With the ASA’s announcement on December 16, 2014, of boycotting Israeli universities, the struggle for academic freedom now turns to getting the ASA to rescind its resolution and restoring the good name of American Studies globally. Toward this end, the former winners of the Mary Turpie Prize for teaching, advising, and program development, including myself, have issued a collective letter formally requesting reconsideration of the resolution. See http://goo.gl/Elb7bb.

Statement in Response to ASA Council Endorsement of Boycott

As a non-voting member of the National Council and editor of the Association’s Encyclopedia of American Studies, I can make this statement. I do not represent or lead any opposition organization, but am disturbed, as someone deeply involved in American Studies for the last 35 years, by the ethical stance represented by the statement issued by the ASA on boycott and its ramifications for American Studies and academic scholarship generally (http://www.theasa.net/from_the_editors/item/council_statement_on_the_academic_boycott_of_israel_resolution/).

The ASA’s National Council has chosen to endorse a resolution for a pernicious boycott that undermines the principles of intellectual freedom and free inquiry. Despite vigorous opposition from prominent members of the ASA, including eight previous presidents of the association, the Council has issued guidelines for discriminatory “symbolic and material action” based upon misstatements and distortions of a complex situation. My hope is that the membership will vote to not endorse this action, although the rhetoric of the correspondence to the membership clearly is slanted toward the Council’s desired outcome.  The news of misguided censoring action by a supposedly learned society serves as a wake-up call to the American academic community and public. No academic association should enact policies that in the words of the ASA’s resolution on intellectual freedom promotes “acts of censorship that endanger intellectual freedom…,” including “laboratories where students and teachers are free from suspicion because of their ethnic affiliations; and to campuses open to the widest range of opinions.” Further, the ASA states that it is committed to “the strengthening of relations among persons and institutions in this country and abroad.” The Council’s endorsement is clearly a move toward the weakening of those relations and to the integrity of American Studies as a scholarly pursuit. In contrast to the Council’s statement, the public repeatedly has rejected “blacklisting” and the exclusion of institutions, people, and points of view as destructive to finding the path to peace and reconciliation. Impeding dialogue and free inquiry,  making a mockery of democratic process, and issuing one-sided attacks based on falsehoods should shame proponents of this resolution and the American Studies Association. I call upon the members of the American Studies Association to not endorse it and upon the global academic community to condemn this action.

My View of Anti-Israel Boycotts

As Americanists — scholars of American studies — we are deeply committed to the values of academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas. We are troubled by what we understand to be the attempt of a vocal minority amongst the ASA’s membership to force the entire association to enact a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. The “Proposed Resolution on Academic Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions” sponsored by the ASA Caucus on Academic and Community Activism does not further, but rather harms, the general interests of an association dedicated to interdisciplinary explorations of American culture. If upheld, it would set a dangerous precedent by sponsoring an inequitable and discriminatory policy that would punish one nation’s universities and scholars and restrict the free conduct of ASA members to engage with colleagues in Israel.

Collectively, we, the undersigned, represent a wide range of views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and how it should be resolved. While we can and should vigorously discuss these differences, there is one issue on which we all agree: We oppose all academic boycotts, including the idea of an association-imposed boycott against Israeli academic institutions. A fundamental principle of academia is academic freedom; the belief that scholars must be free to pursue ideas without being targeted for repression, discipline, or institutional censorship. The adoption of an academic boycott against Israel and Israelis would do violence to this bedrock principle. Scholars would be punished not because of what they believe – which would be bad enough – but simply because of who they are based on their nationality. In no other context does the ASA discriminate on the basis of national origin – and for good reason. This is discrimination pure and simple. Worse, it is also discrimination that inevitably diminishes the pursuit of knowledge, by discarding knowledge simply because it is produced by a certain group of people.

The notion of an academic boycott has been raised by ASA members in the past and was rejected by the ASA’s Committee on Programs and Centers for this very reason. The ASA should not set policies that would impose on or restrict academic rights to research, and collaborate with colleagues as members see fit.

In 2005, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) issued a strong statement expressing opposition to academic boycotts. AAUP maintained neutrality in a complex and multilayered conflict by neither supporting nor opposing the policies of the Israeli government or the Palestinian Authority. In May 2013, AAUP released a Statement on Academic Boycotts saying, “In view of the association’s longstanding commitment to the free exchange of ideas, we oppose academic boycotts. On the same grounds, we recommend that other academic associations oppose academic boycotts. We urge that they seek alternative means, less inimical to the principle of academic freedom, to pursue their concerns.”

Academic boycotts are not only anathema to academic freedom, but they undercut the important role of academics as thought leaders in both critiquing and evaluating government policies. Similarly, the proposed boycott resolution unjustly holds Israeli academics responsible for policies put in place by the Israeli government. Israeli professors – just like professors in the U.S. or elsewhere — are politically independent and enjoy the right to express opposition to their government and any of its policies. If an academic boycott were imposed, it would collectively punish every Israeli (Muslim, Christian, Druze, Jewish and Atheist) regardless of their political views including those Israeli academics who are instrumental thought leaders in the movement for a just peace. In 2006, Sari Nusseibeh, President of Al Quds University, the Arab university in Jerusalem, publicly condemned academic boycotts, telling The Associated Press, “If we are to look at Israeli society, it is within the academic community that we’ve had the most progressive pro-peace views and views that have come out in favor of seeing us as equals. If you want to punish any sector, this is the last one to approach.”

Healthy, constructive debate on the Middle East and other complex topics is most welcome within our association and the academy. We believe the ASA should permit its members to address these issues freely, including between ASA members and Israeli colleagues. Squelching dialogue and cultural exchange through a boycott is not a constructive way to advance political concerns.

Peace for both Israelis and Palestinians depends on both parties working together towards a negotiated, mutually agreeable solution. In contrast, an academic boycott is divisive and undermines this objective. We must instead encourage constructive efforts to bring Israeli and Palestinian academics together on joint projects, including those that foster reconciliation and promote understanding and trust–all critical factors that will enable Israelis and Palestinians to coexist in peace and security. The call for an academic boycott of Israel is a destructive attempt to not only silence, but also punish those involved in this important and potentially transformative academic work.

Since its founding, the objective of the ASA has been to promote “the study of American culture through the encouragement of research, teaching, publication, the strengthening of relations among persons and institutions in this country and abroad devoted to such studies.” We urge the ASA to uphold these values by rejecting an academic boycott on a single group of people.

For more research-based facts on the BDS resolution of the activism caucus, see http://www.personal.psu.edu/sjb2/ASAresolutionfactsheet.pdf



If you agree with the opinion above express your view  with a letter to John Stephens, executive director of the ASA, at john.stephens@theasa.net or sign the change.org petition at http://www.change.org/petitions/to-national-council-of-the-american-studies-association.


Seminar: Looking for a Modern Hercules: The Strongman Figure in American and Global Culture
Date: 30 October 2013 

SMLC Seminar

Looking for a Modern Hercules: The Strongman Figure in American and Global Culture

Dr. Simon J. Bronner

Wednesday, October 30, 2013
4:30 to 6:00 pm
Room 4.36, Run Run Shaw Tower, Centennial Campus HKU

The strongman has been a popular culture icon in America since the late nineteenth century when circus and theater performances of feats of strength captured the public imagination. The modern Hercules or Samsons as they were called responded to a crisis of masculinity brought on by fears of industrialism’s consequences. During the twentieth century, health and fitness crazes, sparked by more mythological references such as Charles Atlas who preached a gospel of strength, took hold in America. After the 1970s, in the wake of the women’s movement and Cold War, American media sponsored strongman contests, often with international contestants from Russia, intended to showcase American bodily, and political, power. Against this historical background, twenty-first century contests have globalized further with Asian participants, still poised against American standards of strength. In 2013, for example, the World’s Strongest Man contest was held for the first time in Sanya, China. In this presentation, I analyze the meanings of these contests as symbolic texts in relation to what is perceived in a new crisis of masculinity as a feminized, enervating world.

Prof. Bronner is the founding director of Penn State Harrisburg’s American Studies Doctoral Program and distinguished professor of American studies and folklore. He became editor of the Encyclopedia of American Studies in 2011 and has edited the journals Material Culture and Folklore Historian. He is an award winning teacher and researcher and the author of many books, including Campus Traditions: Folklore from the Old-Time College to the Modern Mega-University (2012), Explaining Traditions: Folk Behavior in Modern Culture (2011), and Killing Tradition: Inside Hunting and Animal Rights Controversies (2008).

Poster: http://www.amstudy.hku.hk/news/images/20131030.pdf






Penn State Harrisburg, School of Humanities, invites applications for a tenure track position as Assistant or Associate Professor of American Studies and Ethnic/Gender Studies.  The American Studies program offers the BA, MA and PhD and has an active public outreach component.  The successful candidate will have credentials in ethnicity, gender, race and sexuality.  Teaching assignments may include graduate seminars in Race and Ethnicity, Gender and Culture, Problems in American Studies and American Studies Theory and Method, and undergraduate courses in Ethnic America, African-American Experience, Women in American Society, American Masculinities, American Themes and Eras, and Introduction to American Studies.  Candidates should have college teaching experience, a promising research and publication agenda in American Studies, and a commitment to university service and outreach.  Experience with graduate instruction and advising in an American Studies program is desirable.  Ph.D. in American Studies preferred.  Degree must be in hand by the appointment date.  Please visit our website at http://www.hbg.psu.edu/hum/amst.


The review of applications will begin on October 14, 2013 and continue until the position is filled.  To be considered, please submit a cover letter explaining experience and match with this position, three letters of reference, evidence of teaching effectiveness (e.g. syllabi, course evaluations, peer observations), and a curriculum vitae to: American Studies Search Committee, c/o Mrs. Dorothy Guy, Director of Human Resources, Penn State Harrisburg, Box YAHOO-40338, 777 West Harrisburg Pike, Middletown, PA  17057-4898 or via email at

HBG-HR@LISTS.PSU.EDU.  Employment will require successful completion of background check(s) in accordance with University policies.  Penn State is committed to affirmative action, equal opportunity, and the diversity of its workforce.

AMSTD Doctoral Candidate releases book on regional folklore

David J. Puglia

Congratulations to David J. Puglia, doctoral candidate in American Studies at Penn State Harrisburg (and my advisee) on the publication of South Central Pennsylvania Legends and Lore with History Press.  The book offers a full history of the region, from the folkways of the Pennsylvania Dutch to the rocky relations between German and English settlers and local tribes. Puglia’s work reveals lore while exploring regional legends like that of the wizard of Cumberland County, the headless ghost that roams the back roads of Schuylkill County, the powwow practitioners of York County, and the Hummelstown hermit lingering in Indian Echo Caverns.

Puglia has worked with the Western Kentucky Folklife Archives, the National Park Service, and the Archives of Pennsylvania Folklife and Ethnography. His research interests include American legend and rumor and folklife ethnography.

Bronner Receives Graduate Teaching Award

Graduate Dean Peter Idowu with Awardee Professor Simon Bronner

Dr. Simon Bronner (right) and Dr. Peter Idowu, assistant dean for graduate studies (left), at the NAGS award ceremony

Dr. Simon Bronner, Distinguished Professor of American Studies and Folklore at Penn State Harrisburg, received the Northeastern Association of Graduate Schools (NAGS) Graduate Faculty Teaching Award, “designed to identify excellence and creativity in curriculum development and implementation and graduate education at the master’s and doctoral levels,”  at the organization’s annual meeting, April 12 in New Brunswick, NJ.

 Dr. Bronner’s award is for doctoral level teaching. He has previously been honored for his teaching and program development with the Mary Turpie Prize from the American Studies Association, and the Penn State Harrisburg Provost’s Teaching Award and James Jordan Award for Teaching Excellence.

Chair of the American studies program, Bronner is director of the doctoral program in American studies and and graduate certificate in heritage and museum practice. He teaches a wide range of classes at the graduate and undergraduate levels on topics including: American studies theory and method, popular culture and folklife, culture and aging, Jewish studies, public heritage, and consumer culture.

Bronner, of Harrisburg, is the author or editor of more than 30 books on folklore, the formation of American history and culture, and Jewish studies. He has been invited to speak on his research and to consult other American studies programs across the United States and abroad.

NAGS is one of four regional affiliates of the Council of Graduate Schools. Founded in 1975, it draws membership from eleven states, the District of Columbia, and the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, and Quebec.