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From the Editors

Reflections on the Annual Meeting, San Juan, Puerto Rico, November, 2012 (Click)

The San Juan ASA Conference represented an important moment to continue thinking deeply about the conceptual and methodological demands of a truly transnational American Studies.  The location of the conference was itself a powerful call for reflection—reflection on indigeneity and dispossession; reflection on the course of US empire; reflection on rich histories of resistance; reflection on American Studies as a set of interpretive and pedagogical practices in that zone where Indigenous Studies, Atlantic World, Caribbean Studies, Diaspora Studies, and Pacific Rim all come together.  From the outset the Program Committee felt an awesome responsibility to organize sessions and events that would do justice to the significance of this Caribbean locale and its (anti-) colonial history. 

The ASA membership responded to the call and the challenges of the conference with terrific energy, innovation, insight, commitment, and with a spirit of true collaboration and intellectual generosity.  This was one of the best-attended and most vibrant ASA meetings in recent memory.  The program was expanded in order to accommodate as many of the very fine submissions as possible; the final program comprised over 400 panels, round tables, caucus meetings, screenings, readings, lightening rounds, and installations, involving the participation of over 1500 scholars, writers, artists, and activists from 25 countries in North and Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia and the Pacific, the Middle East, and Europe.  Sessions represented a vast and ingenious array of methods, approaches, and orientations, as well as scholarly and politically committed conversations that ambitiously crossed disciplines, geographic regions, and historical periods.  A brief sampling of the interpretive modalities and the intellectual concerns running through the program includes comparative empires, US regions/cities in the context of empire, the Puerto Rican diaspora, empire and migration, political economy, activism and public scholarship, liberalism (in both its broad and narrower meanings), legal structures and juridical discourses, public pedagogy, transnational activism, the carceral state, neoliberalism, militarism and state violence, biopolitics, hegemonic and alternative archives, tourism, commodity chains, settler colonialism, borderlands, cartography, indigeneity and anti-imperialist strategies, digital humanities, consumption and the commercial cultures of empire, religion as oppression and as resistance, oral history, missionaries and explorers, feminist internationalism, environmental justice, sexuality and imperial power, global health, hemispheric solidarities, the politics of water, the global South and the “resource curse,” radical poetics, human rights discourse, photography as a technology of empire, modernities and modernisms, museums and curation, sonic landscapes, narco-empire, graphic novels and animation, race and real estate, and trauma. 

This was a tremendously rich, varied, and productive program.  Among the most meaningful of the many conversations enabled at the meeting were those between colleagues from different parts of the world, between Puerto Rican scholars and activists and their colleagues from the US, between scholars in the humanities and in the social sciences, and between early Americanists and their colleagues who work on later periods.  The program committee worked especially hard to raise the profile of early America in the conference and to invigorate the conversations across the temporal spectrum from the seventeenth century to the twenty-first.

The committee likewise assembled a slate of extracurricular exhibits, screenings, and events meant to augment and anchor the anti-imperialist spirit of the conference agenda and to provide routes into San Juan and its history quite distinct from those laid out by the normal circuitry of tourism.  These included tours of the Hacienda La Esperanza Nature Reserve, one of the largest sugar plantations in Puerto Rico in the latter half of the nineteenth century; historical tours of Viejo San Juan, led by Edwin Quiles Rodríguez, author of San Juan Tras la Fachada: Una Mirada Desde Sus Espacios Ocultos (1580-1900); and a tour of the ENLACE Caño Martín Peña Project, whose residents seek to overcome poverty and attain social and environmental justice.  Special events also included a reading by Puerto Rican poet and writer Giannina Braschi, whose work explores themes of US-Caribbean relations, the politics of empire and independence, and the migrant’s experience of marginality and liberation; and installations by two artists-in-residence:  Nao Bustamante presented her multimedia project, Personal Protection, which activates the tactile and tactical histories of women in wa; and Adál Maldonado presented his multi-media project, Blueprints for a Nation:  Construction of an Imaginary State, weaving diverse perspectives on the Puerto Rican Diaspora, the significance of creative expression in fostering new political imaginations, and the subversive tropicalization of new environments.  All of these events were heavily attended and enthusiastically received.

Finally, an in-house Anti-Imperialist Film Festival provided continuous screenings of important documentary films.  These included Roberto Clemente, followed by a discussion with director Bernardo Ruiz; Aquel Rebaño Azul [The Blue Herd], a historical account of police brutality in Puerto Rico, sponsored by Puerto Rico’s Civil Rights Commission; Más de 800 Razones, on the 2010-2011 University of Puerto Rico student strikes; and a number of films provided by the feminist collective, Women Make Movies.  The festival culminated in a screening and director’s discussion of John Sayle’s Amigo, on a Philippine baryo in the crossfire of empire and resistance, and a ragtag but lethal detachment of U.S. soldiers who find themselves halfway around the world walking point for their country’s new imperialist policy in 1899. 

The strength, vitality, and rich programming regarding Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans, the Caribbean, and the Americas created a larger space from which to theorize, reflect upon, and produce knowledge that advances our understanding of the consequences of empire.  The inclusion of local scholars from the Island, the participation of former Puerto Rican political prisoners, and the performances of Bustamante and Maldonado were particularly important.  ASA members came away from San Juan having taken serious stock of the voluminous and electrifying interdisciplinary work that has recently been produced on empire, but also with a new, deeper charge to expand on conversations that cross disciplines, national boundaries, and period-specific specializations.  Most agreed that this was an energizing and important set of meetings.

Council Statement on the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions

ASA National Council Votes Unanimously To Endorse Academic Boycott of Israel

One year ago, the Academic and Community Activism Caucus of the American Studies Association (ASA) asked the Executive Committee (EC) to consider a resolution to honor the call from Palestinian civil society to support the academic boycott of Israel. The EC forwarded the resolution to the National Council. Following the deliberative procedures detailed below, the Council unanimously decided to issue a revised version of the resolution, which we now recommend to members of the ASA.  Please follow this link to read the resolution.

The Council voted for an academic boycott of Israeli institutions as an ethical stance, a form of material and symbolic action. It represents a principle of solidarity with scholars and students deprived of their academic freedom and an aspiration to enlarge that freedom for all, including Palestinians.

We believe that the ASA’s endorsement of a boycott is warranted given U.S. military and other support for Israel; Israel’s violation of international law and UN resolutions; the documented impact of the Israeli occupation on Palestinian scholars and students; the extent to which Israeli institutions of higher education are a party to state policies that violate human rights; and the support of such a resolution by many members of the ASA.

Our resolution understands boycott as limited to a refusal on the part of the Association in its official capacities to enter into formal collaborations with Israeli academic institutions, or with scholars who are expressly serving as representatives or ambassadors of those institutions, or on behalf of the Israeli government, until Israel ceases to violate human rights and international law.

The resolution does not apply to individual Israeli scholars engaged in ordinary forms of academic exchange, including conference presentations, public lectures at campuses, or collaboration on research and publication. The Council also recognizes that individual members will act according to their convictions on these complex matters.

The ASA is a large organization that represents divergent opinions. Anticipating strong and potentially divided feelings on this question, the Council unanimously decided to ask ASA members to endorse the resolution by a vote.

Background on the Resolution

The resolution is the culmination of a long history of discussion and debate in the ASA. In 2006, in response to Israel’s attacks on Lebanon and Gaza, the ASA International Committee (IC), including a former ASA President, discussed the possibility of endorsing a boycott. In 2009, in the wake of Israel’s military assault on Gaza and in response to requests from ASA members, several bodies in the Association again took up the question of a boycott: the IC, the Program Committee for the 2009 convention, and the Executive Committee, which included the current ASA President. The consensus then was that members needed more opportunities to learn about and discuss the issues and so the Program Committee organized two featured panels: “Palestine in Crisis” and “Academic Freedom and the Right to Education: The Question of Palestine.” Scheduled in prime times on Friday and Saturday of the convention, the panels addressed the plight of Palestinian universities and academics and the profound pressures on teaching and research contexts in the U.S. and Palestine where education and intellectual freedom were under attack. The second panel focused in particular on the boycott movement.

In the wake of such discussions, the Academic and Community Activism Caucus (ACAC) met at the 2012 ASA convention to consider a resolution and gather signatures. This resolution was then submitted to the Executive Committee and, in December, posted on the Caucus’ page on the ASA web site. Information about the resolution was also included in the December 2012 ASA Newsletter distributed to all ASA members.

In March of 2013, the Program Committee for the 2013 ASA convention met and discussed ways to create opportunities at the meeting to discuss issues related to calls for boycott. The resulting program included 8 sessions on “Middle East American Studies,” with four focused specifically on United States/Israel/Palestine. At the same time the Ethnic Studies Committee organized two panels about settler colonialism that discussed the Israeli occupation of Palestine, while the ACAC organized a panel called “Boycott as a Non-Violent Strategy of Collective Dissent.”

In May 2013 the Executive Committee met and discussed the proposed resolution submitted by the ACAC at great length. It agreed that it would be in the best interest of the organization to solicit from the membership as many perspectives as possible on the proposed resolution to aid the National Council in its discussions and decision-making. With the past President and a prominent, senior member of the Association serving as moderators, it held an open session during the November National Convention at which the National Council was present to hear directly from the membership. Members were notified of the open discussion well in advance of the convention and it was highlighted as a featured event in both online and print versions of the program. Additionally, members who could not attend the session or the convention were encouraged to contact the EC directly via email, and many did so. 

The Saturday November 23rd open discussion was attended by approximately 745 ASA members. Members distributed information about the boycott in advance, and the hall was filled with leaflets representing different views. The moderators carefully and clearly articulated the different actions that could be taken and the process for deliberation. To guarantee an orderly and fair discussion members who wished to speak put their name in a box from which speakers were randomly selected. Speakers were limited to 2 minutes, providing the opportunity to hear from forty-four different speakers during the time allotted for the special session. The discussion was passionate but respectful.  Speakers included students, faculty, past Presidents, former members of the National Council, former and current members of the AQ editorial staff, American Studies department chairs, and an ASA member also representing the organization Jewish Voice for Peace. While different opinions were articulated, the overwhelming majority spoke in support of the ASA endorsing an academic boycott.

Remaining in session over the course of 8 days after the open session, Council members spoke and wrote from different perspectives, debated different possibilities, and critically yet generously engaged each other. The resulting resolution reflects, we think, the history and present state of conversations within the ASA, offering a principled position for the Association’s participation in the academic boycott of Israeli academic institutions while respecting the unique conditions and diverse positions of our membership on this issue.

In the last several decades, the ASA has welcomed scholarship that critically analyzes the U.S. state, its role domestically and abroad, and that reaches out beyond U.S. borders. Our commitment to cutting-edge and transnational scholarship has been accompanied by the comparative study of borders, migration, and citizenship. The ASA also has a history of critical engagement with the field of Native American and Indigenous studies that has increasingly come to shape and influence the field and the Association, and the Council acknowledged the force of Israeli and U.S. settler colonialism throughout our deliberations. Finally, the resolution is in keeping with the ASA’s continuing commitment to ethical research and the right of scholars to dissent and to take public positions.

The Council believes that the resolution is of particular significance to scholars of American Studies. Together, we endorse it, and recommend that ASA members endorse it as well.

The ASA National Council

Jennifer Devere Brody, Stanford University
Ann Cvetkovich, University of Texas, Austin
Jeremy Dean. University of Texas, Austin
Lisa Duggan, New York University
Avery Gordon, University of California, Santa Barbara
Matthew Frye Jacobson, Yale University
E. Patrick Johnson, Northwestern University
J. Kehaulani Kauanui, Wesleyan University
Marisol LeBrón, New York University
Karen Leong, Arizona State University
Sunaina Maira, University of California, Davis
Martin F. Manalansan IV, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
Curtis Marez, University of California, San Diego
Roya Rastegar, Bryn Mawr College
Chandan Reddy, University of Washington, Seattle
Juana María Rodríguez, University of California, Berkeley
María Josefina Saldaña-Portillo, New York University
Nikhil Pal Singh, New York University

Due to a family emergency, Juri Abe, Rikkyo University, Tokyo, Japan, was not present for the National Council meeting where the resolution was passed. 

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American Quarterly Wins Best Special Issue Award

The Special Issue: Race, Empire, and the Crisis of the Subprime (Volume 64, Number 3, September 2012) of American Quarterly, edited by Paula Chakravartty and Denise Ferreira da Silva, has won the Best Special Issue Award from the American Council of Learned Editors.  The fact that AQ won this award in 2013 and 2009 is referenced in a recent Chronicle of Higher Education story about the association is a clear sign that the ASA remains at the center of the field. Congratulations are due Sarah Banet-Weiser and the rest of the AQ editorial staff.

Reflections on the Annual Meeting, November 2013 (Click)

The 2013 meeting in Washington DC, “Beyond the Logic of Debt:  Toward an Ethics of Collective Dissent,” brought our focus on the ramifications of “debt” - financial, social, political, environmental, affective - to the nation’s capitol.  It was a richly productive program that engaged “debt” in manifold ways.  From the home foreclosures of the subprime mortgage crisis to the financialization of social life, from the debts incurred by histories of slavery, racial capitalism and anti-blackness to those of settler colonialism, native dispossession, and military occupation - the conference program reflected on the nation’s past, present, and future.  Sessions explored debt in relation to the restructuring of education, the prison industry, and national sovereignty, while others mined the logic of debt as obligation, inheritance, pedagogy, and responsibility.  A broad variety of disciplines and interdisciplinary fields were represented:  history, sociology, political science, anthropology, literary and cultural studies, music, and art history, as well as critical race and ethnic studies, indigenous studies, Black studies, Latino studies, feminist and queer studies, and disability studies.  Sessions included a suggestive, original mix of methods, approaches, and orientations, as well as engagements and conversations that crossed disciplines, generations, geographies, and historical periods.  A brief sampling of the intellectually provocative interpretations of debt threaded through the program includes:  the “American dream” deferred, food justice and sustainability, debt and diasporas, military colonial debts, sex work and trafficking, memory work and borrowed time, present destruction and the unpaid future, the “balance sheet” of racial struggle, the afterlives of civil rights, debt and U.S. Cold War “liberation.”  Yet other discussions explored the question of the “ethics of collective dissent” to such debt regimes, and imagined a range of alternatives to debt that includes: nonpayment and refusing debts, deficits and “failures,” being in the “red,” returning debt, spectacularizing debt, and the creation of new attachments, commons, and accumulations.

The location of the conference was itself significant, and the program committee assembled various site-specific panels that were organized not only to familiarize members with Washington D.C.‘s rich history but also to retheorize that history in relation to the theme of debt.  For instance, there were presentations on how activists responded and continue to respond to the policing of sex in the district, how gentrification has reshaped neighborhoods and communities within D.C., and how the foreclosure crisis has become a site of mobilization and contestation among D.C. residents. With site-specific panels such as these, the 2013 program provided a model of how to use an “economic” theme to recast local histories of race, sexuality, and gender.

In addition, the conference became fertile ground for contemplating debt in relation to histories of devaluation and dispossession. For instance, the three-part panel series on “Economies of Dispossession” used the theme to consider the different effects and agendas of racial capitalism—from how financialization operates as a system of valuation and devaluation for social groups, determining which communities are racialized for the expansion of life and opportunity and which groups are racialized in the service of that expansion and in the direction of social death. As a reflection on racial capitalism’s links to settler colonialism, the panel also analyzed how histories of land dispossession and the resulting disfranchisement of indigenous communities produces genealogies of debt for and to those communities. 

Exploring debt as an invocation of intellectual genealogy, the panel “The Burden of Our Genealogies: Intellection, Indebtedness, and American Studies” brought together American Studies scholars in African American, Asian American, Latino, Performance, Gender, and Native American Studies to address the intellectual formations, traditions, and genealogies to which the present ASA is indebted. As a theoretical exercise the panel was a way to clarify the critical foundations that make up the association’s current diversity. Panelists invoked “debt” as a mode of subjection and agency, a sense that American Studies scholarship represents a negotiation with the disabling and enabling legacies of critical formations around race, gender, sexuality, and indigeneity.

In pursuit of artistic representations of debt, the ASA artist in residence was 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 organized the Disturbance Research Lab (DRL), providing training on how to create an “electronic disturbance,” launching Debt Strike, a digital exhibition of net art projects focused on data-driven manifestations and the question of debt, and presented Unexpected Interfaces, a techno-event that fell between “flash crash” cultures and the promissory algorithms of past social debts unmet.

In his presidential address “Seeing in the Red: Looking at Student Debt,” Curtis Marez oriented our critical attentions to the contemporary “university of debt,” framing it as “a form of racialized and gendered settler colonial capitalism” based on the exploitation of land and labor.  In doing so, he outlined an “American Studies version of Critical University Studies” that synthesized approaches from critical ethnic studies, indigenous studies, gender and sexuality studies, and visual studies, among other constituencies. Through an “analytic of debt,” Marez critiqued the material conditions of exploitation endemic to the business of the university today, from the staggering levels of student debt that disproportionately entrap students of color to the devaluation of women and young people of color as cheap labor.  At the same time, he exposed debt itself as a form of pedagogy, which ensures student “fidelity to the normative,” limits time for critical thinking and experimentation, and teaches that capitalist rationalities are implacable, natural and benign. Attending closely to dissent on college campuses, from mass student protests against budget cuts to social movements protesting militarism and the Israeli occupation, Marez concluded that what is at stake in all these cases - and in the regime of university debt itself - is the “right to education, or more broadly, what Harney and Moten call ‘study’, a practice of collective thought and social activity irreducible to and, in fact, antagonistic to market logics.” Marez concluded with suggestive examples of how film and visual media provide tools for honing our critical gaze on debt education and its consequences, capacitating critical thinking and action across class and national borders.  In particular, he drew “speculative visions of debt abolition” from Alex Rivera’s film “Sleep Dealer” and Alberto Ledesma’s drawing “Berkeley Dreamers,” offering them as critical projections of paths through new forms of social solidarity to different and better worlds beyond debt.

One of the most provocative sessions from the 2013 meeting was the “ASA Town Hall: The United States and Israel/Palestine,” a town hall designed to inform the membership about one of the iterations of debt—that is, the Israeli nation-state’s indebtedness to U.S. foreign and military aid, an indebtedness that produces conditions of devaluation and social death for Palestinians, in particular. The town hall panel was made up of some of the keenest commentators and scholars of the U.S.‘s relationship to the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Alex Lubin of the University of New Mexico and the American University in Beirut discussed the ways in which the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords allowed the U.S. and Israel to implement systems of neoliberal governance—rather than overt colonialism—in the West Bank and Gaza. Angela Davis, emeritus professor of feminist studies at UC Santa Cruz, offered a critical assessment of how the Israeli occupation is assisted not only by the U.S. nation-state but by corporations such as Caterpillar, Inc. Another panelist, Ahmad H. Sa’di, professor in the Department of Politics and Government at Ben-Gurion University of Negev in Israel, presented archival and historical research that demonstrated the Israeli government’s attempt to manage Palestinian populations during the first two decades of Israel’s founding.

The “ASA Open Discussion: The Israeli Occupation of Palestine,” an event organized by the ASA executive committee, allowed members who were present to discuss a resolution to support the academic boycott of Israeli institutions. There were spirited remarks on both sides of the issue, and the moderators Avery Gordon and Matthew Frye Jacobson concluded the session by congratulating the audience and participants for being able to engage what is a difficult issue for many within and outside the association. 

In sum, the 2013 conference was a truly historic one. The theme of “debt” was one of the first times that the association addressed head-on a category and formation that one typically associates with the field of economics, in particular, and the social sciences in general. Inasmuch as the theme allowed the association to address the transnational expressions and ramifications of debt, the conference can be read as an outgrowth of the association’s long engagement with global processes concerning race, empire, and capital. The meeting was also historic as it occasioned the most sustained deliberation that the association has had on one of the contemporary expressions of race, capital, and empire—that is, the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Ultimately, this deliberation helped to create the conditions for the ASA’s historic resolution calling for the observance of the academic boycott of Israeli institutions. In doing so, this meeting—perhaps like no meeting before it—has allowed the association to promote and broadcast its interest in and commitments to social justice, not only to people within this country but also to people across the globe.

ASA Increases Membership and Support in Wake of Academic Boycott of Israel Endorsement

May 8, 2014
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In the wake of the American Studies Association’s December 2013 endorsement of a Palestinian civil society call for an academic boycott of Israel - and as two efforts to legislate against academic boycotts fail to move forward in the Illinois and Maryland state legislatures - the ASA has gained new members and support. Over the past several months, the ASA has welcomed more than 800 new individual members, as well as 9 new institutional members. The ASA has also collected more membership revenue in the past four months than in any other four-month period over the past quarter-century and its ongoing “Stand with the ASA” grassroots fundraising campaign has exceeded the association’s expectations thus far (reaching the half-way mark in less than a month).

South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, released a statement in support of the ASA’s boycott efforts. In it, he states that: “In South Africa, we could not have achieved our democracy without the help of people around the world, who through the use of non-violent means, such as boycotts and divestment, encouraged their governments and other corporate actors to reverse decades-long support for the Apartheid regime. ...The [anti-boycott] legislation being proposed in the United States would have made participation in a movement like the one that ended Apartheid in South Africa extremely difficult.” The day before his statement was released, an Illinois State Senate Committee rejected a resolution condemning academic boycotts. A bill to defund universities that subsidize faculty associations with organizations supporting boycotts was also scuttled in Maryland, where non-binding condemnatory language was instead inserted into the budget bill.

ASA President Curtis Marez stated, “Despite the backlash of the last few months, the ASA is thriving. The boycott vote is consistent with our longstanding support for human rights and opposition to war and militarism. Many Americans are now for the first time hearing about their government’s support for the occupation and discriminatory laws against Palestinians. I’m proud that the ASA helped open up discussion about BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) and the difference it can make.” Commentary by ASA leaders, members and supporters was published in the Los Angeles Times, Chronicle of Higher Education, Washington Post, New York Times, CNN.com, and the Chicago Tribune, among other news outlets.

In response to the legislative threats from politicians, threatened legal action, and physical threats from others, veteran attorneys have stepped forward to assist the ASA in responding to such legal bullying for taking a principled stand in support of Palestinian human rights. The ASA is not the only organization to face such bullying; in 2013 alone, Palestine Solidarity Legal Support, an initiative built in partnership with the Center for Constitutional Rights, documented more than 100 cases of legal and other intimidation against Palestinian rights activists on U.S. campuses.

Incoming ASA president Lisa Duggan noted, “We are looking forward to our upcoming annual meeting in November, which will feature a wealth of panels and events presenting first-rate American Studies scholarship on topics ranging from the politics of settler colonialism and transnational Black studies to popular culture and contemporary performance art. We will be welcoming Palestinian and Israeli scholars along with large contingents of other international ASA members poised to continue addressing matters of global concern affecting all of us.”

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ASA Executive Committee Condemns Israel’s Attacks on Palestinian Universities

August 4, 2014
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The ASA Executive Committee condemns Israel’s attacks on Palestinian universities, including the June 2014 invasion of Birzeit University, and the recent decimation of the Islamic University in Gaza City

Israel’s continued attacks on identifiable academic institutions are part of its campaign of collective punishment that has already claimed more than 1,650 lives. This goes well beyond the denial of academic freedom to further escalate Israel’s long-standing practice of denying an entire people the basic necessitates of life and freedom. We call upon the United States to withdraw political, financial, and military support from the state of Israel. As long as government support continues the U.S. is complicit in the ongoing siege of Gaza, Israeli war crimes, and Palestinian suffering.

ASA Executive Committee Statement on the Salaita Case

August 16, 2014
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The Executive Committee of the American Studies Association, which represents over 5000 scholars of American Studies around the world, protests the decision of University of Illinois Chancellor Phyllis Wise to rescind the offer of a tenured faculty position in American Indian Studies to highly regarded ASA member Professor Steven Salaita. 

Professor Salaita was offered the position in October 2013 following a national search and evaluation of his scholarship based on its merit and contributions to comparative indigenous studies. The administration’s action in rescinding the offer in August 2014, after Prof. Salaita had resigned his tenured position at Virginia Tech, and just days before his classes were set to begin at UIUC, sets a dangerous precedent. This last minute top down decision with no faculty consultation and no reason provided violates the tenets of faculty governance. Alarmingly, these actions constitute as well a de facto assault against the Program in American Indian Studies at UIUC despite its carefully earned status as one of the leading intellectual programs nationally in its field. This decision if not overturned is sure to erode the confidence of scholars and students of American Indian and Indigenous Studies that UIUC is an open and welcoming institution that values equally their social, cultural and intellectual contributions.  Additionally, if, as reported, the offer was rescinded based on Prof. Salaita’s twitter feed and opposition to the Israeli invasion of Gaza, the university’s actions constitute a clear violation of the principles of academic freedom, contravene the University’s self-proclaimed valuing of diversity, and suggest an intolerable anti-Arab bias.

We call upon you to restore faculty governance, to respect the Department of American Indian Studies and the faculty peer review process in evaluating faculty for tenured positions, and to begin to rebuild the UIUC’s reputation as an institution of academic excellence by restoring Professor Steven Salaita as a tenured associate professor of American Indian Studies at UIUC.

Prof Salaita and His Attorneys Respond to University of Illinois Trustee Vote to Terminate His Tenured Position Over Gaza Tweets

Board of Trustees Officially Votes Against Salaita, and Salaita Responds

The Center for Constitutional Rights provides background on the case.

Open Letters from Scholarly Associations on the Salaita Case

American Anthropological Association (AAA)
American Comparative Literature Association (ACLA)
American Historical Association (AHA)
American Association of University Professors (AAUP)
American Political Science Association (APSA)
American Studies Association (ASA)
California Scholars For Academic Freedom
Cultural Studies Association (CSA)
Middle Eastern Studies Association of North America (MESA)
Modern Language Association (MLA)
National Women’s Studies Association (NWSA)
Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA)
Society of American Law Teachers (SALT)

Letter from Constitutional Law Professors Regarding Revocation of Appointment of Professor Steven Salaita to the University of Illinois Faculty (August 15, 2014)

Petition: In Defense of Academic Freedom: A Call to People of Conscience not to speak at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign until Chancellor Wise honors the contract to hire Professor Steven Salaita

ASA Executive Committee Statement on Ferguson

September 5, 2014
American Studies Scholars Endorse Demands for Justice and Change in Policing of Communities of Color
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The American Studies Association represents over 5000 scholars of American Studies around the world, a number of whom focus on the long history of anti-black violence and racism as constitutive of the U.S. state and “American” national experience. The killing of Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri earlier this summer is a profoundly troubling event.  Far from isolated or exceptional, it reflects a long history of police violence against African Americans that is also represented in the recent deaths of Ezell Ford (Los Angeles, Calif.), Eric Garner (Staten Island, N.Y.) and John Crawford (Beavercreek, Ohio), as well as in the beating of Marlene Pinnock (Los Angeles, Calif.) by a California Highway Patrol officer to name only some recent cases.  In company with Sociologists for Justice (http://sociologistsforjustice.org/public-statement/) and many others, we are troubled by the excessive show of force and militarized response to protesters who rightfully seek justice and demand a change in the treatment of people of color by law enforcement. As educators we oppose the militarization of police power and support investments in free education. We urge law enforcement, policymakers, media and the nation to consider decades of research in the field of American Studies about the systemic state violence that takes place against bodies marked by race, the repeated prioritization of property rights over the rights of people, and the long history of “legal” killing of black people in the name of private or communal self-defense.  The current national focus on Ferguson reinforces the commitment of the association to promote American Studies scholarship that can inform the necessary conversations and solutions about the systemic conditions revealed by the events in Ferguson.

We at the ASA stand with all those calling for a full, transparent and timely investigation of the events that led to the death of Michael Brown. We also call for an assurance of the civil liberties of protestors and full respect for the civil rights of all, for independent investigation of all instances of police violence, and for concerted, coordinated, local, regional, national and international action to end racism in law enforcement.

ASA Responds to False Accusations of Possible Discrimination at 2014 Conference

October 21, 2014

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In recent days, several erroneous reports have circulated claiming that the American Studies Association (ASA), the nation’s oldest and largest association devoted to the interdisciplinary study of American culture and history, will bar Israeli academics from participating at our upcoming annual conference in Los Angeles, November 6-9. This allegation is false. There will not be discrimination of any sort against anyone. We welcome Israeli academics to attend, and in fact several are already scheduled to participate in the conference program (see here for more information on the program).

Subsequent reports also stated, erroneously, that the ASA had changed our policy regarding support for the academic boycott. We have not. Last year, after careful consideration by its membership, the ASA overwhelmingly endorsed an academic boycott to call attention to the violations of academic freedoms and human rights of Palestinian scholars and students by Israel. This limited action means simply that the ASA on an institutional level will not engage in collaborative projects with Israeli research institutions, and will not speak at Israeli academic institutions.

The ASA has a longstanding commitment to social justice and believes in the power of nonviolent strategies, such as boycotts and divestment movements, as a tool to effect political, social and economic change. The United States Supreme Court has upheld boycotts against human rights violations to be constitutionally protected under the First Amendment.

“We recognize that the boycott issue has been controversial, even among our own members, and in the spirit of openness and transparency, we have scheduled a panel discussion on precisely this topic,” said ASA President Lisa Duggan. “However, the ASA annual conference is a broad and inclusive event. It’s an opportunity to explore and celebrate the diversity of issues, views and scholarship that falls under the umbrella of American Studies. We look forward to the upcoming participation of our members, invited guests and registered attendees in Los Angeles.”


Chronicle of Higher Education: 2014 Influence List
They changed the debate about sanctions against Israel.
“We got into the mainstream press and triggered a number of conversations not visible before about Israel-Palestine,” says the ASA’s president, Lisa Duggan, a professor at New York University. “In that sense we had done what we wanted to do.”

1.Hank Reichman of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) comments on ACLJ’s unsupported claim: “California’s Unruh Act does indeed bar discrimination in hotel accommodations and does permit an institution to be considered a “person” suffering discrimination and hence eligible to bring a lawsuit.  But such a legal claim requires actual incidents of discrimination, and apparently the ACLJ has as yet identified neither an individual nor an institution that can be said to have been a victim of the alleged discriminatory behavior.”  He adds, “Moreover, ACLJ’s claim that the ASA boycott is anti-Semitic rings hollow, since not all Jews—indeed, not all Israelis—support the policies the boycott purports to resist.”

2. For more information about the American Center for Law and Justice, read this piece from the Electronic Intifada which explains that, “Founded by the far-right Southern Baptist minister Pat Robertson in 1990, ACLJ’s docket has been dominated by opposing same-sex marriage, outlawing abortion and evangelizing its anti-homosexual agenda in Africa.”

3. In January 2014, Shurat HaDin - The Israel Law Center sent the ASA a “cease and desist” letter threatening a lawsuit against it if it did not immediately end its academic boycott. Palestine Solidarity Legal Support and the Center for Constitutional Rights responded to Shurat HaDin’s threat.  The following excerpt from the statement can also be applied to the latest false claim, this time from the ACLJ.

ASA’s boycott resolution could not be considered discrimination, let alone discrimination based on animus toward the religion, race or national origin of any individual or institution; ASA’s actions are undertaken because of the policies of politically-accountable leaders in the Israeli government. Moreover, boycott and divestment strategies and the ASA position are grounded in the same anti-discrimination principles as other historical divestment and boycott strategies used to protest repressive state practices, including those employed against the South Africa apartheid regime and racial segregation in the United States.  It is precisely these kinds of boycott, which aim to effect “political, social and economic change,” that the United States Supreme Court has held to be constitutionally protected speech activities.

4. Curtis Marez op-ed in U-T San Diego: Group’s academic boycott honors civil rights tradition

The ASA’s commitment to boycotting formal collaborations with Israeli institutions honors a long-standing American civil rights tradition. We are not deterred by baseless legal accusations, and we are not distracted by false reports that we are denying entry to our public conference. We look forward to a broad and vigorous academic discussion at our upcoming meeting, with scholars from a wide range of academic fields and national origins—including Israelis—on issues like transnational violence, indigenous rights, and, of course, the ASA academic boycott.

5. David Palumbo-Liu in the Huffington Post: This Is How an Academic Boycott of Israel Actually Works

This points to an inability, and perhaps unwillingness, of the mainstream media to treat the issue of the academic boycott of Israel in a fair-handed manner…

Lisa Duggan and Mary Danico, representing two organizations that have endorsed the academic boycott of Israel, have it exactly right when they say that one of the very positive effects of the boycott is to put this issue (the absolute silencing of Palestinian voices in mainstream media) before people’s eyes. That is no small feat, given the reluctance of major news venues to treat this issue fairly, impartially, and accurately…

The academic boycott of Israel is not a matter of “piggybacking” or leaping on bandwagons. It is a matter of outrage at injustice and an emphatic act of conscience.

6. Lisa Duggan op-ed in the LA Times: Academic boycott of Israel gives voice to peaceful protest

To dispute the relevance of Israel to American studies is to ignore how intertwined Israel is with America. The story of Israel includes the story of Harry Truman, who fretted deeply over the endless war he foresaw as the consequence of his 1948 decision to recognize Israel.

America’s story includes Israeli leaders like Golda Meir, Moshe Arens and Benjamin Netanyahu, who lived or grew up here. Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., and his predecessor Michael Oren were products of the influential American Zionist movement—itself a topic worthy of study. Baruch Goldstein, the mass-murdering settler who killed 29 Palestinians at prayer in Hebron, had been an American Zionist too.

As Dahlia Scheindlin wrote on the Israeli site +972, “It is America’s U.N. veto, America’s enormous global weight, American financial and military aid that props up Israel’s standing and policies.” On November 9, at the Washington Hilton, political mega-donor Sheldon Adelson told Israeli American Council conferees, “Israel isn’t going to be a democratic state—so what?”

(Just two weeks later, a controversial bill that officially defines Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people was approved by cabinet despite warnings that the move risks undermining the country’s democratic character. Opponents, including some cabinet ministers, said the new legislation defined reserved “national rights” for Jews only and not for its minorities, and rights groups condemned it as racist.)

7. Associations Now: Academic Group Looks Beyond Israel Boycott

Duggan emphasized that ASA’s academic boycott of Israel is part of a larger existing tradition for the organization, one that includes protests against the Vietnam and Iraq wars.

“The effort here is about putting into context the boycott vote with all of the other kinds of social justice work we do,” Duggan told Inside Higher Ed of the endeavor. “There’s a very long list. The boycott is not the only thing about us.”

8. Jim Downs in the Huffington Post: Back to the Future: American Studies’ Noble Dreams

The scholarly profession needs a cutting edge, politically radical, mildly indecipherable group of intellectuals to continue to push us to dare more. We need to remember that the ASA has been at the future of the scholarly profession for the last half-century. We need to go back to the future. We all need to go back to ASA.

9. Corey Robin: Israel, Palestine, and the “Myth and Symbol” of American Studies

My sense of American Studies—admittedly from outside the field—is that it always has derived a great deal of its animating energy and intellectual purpose from the international arena (otherwise known as other countries). As Lisa’s interlocutor himself acknowledges, the early years of American Studies were shaped by the imperatives of the Cold War, and then in the 1960s and 1970s the field was reshaped by the Vietnam War, producing such canonical works as…Richard Slotkin’s learned and literate trilogy about the long and terrible career of American violence.

In order to reconcile this past of the discipline with the complaints of its contemporary critics, you have to make one of two assumptions: either that the field has another, completely different past or that Israel is not part of the foreign policy of the United States. Either way, you’re living in a fantasy land.

Once upon a time American Studies’s elders took apart the “myth and symbol” of America; now they’ve turned their field into one.

10. Lisa Duggan op-ed in the Providence Journal: Israel boycott has not hurt us

The (2014) conference, drawing 2,300 scholars, was the first to follow our resolution last December supporting the call from Palestinian civil society for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. The boycott is a form of nonviolent resistance that proved its value during the successful fight against South African apartheid… with 1,000 new members (net gain) since the resolution passed, record fundraising and robust conference attendance, it’s hard to argue our association has suffered.

Because we support the boycott of Israeli academic institutions as a nonviolent means to secure Palestinian rights and freedom, we too find ourselves under attack. But the critics’ complaint that our stand is unfair to academicians who don’t agree with it is a recipe for never doing anything that might draw opposition.

11.  Middle East Studies Association affirms members’ right to boycott Israeli academic institutions

Uri Blau reporting for Haaretz mentioned MESA’s status in the field of Middle East studies as being considered “the most important” and that Israeli academics are calling this both “unprecedented” and a “game changer”.  Blau went on to acknowledge the growing strength of the BDS movement. “Even if for now the significance of the resolution is mostly symbolic, the debate over a boycott of Israel is gradually moving into the center of the academic sphere and is no longer on the margins,” he wrote.

12. Civil rights organizations warn universities: there is no “civility” exception to First Amendment

Universities cannot restrict student (or faculty) speech because they are nervous about views that challenge state violence, or express anger about Palestinian suffering.  Debate, disagreement, and free expression, including protests, demonstrations, and other expressive activities, embody the highest values of a free university and a democratic society.

13. American Anthropological Association soundly defeats a proposed resolution opposing the academic boycott of Israel

Advocates of the movement to boycott Israeli universities see it as a way that foreign academics can stand in solidarity with Palestinians and put moral pressure on Israel’s government to change its policies…virtually all anthropologists who work in the Palestinian territories support the boycott, having “come to this decision through years of research and a realization that supporting the boycott is part of their ethical practice as anthropologists.”

Under the boycott, Israelis would still be permitted to participate in AAA meetings and publish in its journals. Zareena Grewal of Yale University reminded the audience that the American Studies Association’s support for the boycott did not prevent numerous Israelis from attending that group’s recent annual meeting.

14.  US student workers’ union backs Israel boycott in landslide vote

UAW 2865, a labor union representing over 13,000 teaching assistants, tutors, and other student-workers at the University of California, has become the first major U.S. labor union to hold a membership vote responding to the Palestinian civil society call for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israeli occupation and in solidarity with Palestinian self-determination. The vote passed, with 65% (almost 2/3) of voting members in support. The measure calls on: 1) the University of California to divest from companies involved in Israeli occupation and apartheid; 2) the UAW International to divest from these same entities; 3) the US government to end military aid to Israel. 4) 53 % of voting members also pledged not to “take part in any research, conferences, events, exchange programs, or other activities that are sponsored by Israeli universities complicit in the occupation of Palestine and the settler-colonial policies of the state of Israel” until such time as these universities take steps to end complicity with dispossession, occupation, and apartheid.

ASA Launches Nationwide Initiative to Document Assaults on Academic Freedom and Higher Education

November 7, 2014

Media Contact:

Stephanie Willerton
646-775-1041 mobile
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Los Angeles, CA - The American Studies Association (ASA), one of the leading scholarly communities supporting social change, today announced at its annual conference a nationwide effort to document and publicize instances of assaults on academic freedom, faculty profiling, widespread dismantling of academic programs in American Studies (as well as Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Ethnic Studies, and other allied programs), access to education, and hostile environments on many campuses for faculty and student labor organizing and protest.

“Against a backdrop of rapidly changing economics in higher education, it’s clear that university scholars and students in America are increasingly under attack,” said ASA President Lisa Duggan of New York University. “From elimination of tenure, to the expansion of a precarious class of adjuncts and instructors with neither the benefit of academic freedom nor the basic dignity of a living wage, to a burgeoning cohort of students drowning in debt, these assaults on higher education are part and parcel of political and economic privatization efforts that will have devastating long-term effects.”

The effort, called Scholars Under Attack, will document examples of assaults on academic freedom, program cuts, labor organizing and political protests, and instances of faculty profiling. The following examples have occurred just in the past few months:

* In August 2014, Steven Salaita, a former tenured professor at Virginia Technical Institute whose tenured job from the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) was rescinded when UIUC decided statements he made on Twitter about Israel and Palestine were “uncivil” and made him inappropriate for the classroom.

* In Spring 2014, University of Southern Maine announced a plan to cut dozens of tenured and untenured faculty and staff, as well as several masters and undergraduate programs. Faculty members disputed the university president’s claim that the cuts were financially necessary. The Board of Trustees approved the elimination of 50 faculty members, which made up almost 20 percent of its total, and a number of departments, including American and New England Studies. English, philosophy and history departments would be collapsed into a single humanities department.

* In October 2014, Utah State University received an email threatening a mass killing if the school did not cancel Anita Sarkeesian’s lecture.  Although Sarkeesian, a video game critic and feminist, requested metal detectors and pat downs, she was forced to cancel the event because it is illegal to restrict the possession or use of firearms in Utah.

“In addition to methodically documenting and raising awareness, it is our goal with Scholars Under Attack to build a more systemic response to these issues and moving forward begin to reverse these trends for the sake of America’s scholars, students and renowned system of higher education.”

About the ASA

Chartered in 1951, the American Studies Association has 5,000 members dedicated to promoting meaningful dialogue about the United States, throughout the U.S. and across the globe. Our purpose is to support scholars and scholarship committed to original research, critical thinking, and public discussion and debate. We hold in common the desire to view US history and culture from multiple perspectives. In addition to being the oldest and largest scholarly association devoted to the interdisciplinary study of US culture and history in a global context, we are also one of the leading scholarly communities supporting social change.

See further, the Los Angeles Review of Books, LARB Senior Humanities Editor Sarah Mesle interviews Lisa Duggan

“American Studies” is necessarily engaged in the study of US policies and their impact; there’s no way we can really remain aloof from policy debates… American Studies is a site where the engagement with politics is part of what the field does.

FAQS: Applying to American Studies Graduate Programs

Prepared by the Graduate Education Committee, ASA
November 2012
Download Grad Ed FAQs.pdf
Statement on Standards in Graduate Education

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.

American Studies Journals: A Directory of Worldwide Resources


This website provides scholars with a one-stop shop for the latest research published in American studies journals throughout the world. Organized by the International Initiative of the American Studies Association and funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, this site is the outcome of a collaboration between numerous journal editors around the world.

Dr. Sacvan Berkovitch (1933-2014)

With the death of Sacvan Bercovitch, American Studies lost a critic and scholar whose legacy is not only in the brilliance of his work or the numerous students and colleagues he inspired, but perhaps most importantly in the example of what it means to be guided by passion and imagination in a scholarship that is also profoundly committed to the project of social justice.  The Charles H. Carswell Professor of English and American Literature and Language at Harvard University from 1983 until his retirement in 2000 and the Powell M. Cabot Professor of American Literature, Emeritus at his death, he served as President of the American Studies Association in 1982-83 and was awarded the Bode-Pearson Prize for Lifetime Achievement in American Studies in 2007.

I am rarely intimidated and not given to hero worship, but when I first met Saki (as he insisted on being called), I could barely speak.  It was an effort to look him in the eye.  That was not because he had any intention to be intimidating.  In fact, he was warm, solicitous, and welcoming. But he was the author of the first book I had ever read that showed me it was possible to think of scholarship—of literary criticism in particular—as something that could really help to repair the world. 

I was still an undergraduate, and my advisor, who described Saki as her “mentor” despite not having worked with him officially (one of many such people, I would soon discover), had sent me to meet him.  If he were willing to work with me, she told me, then it was worth going to graduate school, despite the warnings about the dearth of academic jobs.  He would not train me to be a scholar, she promised; he would educate me.  I had just finished reading The Puritan Origins of the American Self, and I knew she was right.  In many ways, the book defied categorization, but for me it was a clear example of the literary criticism for which I had been searching: a literary criticism that began with the premise that lived experience was fundamentally literary and followed with the insight that literary criticism therefore offered tools for understanding all aspects of life.  It was typical of Saki that when I arrived at Columbia, I discovered I could not sign up for his graduate seminar because it was reserved for part-time MA students who were often shut out of other graduate seminars because of their work schedules (and departmental hierarchies). When I told Saki I was prepared to relinquish my fellowship and change my status to take the seminar, he laughed and gave me special permission to take the class as long as I promised to keep my idealism.

Fierce when he had to be, Saki was fundamentally gentle, kind, and dismayed by injustice, which he considered illogical.  He loved to tell the story of his naming, how his Ukrainian Jewish socialist parents, Alexander Bercovitch and Bryna Avrutik, named their third child and only son, born in Canada in 1933, after the Italian Anarchists and leftist culture heroes Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, who had been executed six years earlier. Saki took a circuitous route through his education.  After brief stints at the New School for Social Research and Reed College, he left school for an Israeli kibbutz, where he worked as a dairy farmer and met his first wife, Gila (Hannah Malmquist). Returning to his native Canada a husband and father, he worked in a grocery store where his employer, recognizing his obvious intellectual gifts, put him on a management track and sent him to night school to study math.  But it was literature that intrigued him, offering him the insights that would help him understand the world he wanted to change. 

Saki graduated with a BA from Sir George Williams College (now Concordia University) in 1958 and earned his PhD at the Claremont Graduate School (now Claremont Graduate University) in 1965.  His teaching appointments included Brandeis University, the University of California at San Diego, Princeton University, Columbia University, and finally Harvard University, where he met and married his second wife, Susan L. Mizruchi, Professor of English at Boston University.  He held visiting positions across the world, was elected as a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1986, and received numerous awards, including the Distinguished Scholar Award for Extraordinary Lifetime Achievement in Early American Literature in 2002 and the Jay B. Hubbell Prize for Lifetime Achievement in American Literary Studies in 2004 as well as the Bode-Pearson Prize.  He was awarded support for his scholarship from such sources as the Yale Center for American Studies, the Center for Advanced Study in Social and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University, the American Antiquarian Society, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the Huntington Library, the Ford Foundation, the John Carter Brown Library, the Guggenheim Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Saki worked out his complex understanding of the power of rhetoric to shape lived experience and harness utopian revolutionary projects in numerous publications, including The Puritan Origins of the American Self (1975), The American Jeremiad (1978), The Office of the Scarlet Letter (1991), The Rites of Assent: Transformations in the Symbolic Construction of America (1993), and the edited collections Typology and Early American Literature (1972), The American Puritan Imagination: Essays in Revaluation (1974), Reconstructing American Literary History (1986), and Ideology and Classic American Literature (1986, with Myra Jehlen).  He was Editor of the comprehensive and widely acclaimed eight-volume Cambridge History of American Literature (1986-2004).  Towards the end of his career, Saki increasingly focused on his long-standing interest in Yiddish literature, which engaged him as both critic and translator. 

Saki’s passionate commitments never precluded his mischievous wit.  My son had the good fortune of being an undergraduate in his last class, American Dissent, and I enjoyed the regular updates I got from Saki about the class.  I especially delighted in hearing from my son that Saki once pulled him aside to tell him he should go to graduate school.  After all, he observed wryly, “it’s the last aristocratic way of life.” To me he once confessed that he considered getting paid to teach and write to be “a racket.” I know what he meant: he was doing exactly what he loved, and I know of no one who more fully dedicated himself to the life of the mind and to the serious work it entailed. Suspicious of institutions and organizations, even (perhaps especially) those to which he belonged, he knew what mattered, and he knew what didn’t, and he was fearlessly outspoken in his insistence on the distinction.

But no list of publications and honors can even begin to capture Saki’s breathtaking contribution to American Studies in its broadest conception.  Beginning with The Puritan Origins, Sacvan Bercovitch showed how the Puritan imagination, with its powerful theological inflections, constituted the unconscious of “the American self” and, as he developed in The American Jeremiad and subsequent writing, how it permeated the form and rhetoric of US American cultural production and politics. His compelling insights shaped multiple fields of study, and they remain as persuasive today as they were more than three decades ago, perhaps even more so in the post-9/11 world, as scholars in American Studies have come to realize what was central to his work: not only the imaginative hold of the nation form, but its fundamental instability in a global network of exchange and allegiance.

What I got most profoundly from him, however, was a deep conviction that I should draw my motivating questions not from a particular discipline or field, but from the project of social justice.  Equally important was the training he gave me in a particular methodology, a strategy of reading that attends to the moments in which “history” displaces definitional instabilities and to the language of those displacements.  In the interstices of a court case for example—what cannot be written into law and emerges instead in the metaphors and invocations of national history—are the most profound implications of the case and the most unresolved questions of our moment.  It is where justice may find itself at odds with the law.  And where we learn, as I learned early on from Saki, that justice inheres in reading strategies that entail our ability to live with, rather than trying to move beyond, irresolution. 

Saki’s death is mourned by the many students and colleagues whose lives he touched directly or through his writing as well as his surviving family, including his wife Susan Mizruchi, his sons, Eytan and Sascha Bercovitch, and his sisters, Sylvia Ary and Ninel Segal.

Priscilla Wald
Department of English
Duke University
and Past President of the American Studies Association

AQ Call for Papers: Special Issue

Call for Papers: Special Issues
American Quarterly publishes one special issue per year each September.  Special issues are edited by the guest editors in collaboration with the AQ editors and the AQ Managing Board. They are comprised of a combination of essays that are solicited by the editors and essays that are submitted to a call for papers. The process is subject to editorial but not blind peer review. For more information on special issues and a look back at past special issues, please visit the Special Issues page.

Call for Papers
Special Issue: Tours of Duty and Tours of Leisure
Edited by Vernadette Vicuña Gonzalez (University of Hawai’i at Mānoa, American Studies), Jana K. Lipman (Tulane University, History) and Teresia Teaiwa (Victoria University of Wellington, Pacific Studies)

The 2016 special issue of American Quarterly, tentatively titled “Tours of Duty and Tours of Leisure,” will focus on the convergences of tourism and militarism as crucial manifestations of US imperial strategy. US militarism permeates the economy and culture in occupied territories, allied states, and postcolonial regions alike, generating political and economic dependencies in a decidedly colonial grammar. In each instance, tourism is held up as a promise and panacea for emergent markets, even as the tourist economy glosses over, hides, or romanticizes histories of war, violence, and terror. Tourism and militarism converge within and outside US military bases, in their shared personnel, and through interchangeable technologies and logics. They can also be entangled in “eco-tourist” adventures, volunteer missions, memorial pilgrimages, along with numerous other sites, illuminating intersections between militarization and the neoliberal regimentation of modern life.

When Teresia Teaiwa first used the term militourism to reflect on the sexualized evasion of the nuclear gaze in Micronesia, she articulated how Asia and the Pacific had coalesced into the key target of Western and US Cold War politics. While Asia and the Pacific continue to operate under increasingly securitized logics and market regimes, Latin America, Africa, Central Asia, and even Europe have also come into the US orbit under similar terms. Today, tourism and militarism reinforce US logics of security and profoundly shape the material realities, political freedoms, economic solutions, and environmental destinies of people and lands both at “home” and abroad. They are, as Cynthia Enloe suggests, “kin, bound together as cause and effect.”

This special issue seeks to explore the mutual and cogenerative genealogies, technologies, ideologies, and geographies of tourism and militarism, with particular interest in how they collaborate to shore up US geostrategic interests, as well as provide instances where US hegemony might be critiqued and dismantled.

Topics might include theorizations of genealogies of hospitality and occupation; tourisms of occupation, war, and demilitarized zones and borders; tourisms of battlefields and memorials; sex tourism and its military/militarized clientele; the gendered and sexualized modalities of tourism and the military; labor histories of tourist and military economies; the relationship between tourism, terrorism, and notions of “security”; the interplay between military surveillance and the tourist gaze; demilitarization tours and activism; the use of drones and other militarized technologies for travel; the police state and tourist safety; the militarization of tourism through state policies such as travel advisories.

Submissions are due August 1, 2015. Authors must address the guest editors and clearly indicate that their submissions are intended for the special issue in their cover letter. Accepted submissions will appear in American Quarterly, volume 68, issue 3 (Fall 2016). Submissions are due August 1, 2015. Authors must address the guest editors and clearly indicate that their submissions are intended for the special issue in their cover letter. Accepted submissions will appear in American Quarterly, volume 68, issue 3 (Fall 2016). Learn more about the submission guidelines.

Future Special Issues
The AQ Managing Board is open to proposals for future special issues, including special issues that include online and hyperlink elements. Please email your special issue proposal directly to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) with subject line: “AQ Special Issue Proposal.”

- See more at: http://www.americanquarterly.org/submit/cfp.html#sthash.tOI075Qe.dpuf

We are also pleased to announce the addition of the following new issues to the MUSE database:

American Quarterly
Volume 66, Number 4, December 2014

Apply for Standing and Prize Committees

The Executive Committee of the American Studies Association invites applications and nominations for several standing and prize committee positions listed here. Candidates must be association members and should possess expertise appropriate to the committee’s work.

Applications should include a brief statement outlining one’s qualifications and experience, letter(s) of reference relating the candidate’s experience to the committee’s work , and the applicant’s two-page (maximum) vita.  The application materials should be assembled by the submitter into a single PDF prior to submission.

Nominations should relate the candidate’s experience to the committee’s work and include each nominee’s brief statement outlining his or her qualifications and experience, and the nominee’s (maximum) two-page vita.

The materials should not exceed six pages in length. Do not submit academic resumes.

All application materials should be assembled by the submitter and transmitted to the ASA electronically in the form of a single PDF on or before April 1, 2015 via the online submission form here: Online Submission Form.  You may also ship the application PDF via Dropbox to (.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)).

Reflections on the Annual Meeting, November 2014

The 2014 annual meeting in Los Angeles, “The Fun and the Fury: New Dialectics of Pleasure and Pain in the Post-American Century,” was an attempt to come together around other terms, to place even the existing terms by which most of us organize ourselves and our work under the kind of pressure that would let us see how much or how little those terms are really ours. The pressure was experimental and was driven by a desire for pleasure, even in the face of the things that oppress and infuriate us, precisely because a general opening and cultivation of our capacity to please and to be pleased is what we want. We put pressure on these terms by using and, sometimes, abusing them, critically, but also with a sense of abandon and even, sometimes, with the intent to abandon them. Even unguarded usage of terms such as “we” and “ours” was encouraged if only so that they could be more brought more sharply and insistently into critical relief. If everything “we” hope for is, in some sense, grounded in an assumption of a shared generality the only way to protect that ground is by digging into it, investigating as furiously as possible the very foundations and possibility of “our” collectivity.

There could have been no more appropriate place than Los Angeles, which bears the historical traces of U.S. imperial expansion and new internationalization marked as much by the transgression as by the proliferation of borders, to explore the production of desire, the experience of abundance and deprivation, the affective, discursive and material structures subtending both oppression and the joy and pain that attend the resistance to oppression. “The Fun and the Fury” was a vast collective experiment in new forms and modalities of collective study and Los Angeles was the laboratory for analyzing and experiencing the constant disruptions and innovations of the striated totality of American social, political, economic and cultural life. Rather than L.A. standing for all that is inimical to the making and dispersal of casual, random and intense sociality, L.A. was in fact a space that upheld the communities that formed under the various conference headings and created more. ASA this year was home to theater productions, conventional panels, rants, raves, elegies and soliloquies. People rose to the challenge, took the bait, drank and made merry.

The conference organizers and, especially, the site-resource committee forged lines of dispersal throughout the city, making contact with Los Angeles’ diverse range of artistic, activist and intellectual communities, while inside the Bonaventure Hotel itself new structures of academic and counter-academic address were conceived and attempted, some renewing the most basic forms of good old fashioned social contact, others taking full, and hopefully subversive advantage of new technological capacities to gather virtually, all in the interest of forging a range of new orientations within that famously disorienting space.

In the production and performance of “soap-box manifestos,” in the murder and resuscitation of key words, in a Presidential Address that made use of a “silly archive” and put queer feelings front and center, in a proliferation of non-traditional presentations that aggressively attempted to blur the lines between panelists and audience, the conference was bent on refreshing our collectivity by putting pressure on the assumptions that undergird it. This was especially emphatic and appropriate at the culmination of a year that had brought grossly premature pronouncements of the death of the ASA in the wake of its decision, after spirited debate at the 2013 annual meeting in Washington D.C., to boycott Israeli academic and cultural institutions complicit in the occupation of Palestine. Last year’s conference continued that debate with a series of panels featuring scholars from all over the world addressing the global history of colonial practice and attempting to refine and extend anti-colonial theory and activism.

If controversy over the proper place and modality of academic activism constituted a major part of what animated the 2014 annual meeting, mourning the loss of José Esteban Muñoz and celebrating his life and brilliance were also essential to what animated the conference. As Lisa Duggan eloquently put it in her presidential address, “The fun and the fury of mourning José, celebrating his work and each other as well as raging at mortality, did come to overlap with the fun and the fury of responding to both the enormous joy that created the boycott vote, as well as with the considerable dissent and rage over that vote in multiple arenas.” Despite his untimely passing in December 2013, Muñoz was the conference’s presiding spirit. There is no more auspicious meeting of fun and fury than in his body of work. Muñoz was co-chair of the planning committee for this conference and his brilliant enthusiasm and ideas, as well as all the rich lessons in innovative intellectual practice gleaned from ASA annual meetings over the past two decades were the impetus for a range of attempts to form a different kind of atmosphere, one built on his firm belief that “‘our current situation is not enough, that something is indeed missing and we cannot live without it’” (qtd. in Lisa Duggan, Presidential Address).

—-Fred Moten, Jack Halberstam, Sandra K. Soto

Election Results 2015

The voting in the ASA Election is now completed. The following members have been elected to three-year terms that shall last from July 1, 2015, to June 30, 2018.


Robert Warrior, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign


Sharon Holland, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Jodi Melamed, Marquette University
Nadine Naber, University of Illinois, Chicago
Steven Salaita, Independent Scholar

Nominating Committee:

Karen Leong, Arizona State University
Ramón H. Rivera-Servera, Northwestern University

The Council extends its appreciation to all those who agreed to run for office, congratulates the new leaders of the Association, and wishes them success in their undertakings over the next three years.

The Council also extends its gratitude to those who are completing their term of service. The councilors whose terms expire on June 30, 2015 include:


E. Patrick Johnson, Northwestern University
Karen Leong, Arizona State University
Curtis Marez, past president, University of California, San Diego
Chandan Reddy, University of Washington, Seattle

Nominating Committee

Miranda Joseph, University of Arizona
Julie Sze, University of California, Davis

ASA Executive Committee Condemns the UAE’s Travel Ban on Researchers

March 20, 2015

Media Contact:
John F. Stephens, Executive Director
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The American Studies Association (ASA) Executive Committee is gravely concerned that the government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has recently banned entry to New York University (NYU) professor and ASA member Andrew Ross.  Professor Ross, who is a researcher and critic of the systematic abuse of migrant labor in the Emirates and other Gulf states, was prevented from boarding a flight to Abu Dhabi for supposed “security reasons.”

In opening its Abu Dhabi campus, substantially funded by the UAE government, the NYU administration assured worried faculty and students that academic freedom would be protected there.  But the ban on travel for research by an NYU professor constitutes a flagrant breach of this principle.  The ASA calls on the NYU administration and our sister academic organizations to denounce this and other government interferences in travel for research.

The ASA is an academic organization consisting of over 5000 members from the United States and around the world.  We are the oldest and largest association devoted to the interdisciplinary study of US culture and history in a global context, supporting scholars, teachers, administrators, writers, critical thinkers and activists around the world. In pursuit of these goals over the decades, the ASA has evolved into one of the leading scholarly organizations known for taking action in the worlds of politics and policy to create and defend conditions for open debate and the pursuit of meaningful, engaged scholarship and teaching.  Given the ASA’s commitment to social justice and history of solidarity with labor, the Executive Committee of the ASA strongly condemns the UAE’s ban on travel for researchers critical of their labor practices.

AAUP:  Denial of Entry to Professor Troubling

ASA Executive Committee Condemns So-Called “Religious Freedom Restoration” Acts

March 20, 2015

Media Contact:
John F. Stephens, Executive Director
.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

In response to the Georgia legislature’s consideration of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (SB129), the American Studies Association (ASA) is suspending its bid to hold our 2018 annual meeting in Atlanta.  Should the legislation pass, the ASA will not meet in Georgia.

Georgia’s SB 129 would allow individuals and corporations to discriminate against marginalized groups on the basis of religious beliefs.  In the name of religious freedom, this legislation would justify the refusal of services to Muslim and LGBT communities and their members. As critics have pointed out, this legislation could also be mobilized to defend those who inflict violence and abuse upon family members or community members by suggesting these actions reflect their deeply held religious beliefs.  Former Georgia attorney general Mike Bowers notes, “Obvious targets for discrimination based on a supposed burden on religious exercise are members of the LGBT community and religious minorities. But more insidiously, this legislation will allow state and local government employees to refuse services to citizens.” (Mike Bowers memorandum, quoted at http://www.buzzfeed.com/chrisgeidner/mike-bowers-calls-for-a-swift-death-to-georgia-religious-fre#.yl4az4MMm)

The American Studies Association (ASA) is an academic organization consisting of over 5000 members from the United States and around the world.  We are the oldest and largest association devoted to the interdisciplinary study of US culture and history in a global context, supporting scholars, teachers, administrators, writers, critical thinkers and activists around the world. In pursuit of these goals over the decades, the ASA has evolved into one of the leading scholarly organizations known for taking action in the worlds of politics and policy to create and defend conditions for open debate and the pursuit of meaningful, engaged scholarship and teaching.  Given the ASA’s commitment to social justice, the Executive Committee of the ASA strongly condemns the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (SB 129).

By suspending its bid to hold the 2018 annual meeting in Atlanta, the ASA also is withholding the potential infusion of $1.4 million into Georgia’s economy, the amount ASA members spend on airfare, hotels, food, and other services when attending the meeting.  We call on other professional and scholarly organizations opposed to state supported discrimination to cancel their annual meetings, and reconsider their bids to meet in the state of Georgia if SB 129 is passed and signed into law.

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