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As word of Osama bin Laden’s death spread Sunday night, TV viewers across the world saw images of predominantly young, college-age Americans gathering at Ground Zero to celebrate. Photo courtesy Creative Commons.

Teaching "The United States Since September 11" -- U of M professors on the impact of bin Laden's death for college-age Americans

May 4, 2011

As word of Osama bin Laden’s death spread Sunday night, TV viewers across the world saw images of predominantly young, college-age Americans gathering at the White House and Ground Zero to celebrate. Two University of Minnesota College of Liberal Arts experts who can speak on September 11’s position in our collective consciousness, in particular for the college-age generation are:

Roderick Ferguson, chair and associate professor, Department of American Studies
David Karjanen, assistant professor, Department of American Studies

Ferguson and Karjanen both teach the popular undergraduate course, “The United States Since September 11,” which tackles changes to U.S. society and culture, our views of history and past wars, official remembrances and unofficial accounts in art.

Ferguson says this generation of students came of age via war and many of them probably remember September 11 as a demotion in the nation’s status and are haunted by that memory. “That explains, partly, the tenor of the response,” Ferguson says. “From what I've seen teaching the 9/11 course, though, it's important to remember that there is a constituency of students who were inspired by the 9/11 events to approach the U.S. and its history in areas across the globe with real analytical focus and restraint. We should look to those students as models.”

Karjanen says that what has happened with the Bin Laden capture and death, particularly related to the celebrations which have erupted, tell us something very important about American culture. "These are not sobering, hand-wringing discussions of the violence which we face today, but rather are celebratory eruptions of symbolism around cherished ideas. Ideas that we can eventually have justice meted out, even in the difficult war on terror, and that continued persistence and military action will eventually prevail," Karjanen says.

"This is a statement about faith in the war on terror -- that it can be won," Karjanen adds. "Yet at the same time we continually are reminded that we must always be vigilant against terror and those who wish to harm Americans. In short, it is somewhat paradoxical -- yes, victory can be achieved, and yet we may never stop fighting."

To interview either Ferguson or Karjanen, contact Jeff Falk, University News Service, or (612) 626-1720; or Kelly O’Brien, College of Liberal Arts, or (612) 624-4109.

Expert Alert is a service provided by the University News Service. Delivered regularly, Expert Alert is designed to connect university experts to today's breaking news and current events. For an archive and other useful media services, visit Views expressed by experts do not represent the views of the University of Minnesota.

Tags: College of Liberal Arts

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