In the context of the so-called Cold War, the US military began to facilitate military spouses joining deployed service members around the globe at a large scale. Military spouses overseas, as Donna Alvah has shown, often became “unofficial ambassadors” of US culture and functioned as agents of soft power diplomacy. In her talk, Dr. Katharina Gerund will take this postwar role as a starting point and focus on the (partially) new assignments for military spouses since the transformation of the US military to an all-volunteer force and especially in the context of the “Global War on Terror.” Based on the analysis of various cultural representations of military spouses in the 21st century (incl. magazines, life-writing, and fictional portrayals), she will show how (transatlantic) mobility, travel, and cultural contact shape public discourses on and by military spouses. Yet, she argues that military spouses in the cultural imaginary of the US have primarily become unofficial ambassadors stateside, tasked with a double mission: to promote the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and to bridge the growing “familiarity gap” between civil society and military culture.
Dr. Katharina Gerund teaches American Studies at FAU Erlangen-Nuernberg. She is the author of Transatlantic Cultural Exchange: African American Women’s Art and Activism in West Germany (transcript 2013) and has published widely on issues of race and gender in U.S. (popular) culture and beyond. She currently co-directs the interdisciplinary research project “Reeducation Revisited: Transnational and Comparative Perspectives on the Post-World War II Period in the US, Japan, and Germany” (funded by the German Research Foundation) and works on a book project entitled “Happy Home Front Heroines? Military Spouses in the Cultural Imaginary of the US.”