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Sanders Isaac Bernstein


Scholarship Holder: Studienstiftung des Abgeordnetenhauses Berlin

My dissertation project, “American (Proto)fascism, 1914-1933,” supplements modernist cultural histories, arguing against exceptionalist narratives of American democratic culture as well as Eurocentric narratives of fascism’s genesis, to suggest a genealogy of fascism’s American origins. This dissertation describes not only the phenomenon of American (proto)fascism—a term I use to mean culture necessary but not sufficient for political fascism—but also argues for its critical, if often overlooked, role in informing the development of European fascism. Focusing on the body’s crucial position in the conception and propagation of fascist ideology, I consider the transnational circulation and reception of instances of American culture that emerged between 1914 and 1933, a moment of heightened racism, anti-democratic patriotism, and widespread interest in eugenics. Yet, while this project focuses on a modernist moment, it frames these instances as revealing tendencies in American culture that are rooted in American romanticism. This project, then, reads across a diverse set of texts from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries—Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Representative Men (1852) through Benito Mussolini’s My Autobiography (1928); Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852) and D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation (1915); the cultural imaginary of the transatlantic correspondence of eugenicists Charles Davenport and Eugen Fischer; the first feature film adaptation of James Fenimore Cooper’s classic novel, The Deerslayer (1841): Lederstrumpf 1. Teil: Der Wildtöter und Chingachgook (1920); Tay Garnett and Arnold Fanck’s S.O.S. Eisberg (1933), Universal’s final Hollywood-Berlin coproduction—to show how they operated upon and through bodies to usher forth fascist desires in the United States and across Europe.

During my time at the J.F.K. Institute, I will be conducting archival research for and writing my third and fifth chapters, which engage, respectively, the shared cultural imaginary in the correspondence of eugenicists Eugen Fischer and Charles Davenport, and the idea of the fascist feminine in Tay Garnett and Arnold Fanck’s S.O.S. Eisberg (1933), Universal’s final Hollywood-Berlin coproduction.