INTRODUCTION
‘‘Whatever it is, I’m against it.’’ Horsefeathers
First, shopper, what this book is not. It is not
a survey of the field called ‘‘American studies,’’ though it contains
information based on much observation of what American studies
programs do, at home and overseas. It is not a chronicle of Ameri-
can studies, though I do occasionally pass myself o√ as a historian
of moments in what some still call the American studies movement. It
is not a set of examples that exhaust the assorted tactics American
studies scholars use to examine the equally varied things we study—
books, movies, paintings, posters, politics, circuses, classroom prac-
tices, catalogs, whaling ships, laws, and ri√s. It is not, despite my
best intentions, a political tract, though I hope on occasion that it
speaks to or rather against the drift to unadorned greed and superficial
moralism that mark this time, Bu√ett to Gingrich to Starr. It is not a
memoir, though somewhat to my surprise, one of its first readers
pointed to how many of the essays depart from and try to interpret
personal experiences. If I’ve now painted myself into a negative cor-
ner, I need to strike a more positive note about what I’m trying to do in
this book.
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