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Center for North American Studies


Objectives and Organization

The Center for North American Studies (ZENAF) is an interdisciplinary research institute at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe-University in Frankfurt bringing together scholars and students from the social sciences and humanities. Founded in 1979, it is the second largest research center of its kind at a German university. The Center’s main purpose is to combine the university’s various departmental resources directed at the study of North American topics, and thus to maintain and further stimulate interest in North American Studies both in Frankfurt and Germany at large. Research and teaching activities at the ZENAF focus on contemporary as well as historical developments in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Of primary concern are political, economic, social, and cultural changes and their relevance in and for an international framework.


Members of the Center for North American Studies are professors, junior faculty, and graduate students. The Center is supervised by a board of directors consisting of representatives from the departments associated with the Center. At present, the following disciplines are represented: law, sociology, political science, English and American studies, Romance studies, and geography. Research projects are financed by the German Research Foundation and the State of Hesse, as well as by other third-party funds. The Center's infrastructure and library are designed to support and facilitate projects. The ZENAF publishes a preprint series of work in progress, the ZENAF Arbeits- und Forschungsberichte (ZAF), and – in cooperation with the John F. Kennedy Institute  at the Free University Berlin and the Institute for English and American Studies at the Humboldt University (Berlin) – the book series Nordamerikastudien at Campus publishers (Frankfurt/New York).


Research Agenda

The ZENAF is first and foremost a research institution. Currently, the overall thematic focus is on “Transatlantic Learning Processes: different developments, shared values, interlinked discourses”. In this context, participating scholars analyze the different ways and methods of communication and interaction, the transfer of information, human beings and their “cultural baggage” as well as the network between elites, social groups and societies on both sides of the Atlantic.

Current research activities focus upon two major fields of interest:


1.     The rise and fall of American Exceptionalism: development patterns, reactions, convergences

-        Social disparities and cultural diversity

-        Democracy, the intervention state and populist politics: convergences, divergences, learning processes

-        Society, politics and culture in the context of globalization and  regionalization


2.     The logic of cultural transformation processes

-        Migration, communication and cultural transfer within a transatlantic space

-        European roots of American culture

-        The development of science within transatlantic communication


In this specific context, research projects include

-        Charter Schools and socio-spatial transformation processes

-        Hybridisation, territorialisation, latinisation

-        Communication processes of artistic avant-gardes

-        Reception of the ancient world in American arts and literature

-        Jewish and Irish Immigrants in the cultural iconography of the U.S.

-        Migration and multilingualism

-        Transatlantic law/justice regimes

-        The dialog of law/justice cultures in movies and TV

-        Cultural history of German-American relations

-        Inequality and polarization

-        European origins of American religion and philosophy

-        Genesis and development of American social sciences

-        The development of science and the nation-state

-        From the Cold War to the War on Terror: American hegemony and world order politics

-        Globalization and the modern tax and welfare state

-        Gender and the early American novel (Part I: 1774-1820; Part II: 1820-1830)

-        Citizenship, nationalism and multiculturalism in North America and Europe

-        Political intermediation and democratic legitimacy

-        Populism and democracy in the information society/community

-        Trajectories of Western modernization around the Atlantic: one world or many?

-        Globalisation and its opponents

-        Modernizing the welfare state. The U.S. in a comparative perspective

-        Expansion and crisis of the U.S. welfare state: health care reform policies since the 1970s

-    Migration, Parteibildung und kommunale Politik in Chicago und Wien, 1850-1938


Teaching Agenda

The Center’s teaching agenda primarily targets students of the departments affiliated with the ZENAF; however, its courses and lectures are open to all interested students and faculty as well as to the general public. The interdisciplinary study guide (“North American Studies Program”) is issued every semester and contains detailed information about the North American studies classes offered in the various university departments. The reference library focuses on North American history, sociology, political science, and cultural theory; it is open to students and community members alike.

The Center puts a strong emphasis on the immersion in the cultural and political context that is the focus of study as well as on practical experience. Therefore, as part of their education students are encouraged to study at least one semester at a North American university; accordingly, the ZENAF provides students with information and support in close cooperation with the university’s International Office. Also, in order to complement their academic training, students can apply for funding for internships in a North American non-profit organisation. Twice a year, the ZENAF selects candidates eligible for these funds provided by the German Academic Exchange Service.

From the beginning, the ZENAF has built its activities on close cooperation with non-academic institutions. Accordingly, the organization of and particpation in workshops for further education outside the university has been an important aspect of the Center’s agenda. It has initiated a Summer School on the “Foundation of American Politics” which was initially supported by the Volkswagen Stiftung and the German Marshall Fund of the United States and is currently put on in cooperation with the “Atlantische Akademie Rheinland-Pfalz”. The ZENAF also organizes seminars for highschool teachers and educators in cooperation with the “Hessische Landeszentrale für politische Bildung”, for instance on demographical changes in the US, on the political system in Canada, or on the Civil Rights movement.


Cooperations and Conferences

The ZENAF regularly organizes interdisciplinary conferences, workshops, lectures, and seminars involving scholars, journalists and politicians from North America and Europe,  often in cooperation with the U.S. Embassy, or other university departments. Past events have focused on: problems of political culture; ethnic minorities and multiculturalism; social and cultural theories; the revision of America’s history of literature; recent development tendencies of federalism and the welfare state. For a number of years the ZENAF has organized the annual meeting of political scientists in the German Association for American Studies, an organization in which the Center is an institutional member. From 1998 to 2004, the Center together with the American Studies department cosponsored the annual East-West Conference, a conference series financed by the Volkswagen Stiftung bringing together scholars and graduate students from Frankfurt and Eastern Europe. Further cooperation between the ZENAF and other institutions include besides regularly hosting visiting scholars from North America the newly established European Visiting Fellowship program.


Fulbright Distinguished Chair in American Studies at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe-University

The Fulbright Distinguished Chair in American Studies, a highly prestigious chair established in 1996 by the German-American Fulbright Commission, has been granted to Frankfurt University for the time period of 2004 to 2009. In the context of this program, Prof. William F. Fox (University of Tennessee) and Prof. John L. King (University of Michigan) taught at the Faculty of Economics and Business Administration during the academic year 2004/05. For the year 2005/06 and for the summer semester 2007 respectively, the university welcomed Prof. Hoyt N. Wheeler from the Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, South Carolina, and Prof. Mary Furner from UC Santa Barbara's Department of History. We are currently happy to host Prof. Andrew Arato from the New School for Social Research of the University of Chicago. He is teaching in the Department of Political Science.


last update: Nov 2007