I will argue that in the early twentieth century, the U.S. university was remade as a site of transculturalization--as a place where the United States would be globalized. At the center of this project was a newly celebrated figure on the academic scene--the international student. Typically, historical accounts of the projects that funded these students have emphasized how they were to be Americanized. This is only half the story. The academy also welcomed and nurtured foreign students in order to make the United States more international--to break through a perceived provincialism and rigidity of thought that was holding the nation back from its supposed destiny.
These international students, however, mingled not only with Americans, but with refugees, immigrants, and first-generation native born. The result was not a simple cultural exchange between a central United States and its peripheries. Instead, the students developed a cosmopolitanism that displaced nationalism from its privileged role in globalization and emphasized instead the role of globally-thinking publics.
The Cosmopolitan Club movement that they founded, which this presentation will discuss in detail, was the first nation-wide, student-led political-social movement in U.S. universities. More important, however, is the fact that this movement was a coherent response to projects of empire and assimilation, and a response that challenged the nation-state framework. Globalization, these students suggested, is not only a set of macro forces “out there.” Globalization also has its own grassroots.
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