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May. 20 | 2013 Gabriel Prize
Nominations for 2013 Ralph Henry Gabriel Prize for the best doctoral dissertation in American Studies due
The American Studies Association is the nation’s oldest and largest association devoted to the interdisciplinary study of American culture and history. Read more about what the ASA does.
The conference theme Beyond the Logic of Debt, Toward an Ethics of Collective Dissent called for discussions of “debt” in its many historical, contemporary, and allegorical dimensions, and invited thinking not only about the dominant logic of debt but also the alternative practices of collective dissent that disrupt and deregulate its coercive power. We could not be more pleased with the multiple ways in which ASA panels, sessions, and roundtables have engaged and elaborated on the theme. The program committee received almost 300 individual paper proposals and 377 session proposals representing an exciting range of projects that foreground practical, material, and institutional contexts such as Indigenous land theft, home foreclosure, environmental devastation, health care inequities, military violence, occupation, prison, and education, as well as rich historical and conceptual work around key words like debt, obligation, ethics, collectivity and dissent.
The topic of student debt is represented by panels such as the Program Committee and Students’ Committee panel, The Cruel Optimism of the University of Debt, which investigates how the future-oriented, aspirational logics of contemporary universities, particularly with regard to diversity, encourage student debt. The panels Mortgaging Higher Education and Reordering Higher Education both represent perspectives in critical university studies while the Committee on Programs and Centers’ workshop, Strategies for Financial Survival in an Age of Austerity and the International Committee’s American Studies and the State of Collective Dissent in the Arab World promise to provide forums for discussing American Studies in the U.S., Europe, and the Middle East.
“Debt” serves as a kind of hinge linking schools and prisons and a number of panels focus on carceral spaces and practices of occupation. Downsizing Prisons or a Jubilee for Debts to Society, organized by the Critical Prison Studies Caucus, brings together practitioners and theorists working to reduce the number of people who incur the multiple debts generated by the prison industrial complex. The roundtable Prison Abolition and the Queer Commons centers queer/trans politics in anti-prison activism and scholarship while Deficiency, Debt, and Deportation: The Carceral Space of Migrant Removal connects histories and experiences of incarceration and deportation.
A number of panels focus on how regimes of debt generate and hide settler colonialism while informing Indigenous resistance. The Ethnic Studies Committee, for example, has organized two linked panels, Accumulation: Settler Colonialism and Military Occupation as Paradigms for Neoliberal State Formation I and II: Knowing Settler Colonialism and Legal Legacies, which analyze the ongoing history of settler colonialism in order to understand military occupation and neoliberal state formations. Meanwhile, the panel Indigenous and Critical Settler Cartographies: Mapping Labor and Debt in Public Spaces of Dissent counters the settler state’s maps with those produced by Indigenous and critical settler cartographers that present alternative economies to regimes of debt. Debt and “The Palestine Question” in Latin America: Colonization, Zionism, Imperialism and Dissent theorizes the colonial “debt” of land owed to the Palestinian people as it intersects with the complex dynamics of colonialism, slavery, imperialism, dictatorship and the overdue “return” to democracy in the Americas.
Other panels highlight financial instruments of (neo) colonial power in histories and theories of money, credit, and financialization, including two ASA Program Committee Panels, What Does Money Mean? World-Making through Currency and Credit, which historicizes credit and currency as forms of Western (neo) colonial power from the early modern empires through the twentieth century rise of deterritorialized sovereignty; and Economies of Dispossession III: Life, Death, and Financialization, which focuses on how the genealogies and present-day constellations of financialization, debt, and expropriation in the U.S. work through social relations informed by imperial conquest and racial capitalism.
The conference theme prompted a number of submissions that analyze debt as a force for the normalization of race, gender, sexuality, and ability. Panels that turn a critical gaze on health care, for example, include Dying for Work: Latina/o Labor and the Price of American Health, 1930-1965 and the Women’s Committee’s Critical Conjunctures of Debt: Women of Color, Healthcare Disparities, & Advocacy; while other submissions, recalling the AQ special issue Race, Empire, and the Crisis of the Subprime, focus on housing such as ‘Burning Down the House’: Violence, Race, and Development (struggles over housing from the Cold War to the present in Chicago, the San Francisco Bay Area, East Baltimore, and Brooklyn). Similarly, Normalizing Debt in the Americas analyzes how lending discourses and practices directed at working class Blacks and Latino and indigenous migrants serve as forms of social control in urban spaces in the U.S., Mexico, and Canada.
A series of panels engage histories of slavery, racial capitalism, anti-blackness, and social death. Drawing on disability studies and studies of race and slavery, Morbid Accumulation: The Body as Capital, Bodies in Debt, Embodied Resistance, historicizes 18th and 19th century forms of capital accumulation based in the production of morbidity. Acknowledging a debt to Clyde Woods and the special issue of AQ he edited titled In the Wake of Hurricane Katrina, the panelists on Lessons in Hegemony from the Neoplantation/Neoliberal Laboratory: Contests for Justice in New Orleans historicize anti-blackness and forms of neoliberal asset stripping in post-Katrina New Orleans. Ethical Confrontations with Antiblackness: To Whom is the Human Indebted? argues for a Black Studies framework, based in the particularity of anti-blackness, as essential for meeting the challenge of justice elaborated in the ASA meeting theme. Also referencing Woods, Life After Debt: The Politics of Afro Pessimism and Social Death shifts focus from social death in order to develop a critical framework for analyzing forms of Black dissent.
Many submissions center debt and related dynamics in critical histories of imperialism and militarism. For example, the Program Committee’s Imperialism, Freedom, Refuge, Reparations, and The “Debt” of U.S. Cold War “Liberation”: Rethinking Transnational Circuits of Labor in the Philippines, Taiwan, and South Korea investigates debt as a mode of colonial subjection, military expansion, and imperial warfare. The roundtable Hemispheres of Debt, Crises of Ecologies, Ethics of Collective Dissent: The Caribbean and Pacific Islands in American Studies calls attention to narratives of “first contact” between conquerors and Indigenous peoples on islands in the Caribbean and Pacific and examines the contemporary consequences of colonization for diverse groups and ecologies. Similarly, the panelists on Refugee Archival Memory: Disrupting the US Logics of Freedom and Debt in Hmong/Laotian History engage refugee art and literature to explore the absence of the “secret war” in histories of the Cold War and to invoke alternative knowledges and memories. Finally, the town hall session titled The United States and Israel/Palestine uses the theme of debt and dissent to encourage a discussion of historic and contemporary relationships between the U.S. and Israel/Palestine with a particular focus on their significance for American Studies.
Many proposals investigate cultures of debt in literature, film, music, performance, and visual culture, including Seeing and Being Seen as a Citizen: Collective Dissent in a Transnational Culture of Photography; This Debt We Pay: Black Identity, Labor, and Performance at the Nadir; and Toxic Debt: Creative Research on Crises of Ecology, Capital, and Sovereignty in Risk Society. Also noteworthy in this context are the Sound Studies Caucus panels, Musical Debts: Appropriations, Reparations or New Traditions?, and Sound Studies: Sampling Phonographies: Sonic Memory and the Long History of Sampling; as well as the Visual Culture Caucus panels, Spectacles of Debt: Visualizing Indebtedness in Landscape Painting, Documentary Photography, and the Mass Media, and Recuperating Disabled Spaces: Intimacies of Visual and Tactile Cultures (both held at the Smithsonian American Art Museum).
The convention theme called for critical reflection on alternative logics of debt and dissent, and scholars, activists and artists have responded in productive and creative ways. Several panels rethink the significance of intellectual and institutional debts, as in the Program Committee’s The Burdens of Our Genealogies: Intellection, Indebtedness, and American Studies, and in the panels Intellectual Debts, Modernity and C.L.R. James: “Beyond a Boundary” Fifty Years On, and Our Debt to Michel-Rolph Trouillot: Haiti in the Americas and in the World. Other panels locate critical resources for reimagining survival, opposition, and transformation beyond dominant institutions and forms. The Politics of Exigency: Dispossession, Petitioning, and the Limits of Legal Recourse, for example, considers the potential but also limitations of legal petitions as means of opposing imperial occupations and removals in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Similarly, the Program Committee’s Forgotten Histories, Continuing Pasts: Unaccounted Modes of Life, explores practices of life-making and creative survival within contexts of seemingly outmoded forms of expropriation such as debt-bondage, rent/tribute, and the theft of land and common resources. A Debt and A Dream: The Afterlives of the March on Washington reconsiders the significance of that seminal example of collective dissent for movements in the present. The roundtable Mobilizing Against Settler Colonialism: Idle No More and Allied Dissent discusses the renewed ethics of decolonization for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in settler states and beyond. The panel Autonomous Knowledge builds on contemporary notions of radical pedagogy, street mobilizations, student strikes, and anti-corporate education, as well as Black, queer, and Crip theory, in order to link together emergent possibilities for dissent from neo-liberalism in educational sites in Latin America, Asia, Canada, and the U.S. And The Strike Debt Assembly brings to the ASA a format created by Strike Debt, an offshoot of Occupy Wall Street, that will address the debt system at the center of professional academic life in the context of the new academic majority of contingent faculty and student labor.
The ASA artist in residence is Ricardo Dominguez, one of the co-founders of the Electronic Disturbance Theater and a theorist and practitioner of “virtual sit ins.” For the convention he has organized the Disturbance Research Lab (DRL), which will focus on 3 initiatives: 1) a session providing training on how to create an “electronic disturbance,” from coding to final performance; 2) Debt Strike, a digital exhibition of net art projects focused on data-driven manifestations and the question of debt; 3) Dominguez will seek out temporary spaces, at random times, and present micro-gestures entitled Unexpected Interfaces, which will fall between “flash crash” cultures and the promissory algorithms of past social debts unmet.
The site resources committee is planning a series of events that are tied to the conference theme and that enable members to learn more about D.C. This will include on-site programs about the policing of sex work in D.C.; histories of gentrification and social protest; and activist strategies for fighting foreclosure on multiple scales, local to global; among more. Off-site events include “Off the Mall” tours and activities that examine the history-as well as activist and cultural responses to-sites of reconstruction and conversion in D.C., from readings by local poets to a walking tour of Harriet Jacobs’ 19th century Alexandria. These will be joined by events co-sponsored by the Visual Culture Caucus, including a reception and performance about artists and debt at the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art; a tour of the Federal Reserve Board’s Fine Arts Collection; and a visit to “Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art,” among much, much more.
We are incredibly grateful to the inspired and inspiring members of the program committee: Abigail Boggs, Rachel Buff, Jodi A. Byrd, Sarika Chandra, Arlene Davila, Bethany Moreton, Naomi Paik, Shelley Streeby, and Neferti Tadiar. Big thanks as well to the amazing John Stephens, without whom the convention could never happen. Finally, thanks to T’Sey-Haye Preaster for her brilliant administrative work.
Roderick Ferguson, University of Minnesota
Lisa Lowe, Tufts University
Jodi Melamed, Marquette University
Published on May 9, 2013 by John F Stephens.
How should I prepare for graduate work in American Studies?
An undergraduate degree in American Studies is probably the best preparation for graduate study since it builds the foundation for the interdisciplinary research and analysis required to complete a Master’s or Ph.D. degree. But many undergraduates don’t have the opportunity to major in American Studies and others discover an interdisciplinary approach only later in their undergraduate studies. Students who major in more traditional disciplines—literature, history, the social sciences, even the natural sciences—often have the opportunity to take courses outside their major as electives which can improve their interdisciplinary range and strengthen their application to American Studies graduate programs. Students who come to American Studies from the social or natural sciences, or from a humanities field with a non-Americanist focus, can bring fresh perspectives and useful skills. These students find it useful to gain a background in U.S. history on their own (or as a part-time student in a graduate program where they can take one course) before starting graduate-level work in American Studies.
What is the best American Studies graduate program for me?
You should weigh factors such as faculty, professional goals, quality of program, funding opportunities, and geography in choosing where to apply. Applicants should first research American Studies programs to determine which programs have faculty who work specifically in the areas of research that most interest them. In the course of this research, an applicant should try to contact faculty members who share his/her research interests to find out if they currently advise graduate students and to ask more specific questions about their department. Applicants need to find programs that best suit their intellectual interests and this is best determined through direct communication with faculty. While it is crucial to enter a program where you have identified a mentor with whom to work, you shouldn’t plan your entire course of graduate study around one faculty member, as faculty do not always stay at one university throughout their career. Therefore, students should find a program in which there are several faculty members with whom they could potentially study. If applicants are geographically restricted in where they can apply, they will need to determine which programs in their area have faculty available to mentor their work, communicating with faculty to see how flexible they can be in advising students outside their specific research areas. Many department websites have lists of current students and their research interests. Contacting students who are currently enrolled, or recent graduates, is an excellent way to gauge the suitability of the program for your individual interests. Faculty and departmental representatives will be able to provide you with contact information.
Applicants should also consider which programs best suit their professional goals. For example, some American Studies programs are strong in placing their graduate students in jobs in public history or archival work, while other programs are known for helping students find tenure-track teaching jobs and/or others focus on an activist, engaged scholarship. Some programs have special strength in African American studies, whereas others have a concentration of specialists on the Asia-Pacific region and so forth.
The amount and types of funding available for graduate students has a major impact on the time to completion of the degree as well as to the range of teaching and research experiences one will gain while in graduate school. It is important to find out what kind of funding (e.g. teaching assistantships, research assistantships, fellowships, tuition waivers) are available in the program of one’s interest. We think teaching experience is important preparation for all graduate students, no matter their career plans, but too much teaching takes time away from research and writing.
Most graduate programs designate one faculty member to advise graduate students and/or speak with prospective students. You can find this person’s contact information on the website or by phoning or emailing the department office. You should be in touch with this faculty member as well to insure that your interests can be served by the program, to receive suggestions on your application, and to understand the available financial aid and how to apply for it.
Do I need a Masters degree in American Studies before applying to a doctoral program?
Many applicants apply to doctoral study directly from undergraduate work—especially if they have already earned a B.A. degree in American Studies. Nevertheless, if a student applies without much previous background in interdisciplinary study, it can be useful to start with a Master’s program to explore the field of American Studies before making the commitment to doctoral study. Earning an M.A. in American Studies may also be useful to enhance one’s application for, and acceptance into, doctoral programs.
What makes an effective personal statement?
Applicants should describe the academic and other relevant backgrounds that have prepared them for graduate-level work in American Studies. A strong personal statement in an American Studies application offers a concise description of the applicants’ research interests and goals with a particular emphasis on why the interdisciplinary approach of American Studies is the most effective way to pursue those interests and goals. In addition, applicants should make a clear case for why the particular program they are applying to best suits their goals. You should avoid digressions into personal biography, unless there is an appropriate intellectual reason to do so. For instance, a formative experience might be a helpful introduction to your interests, but anecdotal material must have a clear purpose such as helping explain one’s intellectual development. Applicants to doctoral programs need not have a dissertation topic drafted for a personal statement, but they should be able to lucidly describe their general interests and specific fields/subfields, theoretical frameworks, methodologies, scholars, or books that have influenced their intellectual development and interest in American Studies.
What kind of writing sample should I submit?
An effective writing sample for American Studies would be a research paper (15-20 pages in length) that had both a clear argument and provided evidence of the applicant’s ability to do primary and secondary research. Papers that incorporate an interdisciplinary approach to research would also be helpful, but are not required. Depending on the work you have done, and want to do, a shorter piece of writing aimed at a more general audience might also be appropriate.
Who should write my letters of recommendation?
Recommendations from faculty with whom you have taken a class and who know you personally are most helpful. In general, letters from employers or friends are not as effective because they often don’t adequately assess an applicant’s abilities as a researcher or writer.
How important are the GRE scores?
Many programs require applicants to submit their GRE scores and how the scores are weighed in the overall application varies from program to program. Higher scores are certainly better than lower scores; however, in general American Studies programs do not see the GRE scores as the most important factor in the application package. The personal statement, writing sample, recommendation letters, and previous academic records read together can go a long way in making up for lower GRE scores.
For international students, many programs see TOEFL scores as a replacement for GRE scores. Good TOEFL scores not only increase the chances of admission but the language ability they measure is also necessary for actually doing graduate work in American Studies.
What kind of jobs do graduate students in American Studies get after graduation?
Graduate students in American Studies can go into a variety of fields, but most are interested in teaching jobs or museum work. They can also be competitive for jobs at historical societies, archives, state and federal humanities and cultural resource agencies as well as community cultural development organizations.
Published on April 28, 2013 by John F Stephens.
The Sports Studies Caucus is pleased to announce that two affiliated panels have been selected for the 2013 ASA Annual Meeting Washington, DC. They are listed below. The conference schedule remains TBA.
“Sport and the Geography of Debt”
Rachael Miyung Joo, Middlebury College
Roberta Newman, New York University
Frank Guridy, University of Texas at Austin
Daniel A. Gilbert, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
Adrian Burgos, Jr. (chair), University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
“Penalties, Sanctions, and Fines: Discourses of American Sports Gone Afoul”
Simon J. Bronner, The Pennsylvania State University
Jennifer Doyle, University of California, Riverside
John Bloom, Shippensburg University
Michelle Slaughter, Texas Woman’s University
[ here’s the PLEA I posted yesterday via our Caucus’s listserve ]
Hey and hmmmmmm, IF, repeat IF you’ve gotten word from this year’s A.S.A. Program.Comm that they’ve accepted your proposal for a panel with early-American-flavored content, then Congrats! and now PLEASE do send me your panel’s title via e-mail, dmoore [at] fsu.edu, simply so I can include it in the list I’ll now compile to serve as the BALLOT by which those of us in the A.S.A.‘s Early American Matters Caucus can vote for the two panels that I’ll then tell the A.S.A. command module to designate, on the ‘013 program, as “Sponsored By. . . .”
Hi, everyone. Scott Peeples and I’ve worked up a fuller, more detailed schedule for the Charleston conference, and we’ll be able to post it in a day or two at SASA’s website, southernamericanstudiesassociation.org.
Meanwhile, this note about our e-mail listserv: a few minutes ago I posted a note along these same lines, there, and was able to attach a pdf of this more detailed schedule, so here’s a thought:
if you’re not already on that listserv, you know
you want to be!, so please send a quick e-mail
to that effect to my predecessor as SASA prez,
Eric Gary Anderson, at eandersd at gmu.edu.
Safe travels, everyone —D.M.
The End of Austin (http://www.endofaustin.com) is a new digital project that explores urban identity in Austin, Texas.
Hi there, fellow SASA folks, and won’t it be great to get to Charleston! On that note, two notes:
If you haven’t yet registered you know who you
are, so do go ahead, Please + Thank You.
If you’re a grad student who is on the Charleston
program, you’ve been patiently awaiting word
on those first-ever MINI-TRAVEL-GRANTS for grad
students on the program, so here we go:
Through the generosity of our membership, we’ve received enough contributions to fund up to seven mini-travel-grants of $150 each; each one we award will be in the form of a check you’d pick up when you show up at the registration table, and meanwhile here’s the way to apply:
Send an e-mail to our Secretary-Treasurer,
Prof. Lynne Adrian, at “ladrian [at] tenhoor.as.ua.edu,”
with “MINI-TRAVEL-GRANT” in your subject line And
with this crucial info in your message: title of your
paper And title of session on which it’ll appear.
In this first year of even having these mini-grants,
we’re filling requests from grad students who
are on the program in the order in which our
hard-working Secretary-Treasurer receives them,
via that e-mail address above.
Simply as a reminder, info about the sessions is in the Basic Schedule that’s on view at SASA’s new-in-2012 website, southernamericanstudiesassociation.org, and via a post or two at our Facebook page. Keep an eye out, next week, for more detailed version, even including names of panel chairs!
Looking forward, everybody,
p.s. if, repeat if you’re not yet on SASA’s e-mail listserve but would like to be, and who could blame you!, please e-mail either me Or my immediate predecessor as SASA prez, Eric Gary Anderson, at “eandersd [at] gmu.edu”