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Call for Papers
We hold these truths to be self-evident: Post-Truth & American Myths

A BAAS/CHASE Postgraduate Conference
Hosted by the Department of Literature, Film, and Theatre StudiesUniversity of Essex
25-26 November 2017

Falsehood flies, and the Truth comes limping after it”- Jonathan Swift
When we approach the concept of truth, we are confronted with a minefield of epistemological concerns: objectivity, accuracy, reality, myth, deception, untruth and, more recently, post-truth. The term ‘post-truth’ has been ubiquitous in discussions of the United States since Donald Trump rose to prominence as a Republican presidential candidate in 2015. It is said that we are now living in a ‘post-truth era’, in which public opinion is shaped by what we feel to be true, rather than what we know to be. In a post-truth world, then, it is not that truth no longer exists, but that it is no longer relevant. Thinkers, writers, historians, artists, and journalists have been, and continue to be, fascinated by the possibility of a paradigm shift in how the opinions of the American public are formed – a crisis or a moment of rupture which would validate the exceptional nature of the present historical moment.

Post-truth has muddied the waters of perception and deception, creating a climate in which ‘objective truth’ cannot compete with the seductive power of ‘subjective truth’. As a much-needed critical distance becomes possible, it is important to contextualise the notion ‘post-truth’ and to assess its influence on the stories told by and about ‘America’. In many ways, the zeitgeist of ‘post-truth’ does not feel entirely unfamiliar. Narratives and myths have always been at the centre of American nationhood and identity, providing the bedrock of its history, culture and institutions. They have also proved a useful tool with which to justify, anaesthetise, and even obscure traumatic truths about its past, from the massacre of native populations to the invasion of Iraq under the false pretence of WMDs.

This year’s BAAS/CHASE Postgraduate Conference will explore how myths are created, recycled and sustained within a radically changing world order, and question what truths remain ‘self-evident’ in modern America. Does ‘post-truth’ refer to a contemporary phenomenon, one which only came into its own in the twenty-first century? Or is it more appropriate to think of ‘post-truth’ as a label for a historical trend inspired by the self-reflexive nature(s) of the United States as a (heterogeneous) nation or, rather, in the faith and emotion behind the ‘American experiment’? Have the many ‘Americas’ both within and beyond the borders of the US imagined their own myths and expressed their belief in different ‘truths’?

Proposals for papers (20min) or fully-formed panels (1h30min) from all fields related to American Studies are invited to address cultural, historical, sociological, and associated ideas of post-truth and American myths involving, but by no means restricted to, the following areas:

  • American mythologies and historical narratives (from Colonial America to 9/11 and beyond);
  • Myths from within and without minority communities;
  • Changing notions of truth in US politics;
  • Presidents and political rhetoric;
  • ‘Old’ American myths (both US and the Americas) and emerging myths in US societies;
  • Discourses and representations of the Self and the Other;
  • Empiricism in US thought;
  • History of science in North America;
  • The politics of knowledge production;
  • Donald E. Pease’s work on American ‘state fantasies’;
  • Master narratives in mainstream and alternative media;
  • Literature, empathy, and post-truth;
  • Literary and non-literary fictions;
  • Fact/’Reality’ versus fiction; history versus mythology;
  • Americas: centres and margins;
  • Reimagining the borders of the US: myths emerging out of exile;
  • The power of a ‘better story’ to counteract divisive discourses;
  • Modes of resistance against ‘post-truth’ revisionism;
  • Times and spaces carved out by belief and emotion.

BAAS is dedicated to fostering a culture of diversity and inclusion. We strongly encourage and will give preference to panels that reflect the diversity of our field in terms of gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and institutional affiliation. All-male panel proposals will not be accepted.

Please submit abstracts of no more than 250 words (including a title) along with a 100-word academic bio to Jessica Houlihan and Maria-Irina Popescu at post.truth.america2017@gmail.com by 21st August 2017.
Panel proposals should include a 250-word abstract for each constituent paper as well as an abstract of no more than 250 words describing the panel session in its entirety. Please direct any inquiries to post.truth.america2017@gmail.com.