Whither the United States in the world? This was the central focus of the international symposium, The Interplay of Cultures, commemorating the 2001 centennial of anthropologist-humanitarian Margaret Mead (1901-78). She has been described as the most influential 20th century social scientist after Freud. Held December 3-4, 2001 at the Library of Congress, and organized by the Smithsonian for Mead's Institute for Intercultural Studies, the symposium reflected the world shock of 9/11 a few months earlier. It explored the contributions of history and behavioral sciences to understand cultures of rivals, adversaries, present and future allies, and our selves.
Transnational terrorism dramatized the need for a critical new look at World War II concepts of national character. Views expressed in this "time capsule" document of 2001 are increasingly relevant. Globalization is rampant, but also inspires people to cling to earlier identities. Nationalism is not dead. Racism, greed, corruption, territoriality and religious absolutism endure. Mead believed war is learned behavior and could be unlearned.
With recent improvements in U.S. international relations, citizens need all the more to improve their cultural literacy. For starters, try Internet links with the Library of Congress Foreign Area Studies and Margaret Mead Archives. Various Smithsonian websites lead to cultures of the Americas, the Arctic, Africa and Asia/Pacific.