American Studies

New Titles in American Studies

We look forward to celebrating new books and journal issues in American studies at the virtual American Studies Association conference. During our fall sale, save 50% on all books and special issues when you use coupon code FALL21 at checkout. Customers in the UK and Europe can order books with this code from our UK partner, Combined Academic Publishers.

Registered attendees can find us in the official virtual exhibit hall. For highlights of our newest titles in American studies, check out our conference landing page. And browse all books and journals in American studies here.

Since we can’t take pictures of our authors in our exhibit hall booth, we’ve collected an album of their book selfies! Find them on Facebook.

On Tuesday, October 12, join author Kandice Chuh for an roundtable session about her book The Difference Aesthetics Makes, at12:00pm EST, accompanied by Lisa Lowe and Laura Hyun Yi Kang.

Soyica Colbert will be discussing Race and Performance After Repetition on a panel with many of the volume’s contributors, Wedneday, October 13 at 4:00pm EST.

Thursday, October 14 at 10:00am EST, join Xavier Livermon for “Kwaito Bodies: Black (Queer) Creativity in Transnational Context,” on his most recent book.

Tiffany Lethabo King and Savannah Shange will both participate in the Critical Ethnic Studies Committee roundtable on The Black Shoals Wednesday, October 13 at 4:00pm EST, and on the panel “Black Feminist Ecologies/Ethnographies of Experimentation and Revolt in The Black Shoals (2019) and Progressive Dystopia (2019),” Thursday, October 14, 12:00pm EST.

If you were hoping to connect with Courtney Berger, Ken Wissoker, Elizabeth Ault, or one of our other editors about your book project at the American Studies Association conference, please reach out to them by email. See our editors’ specialties and contact information here and our online submissions guidelines and submission portal here.

Priscilla Wald on the Outbreak Narrative

The news that the first case of ebola in the United States has been diagnosed has the media in a frenzy and some people in Dallas panicking: taking their children out of school, calling for border closures and general quarantines. Priscilla Wald, Professor of English and Women’s Studies at Duke University, is not surprised by the reaction, which follows a narrative very similar to past epidemics, and she counsels in this Canada.com story that it is important to try to quell people’s fears. In light of the epidemic, and the predictable reactions to it, we offer an excerpt from Wald’s 2008 book Contagious: Cultures, Carriers, and the Outbreak Narrative in which she explains her concept of “the outbreak narrative.”

978-0-8223-4153-6_prContagion is more than an epidemiological fact. It is also a foundational concept in the study of religion and of society, with a long history of explaining how beliefs circulate in social interactions. The concept of contagion evolved throughout the twentieth century through the commingling of theories about microbes and attitudes about social change. Communicable disease compels attention—for scientists and the lay public alike—not only because of the devastation it can cause but also because the circulation of microbes materializes the transmission of ideas. The interactions that make us sick also constitute us as a community. Disease emergence dramatizes the dilemma that inspires the most basic human narratives: the necessity and danger of human contact.

The outbreak narrative—in its scientific, journalistic, and fictional incarnations—follows a formulaic plot that begins with the identification of an emerging infection, includes discussion of the global networks throughout which it travels, and chronicles the epidemiological work that ends with its containment. As epidemiologists trace the routes of the microbes, they catalog the spaces and interactions of global modernity. Microbes, spaces, and interactions blend together as they animate the landscape and motivate the plot of the outbreak narrative: a contradictory but compelling story of the perils of human interdependence and the triumph of human connection and cooperation, scientific authority and the evolutionary advantages of the microbe, ecological balance and impending disaster.

The conventions of the paradigmatic story about newly emerging infections have evolved out of earlier accounts of epidemiological efforts to address widespread threats of communicable disease. While I use “the outbreak narrative” to refer to that paradigmatic story, which followed the identification of HIV, I use “outbreak narratives” broadly to designate those epidemiological stories. I return to the early years of bacteriology and public health in the United States to trace the impact of the discovery of the microbe on attitudes toward social interactions and collective identity that characterize the outbreak narrative of disease emergence.

Outbreak narratives and the outbreak narrative have consequences. As they disseminate information, they affect survival rates and contagion routes. They promote or mitigate the stigmatizing of individuals, groups, populations, locales (regional and global), behaviors, and lifestyles, and they change economies. They also influence how both scientists and the lay public understand the nature and consequences of infection, how they imagine the threat, and why they react so fearfully to some disease outbreaks and not others at least as dangerous and pressing. It is therefore important to understand the appeal and persistence of the outbreak narrative and to consider how it shapes accounts of disease emergence across genres and media.

Read the entire introduction here.

Copyright Duke University Press, 2008.