After the American Century

After the American Century: The Ends of U.S. Culture in the Middle East

Columbia University Press, 2015; paperback, 2017. 268 pages.

When Henry Luce announced in 1941 that we were living in the "American century," he believed that the international popularity of American culture made the world favorable to U.S. interests.

But in the digital age, the American century has been superseded. American popular cultural products and phenomena, such as comic books, teen romances, social-networking sites and ways of expressing sexuality, have begun to move into and across new global publics. Stripped of their associations with the United States and recast in very different forms, American culture is being radically transformed along the way.

Drawing on a decade of fieldwork in Cairo, Casablanca, and Tehran, After the American Century maps new routes of cultural exchange that are innovative, accelerated, and full of diversions. Shaped by the digital revolution, these paths are entwined with the growing fragility of American "soft" power and indicate an era after the American century.

Arguing against those who talk about a world in which American culture is merely replicated or appropriated, Edwards focuses on creative moments of uptake, in which Arabs and Iranians make something unexpected. He argues that these products do more than extend the reach of the original: they reflect a world in which culture endlessly circulates and gathers new meanings.

After the American Century has appealed to and been taken up in a wide range of disciplines both in the US and internationally. It has been reviewed in publications as varied as Foreign Affairs, Post45, CHOICE, the Middle East Journal, American Literature, Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies, the European Journal of American Culture, the Journal of Middle East Women's Studies, the Journal of American History, Al Jadid: A Review and Record of Arab Culture and Arts, and Al Akhbar (in Arabic).

Morocco Bound

Morocco Bound: Disorienting America's Maghreb, from Casablanca to the Marrakech Express

Duke University Press, 2005. 368 pages.

Until attention shifted to the Middle East in the early 1970s, Americans turned most often toward the Maghreb—Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and the Sahara—for their understanding of “the Arab.” Morocco Bound examines American representations of the Maghreb during three pivotal decades: from 1942, when the United States entered the North African campaign of World War II, through 1973. Edwards reveals how American film, literary, historical, journalistic, and anthropological accounts of the region imagined the role of the United States in a world it seemed to dominate at the same time that they displaced domestic social concerns—particularly about race relations—onto an “exotic” North Africa.

The book engages the work of a wide range of figures, including William Burroughs, Jane Bowles, Ernie Pyle, A. J. Liebling, Jane Kramer, Alfred Hitchcock, Clifford Geertz, James Michener, Ornette Coleman, General George S. Patton. He puts American texts in conversation with Moroccan responses. Whether considering Warner Brothers’ marketing of the movie Casablanca in 1942, journalistic representations of Tangier as a city of excess, Paul Bowles’s collaborations with Mohammed Mrabet and Mohamed Choukri, the hippie communities in and around Marrakech in the 1960s and 1970s, or the writings of young American anthropologists working nearby at the same time, Edwards illuminates the circulation of American texts, their relationship to Maghrebi history, and the ways they might be read so as to reimagine the role of American culture in the world.

A foundational contribution to postcolonial American studies, Morocco Bound has been reviewed in publications such as American Quarterly, Comparative Literature, Comparative Literature Studies, Canadian Review of Comparative Literature, Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, the Journal of American History, the International History Review, the Journal of North African Studies, GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, and Tingis: A Moroccan-American Magazine of Ideas and Culture.

Edited Collections

On the Ground

On the Ground: New Directions in Middle East and North African Studies

Edited by Brian T. Edwards

Northwestern University–Qatar, 2014. 111 pages.

In the midst of a period of significant change in the Middle East and North Africa, scholars from multiple academic fields came together at Northwestern University in Qatar to present work in progress on topics relevant to the region and its past, present, and future. Together, according to Edwards’s introduction, the work suggests new directions in the study of the MENA region and the ways an interdisciplinary conversation opens up a more dynamic sense of a complex and varied place.

On the Ground features the work of ten faculty members working at Northwestern’s campuses in Evanston and Doha, Qatar, who were integral to the development of a bold, new academic MENA program. The essays collected in this volume explore questions of political and cultural identity, widening inequalities, and increasing political and economic oppression. But in their fusion of interdisciplinary engagement and transnational approaches, they challenge the received wisdom of the region and the ways in which should be studied, written about and taught.

Globalizing American Studies

Globalizing American Studies

Edited by Brian T. Edwards and Dilip Parameshwar Gaonkar

University of Chicago Press, 2010. 344 pages.

What happens to American studies when the American Century—both the socio-political context within which the field was formed and a particular logic of the circulation of capital, signs, texts, and cultural goods—comes to an end?

Gathering a wide range of scholars working both within and outside the field of American studies and foregrounded by a major statement by Edwards and his collaborator Dilip Parameshwar Gaonkar, Globalizing American Studies advances a new paradigm for analyzing U.S. history as well as its literary and cultural production from outside the traditional frameworks of American exceptionalism. Inherent in the works in this collection is a critique of American Studies itself, as methodology and rubric, and an interrogation of the residue of its cold war origins.

In their extended introductory essay, Edwards and Gaonkar analyze the disciplinary anxieties that ensue when we can no longer sustain the fiction of American exceptionalism. The essays that follow offer comparative, multilingual, and multisited approaches to ideas and representations of America, attesting to the emerging consciousness of America as one among many in a multilateral imaginary. Edwards also contributes an essay he calls "academic rapportage," documenting contemporary manifestations of American studies in Tehran, Cairo and Hyderabad, India, and his own critical engagement with scholars and students in these zones.

Cairo 2010

Cairo 2010: After Kefaya

Edited with a critical introduction by Brian T. Edwards

A Public Space, 2009

In the period leading up to Egypt’s revolution, Cairo’s writers and artists were experimenting with form as they pushed at the contradictions of their society. Their bold new practices were explosive, formally, socially and politically. Researching in Cairo during a heightened moment of tension and creativity—what he calls "literary fieldwork"—Edwards gathered an extensive selection of work from Cairo’s next generation, most of whom appeared in English translation for the first time in this special issue. Edwards recruited authors and translators and gathered fiction, literary non-fiction, interviews and a new comic for this fifty-page feature for the prominent Brooklyn literary journal A Public Space—and translated several of the pieces himself from Arabic. Edwards’s own essay in the collection introduces this group of writers at what would be a key turning point in the history of Egypt and the greater Middle East.

  • A Public Space, issue 9 (Fall 2009), 127–175.
  • Contributors: Muhammad Aladdin, Ahmed Alaidy, Ibrahim El Batout, Mansoura Ez Eldin, Mohammed Al-Fakhrany, Khalid Kassab, Magdy El Shafee and Omar Taher, with new translations by Humphrey Davies, Brian T. Edwards, Paul Starkey and Adam Talib.

Selected Journal Articles

The Way toward the Other

The Way toward the Other: Khatibi, Bowles, Mrabet

PMLA, 137.2 (March 2022)

In 2008, the year before his death, the Moroccan philosopher and writer Abdelkébir Khatibi engaged in a series of public conversations with the American literary theorist Samuel Weber in Rabat. The dialogues were published in 2012, three years after Khatibi's death, by the press of Mohammed V University as Le chemin vers l'autre (The Way toward the Other). They have an extremely limited circulation, even in Morocco. Since this is apparently Khatibi's final book, it seems an apt point of departure for work still to be done.

  • "Hollywood Orientalism and the Maghreb," boundary2 (online), December 13, 2018.
  • Part of a special dossier on the Maghreb on the 30th anniversary of Orientalism, this essay asks whether Edward Said’s relative silence about cinema is related to his neglect of the Maghreb. Edwards proposes that the logics of cinema underlie the particularity of American Orientalism and help expand our understanding of Said’s theory to include U.S. culture and politics during the "American century."

  • "Trump from Reality TV to Twitter, or the Selfie-Determination of Nations," Arizona Quarterly: A Journal of American Literature, Culture, and Theory, 74.3 (Fall 2018), 25–45.
  • This essay argues that over the course of his career and in his public discourse, Donald Trump engages and moves through a series of forms of popular entertainment from reality TV to social media. Edwards argues that the logics inherent in those forms inform Trump’s changing relationship to his political support.

  • "Morocco Dispatch," Middle East Report/MERIP, issue 283 (Summer 2017).
  • Part of a special issue examining responses to Donald J. Trump as presidential candidate and in the first months of his presidency, Edwards conducted interviews with Moroccans across the country to portray a range of sometimes unexpected reactions.

  • "Jumping Publics: Magdy El Shafee's Cairo Comics," NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction 47.1 (Spring 2014): 67–89.
  • Part of a special issue on democracy and the novel, this article introduces Egypt's first major comic artist, Magdy El Shafee, and reads his graphic fiction for how it demonstrates a theory of global circulation, whereby cultural forms from the West “jump publics” into new contexts and leave behind their original frameworks of meaning.

  • "The World, the Text, and the Americanist," American Literary History 25.1 (Spring 2013), 231–246.
  • The theoretical counterpart to Edwards’s book After the American Century (but not included in the book), this essay rereads Edward Said’s classic essays "The World, the Text, and the Critic" and "Traveling Theory" to derive a new approach to reading U.S. texts in global circulation. Following Said, Edwards argues that the uptake of American texts in radically new interpretive contexts should matter to our understanding of them.

  • "Tahrir: Ends of Circulation," Public Culture 23.3 (Fall 2011): 493–504.
  • An example of academic rapportage, based on on-ground research in Cairo in the the immediate wake of the Tahrir uprisings, this essay discusses the role of digitally mediated circulation in understanding the then-recent Egyptian popular uprising that became known as the Arab Spring.

  • "American Studies in Tehran," Public Culture 19.3 (2007): 415–424.
  • Commended as a "Notable Essay of 2007" in The Best American Essays, this work documents Edwards’ experience teaching American studies in Tehran during a tense moment in the Ahmadinejad administration. This essay suggests how understanding how the field itself in a radically different context matters to the globalization of American studies

  • "Marock in Morocco: Reading Moroccan Films in the Age of Circulation," Journal of North African Studies 12.3 (2007): 287–307.
  • Part of a special issue on North African film, and later reprinted in North African Cinema in Global Context: Through the Lens of Diaspora (Routledge, 2008), this essa essay analyzes the controversies around Laila Marrakchi’s blockbuster 2005 film, exploring what they explain about the circulation of American ideas—here about teen romance and sexuality—and forms in a dramatically different context.

  • "Sheltering Screens: Paul Bowles and Foreign Relations," American Literary History 17.2 (2005): 307–334.
  • This essay interrogates the complex Moroccan response to Paul Bowles’s life, work and death in the context of his putatively novel The Sheltering Sky, its critique of French colonialism and the reception of his work in Morocco.

  • "Preposterous Encounters: Interrupting American Studies with the (Post)colonial, or Casablanca in the American Century," Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 23.1&2 (2003): 70–86.
  • Part of a special issue on comparative (post)colonialisms, this essay proposes a radical disruption to the discussion of transnational American studies by means of an historicized approach to U.S. texts representing colonialism and empire, and provides an extended reading of Moroccan filmmaker Abdelqader Lagtaa’s response to the Hollywood film Casablanca. This essay is the theoretical counterpart to Edwards’s first book, Morocco Bound.

  • "Fanon’s al-Jaza’ir, or Algeria translated," Parallax 8.2 (April/June 2002): 99–115. Special issue: "Fanon and the Impasses of Modernity."
  • Part of a special issue on Frantz Fanon, this essay reads Fanon’s essay on the use of the radio in the Algerian revolution in L’an V de la révolution algérienne (A Dying Colonialism) in the context of his own disruptive use of the French language, including Fanon’s embrace of static and noise and his incorporation of Arabic words and etymologies in his use of French in the book.

  • "Yankee Pashas and Buried Women: Containing Abundance in 1950s Hollywood Orientalism," Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies 31.2 (2001): 13–24.
  • This essay examines several lush Hollywood films set in the Middle East for the ways they incorporate and extend the logics of Orientalism, including how they savor and replicate visual harems and the captivity of women.

Selected Contributions to Books

  • "Islam," in Keywords for American Cultural Studies, 3rd ed., ed. Bruce Burgett and Glenn Hendler (NY: NYU Press, 2020), 137–141.
  • This keyword essay looks at the ways in which "Islam" has figured within American cultural history, surveying the presence of Muslims in America, public discussions of Islam and Muslims over time, and American studies scholarship.

  • "Arab Spring, American Autumn," in American Studies Encounters the Middle East, ed. Alex Lubin and Marwan M. Kraidy (Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina Press, 2016), 159–172.
  • In this essay, Edwards analyzes the intersection between the revision of the American narrative of the Arab world effected by the Arab Spring and the necessary engagement of the fields of Middle East studies and American studies in the period after the "American century."

  • "Henry James and Alfred Hitchcock after the American Century: Circulation and Non-return in The American Scene and Strangers on a Train," in The Men Who Knew Too Much: Henry James and Alfred Hitchcock, ed. Susan M. Griffin and Alan Nadel (NY: Oxford University Press, 2012), 48–58.
  • This essay reads Henry James’s The American Scene and Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train together to derive an argument about circulation as a form of meaning and thereby develop a connection between the logic of the two artists.

  • "Logics and Contexts of Circulation," in A Companion to Comparative Literature, ed. Ali Behdad and Dominic Thomas (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2011), 454–472.
  • This essay surveys theories of circulation, from cultural anthropology to postcolonial theory, and argues for their relevance to the study of literature in the context of globalization. Edwards highlights possibilities in meaning-making in the disjuncture between contexts of production and the reception of cultural products.