Program Co-Sponsored by U.S. State Department
Chestertown, MD, June 18, 2004— This summer, Washington College will host 21 Muslim students from South Asia for its second American Studies Institute (ASI), an ambitious cultural exchange and educational program co-sponsored by the U.S. State Department and the College's C. V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience.
ASI is the first government-funded program to invite undergraduate college students exclusively from Islamic backgrounds to study American culture and history up-close and in-depth. A grant of $250,000 from the State Department covers 90 percent of the cost of the program. The 2004 Institute, addressing the theme “American Democracy: The Great Experiment,” will run from June 20 to July 28 in Chestertown, Maryland.
The 21 participants—representing student leaders from predominantly Islamic universities in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh—were selected from hundreds of applications by the respective U.S. Embassies in Islamabad, New Delhi and Dhaka.
The program's unique setting in Chestertown, a small colonial town on the rural Eastern Shore of Maryland, will give the students a chance to immerse themselves in American culture. They will meet everyone from the town mayor to the Indian family that runs the local Dunkin' Donuts, visit a minor-league baseball game, a Fourth of July parade and a rodeo, all the while studying the works of the seminal figures of American democracy and attending lectures by speakers such as Taylor Branch, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Civil Rights historian.
“ASI will offer traditional instruction in the history of the United States and our democracy, but it will break important new ground, as well,” said Ted Widmer, Director of the C. V. Starr Center and a former Special Assistant to President Clinton and Director of Speechwriting at the National Security Council.
“While ASI brings together scholars to tell the story of American democracy, this year's program will also explore the connecting strands that tie American history to South Asia and other Islamic regions.”
One of the program's guest lecturers, Widmer added, will be Robert Allison, a preeminent authority on the early relationship between the United States and Islam. In addition, students will meet with several current and former government officials, from both parties, who will share their views on current events at home and abroad.
Through a series of lectures by Washington College faculty and distinguished visitors, the five-week Institute will work forward chronologically to introduce students to the origins, realities, possibilities and challenges of American democracy at home and abroad.
“There has never been a better time to offer this kind of educational experience to students from the Islamic world,” Widmer added.
The first week, “Birthrights,” explores the creation of the United States and the political rights and ideals that also came into existence at its founding. Week Two, “Civil Rights,” focuses on ways that Americans have struggled to realize those ideals and investigates some of the problems that the Constitution failed to resolve, particularly the extension of voting and other rights to African-Americans, the struggle for women's rights, and ongoing efforts to define human rights around the world. Week Three, “Chestertown, U.S.A.,” examines the way democracy functions every day for citizens in a small Maryland county seat, through its government, courts, businesses and volunteer organizations. Week Four, “America and the World,” addresses the way that U.S. foreign policy is created and the image of the United States abroad, and Week Five, “The United States and South Asia,” discusses specific issues in the relationships between our four countries, welcoming the students' input and unique perspectives.
In addition to classroom experience, the students will participate in a range of extracurricular activities, including field trips to Washington, DC, Philadelphia, Baltimore and New York City. By interacting with a wide variety of American citizens, these future leaders will return to their countries with a greater understanding of American history, culture and the democratic ideals that guide them.
“The Institute will maintain a healthy informality,” said Widmer. “Nonetheless, the Institute's academic standards will be high, and tackling the difficult issues raised by the coursework will be an intellectual adventure for the students and faculty alike. All in all, this is an exciting opportunity to use American history—and the teaching of American history—to make a difference in the world.”
For further information about the 2004 American Studies Institute, contact Kees de Mooy, Program Manager for the C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, at 410-810-7156, or visit ASI online: http://asi.washcoll.edu.
The C. V. Starr Center is a forum for new scholarship about American history. Drawing on the special historical strengths of Washington College, the Center explores the early republic, the rise of democracy, and the manifold ways in which the founding era continues to shape the fabric of American culture. The Center is interdisciplinary, encouraging the study of traditional history alongside new approaches, and seeking to bridge the divide between the academic world and the public at large.