial Benevolence” will feel more like a colloquium than a traditional conference. Papers will be pre-circulated, with presenters summarizing their work at the conference, and each paper will be the subject of an individual session.
The sessions will be held over two days, with opportunities to socialize and experience the cultural richness and vibrancy of Hong Kong.

For presenters coming from abroad, accommodations will be made available at Robert Black College, the university’s on-campus guesthouse. Lunch will be provided by the conference both days, and there will be a gratis dinner on Saturday.

Because an objective of the conference is to develop essays for an edited collection, all work presented at the conference must be new, original, and not previously committed or published.

The deadline for proposals is February 1, 2016. Proposals, together with a CV, should be sent to Scott Laderman (laderman@d.umn.edu) and Tim Gruenewald (tgruene@hku.hk). Applicants will be notified by February 29 about whether their proposal has been accepted.

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