Dr. Benita Heiskanen's Introduction of Dr. William Kaufman

Dr. Benita Heiskanen, Introduction of Dr. William Kaufman

    As we know from our U.S. history classes, the 1930s was a turbulent decade, marked by socioeconomic upheavals, political tensions, and cultural conflicts. At the same time, as Warren Susman has pointed out, the 1930s was a time when such notions as the “American Way of Life” and the “American Dream” came into common use. The 1930s also happens to be the era that saw the institutionalization of American Studies in the United States. Vernon Louis Parrington, often cited as the “Intellectual Founder” of American Studies, published his Main Currents in American Culture in 1927; the first course on “American Thought and Civilization” was taught at Yale in 1931; and the first Ph.D. granting program was launched at Harvard in 1936.

    The early development of American Studies was prompted by dissatisfaction with academic formalism and rigid disciplinary boundaries. Indeed, as an interdisciplinary field of study—rather than a discipline—American Studies provided a model to seek new ways to formulate questions and answers related to the United States, past and present. Throughout its existence, American Studies has taken popular culture seriously as an important site in making sense of everyday life, politics, and social power relations. Perhaps never more so than in the 1930s did popular folk culture assume such a central role in reflecting societal concerns in the United States.

    This afternoon, Professor Will Kaufman will take us back in time to the 1930s through his live documentary on the life and career of Woody Guthrie, the folk-singer and champion of human rights, who turned his experiences of the Dust Bowl and Depression into popular culture and music. 

    Dr. Kaufman is Professor of American Literature and Culture at the University of Central Lancashire. His books include American Culture in the 1970s (published by Edinburgh University Press in 2009); The Civil War in American Culture (also by Edinburgh University Press in 2006); and The Comedian as Confidence Man (published by Wayne State University Press in 1997). In 2008, he was awarded the Woody Guthrie Research Fellowship from the Broadcast Music Industry Foundation and the Woody Guthrie Foundation, which enabled him to write the first political biography of Guthrie, Woody Guthrie, American Radical (published by the University of Illinois Press in 2011).

    Alongside his academic career, Will Kaufman is known as a professional singer and multi-instrumentalist. He has given musical presentations at such major events as the Glastonbury Festival, the Bath International Music Festival, the Chester Literature Festival, and the Piacenza Literature and Blues Festival in Italy. He has also performed at countless European and American universities, trades clubs, folk clubs, and union halls.

    We are thrilled to have Dr. Kaufman here with us for the Inauguration of the John Morton Center for North American Studies at the University of Turku to perform the live documentary “WOODY GUTHRIE: HARD TIMES AND HARD TRAVELIN’.”