Introduction

Shilo Brooks, University of Colorado Boulder

The Benson Center Summer Institute is a four-week academic summit at CU Boulder at which faculty from a wide variety of disciplines conduct research, participate in reading groups, and investigate interdisciplinary questions related to the center’s annual theme. The theme for the 2019 summer institute was American Identities

In the essays featured here, participants reflect on the questions and research discussed at this year’s institute. Ryan Dawkins of the United States Air Force Academy explores how American identities are formed, and argues that the “proto-typical” American identity is evolving due to rapid demographic and cultural shifts. Iain Bernhoft of Providence College uses the writings of James Baldwin and Colson Whitehead to show why current conceptions of American identity are aspirational rather than descriptive, and then suggests how we might root American identities in what Americans are instead of what they hope to be. Josh Vandiver of Ball State University explores the use that American and European identitarian movements have made of thinkers like Martin Heidegger and Gilles Deleuze, and shows why movements influenced by these thinkers believe that American identity negates the concept of identity as traditionally conceived because American identity embraces an endless proliferation of identities. Russell Fehr of UC Riverside illustrates how battles over the meaning of the American identity have shaped American public policy, and provides an historical case study that examines the political activities of the Ku Klux Klan in 1920s Detroit. Nathan Dineen of Rochester Institute of Technology investigates the conflict between form and identity—and thus between nature and technology—and suggests how we might prevent technology from alienating us from ourselves and erasing the very possibility of identity in the process.