The program committee co-chairs, Sarah Deutsch, Gary Okihiro, and Patricia Turner, are grateful for the good labors of their committee members: Christine Bold, Rosa Linda Fregoso, Kevin Gaines, Herman Gray, Juanita Marie Holland, Lois Horton, Robert Martin, Kevin Meehan, Phyllis Palmer, and Bruce Tucker. ASA president Mary Helen Washington worked closely with the committee and placed her distinctive mark on the final program. We particularly enjoyed the opportunity to work with members of the Canadian Association for American Studies, and look forward to future collaborations. The co-chairs must thank the ASA office staff, John Stephens, Reynolds Scott-Childress, John Staudt, and the many others who worked at the registration desk and behind the scenes at the meeting. They truly ran the conference, and they have our gratitude and thanks.
This year, we hosted a record number of sessions and participants. Virtually every session bore some relation to the conference's theme, "Going Public," coming at issues of public cultures and contested public terrains and representations from a mind-boggling array of perspectives, with our president, Mary Helen Washington, setting the standard in her multi-media presidential address. Several sessions had overflow crowds, including "Musical Interrogations: The Blues Tradition. . ." and the conversation around Lawrence Levine's OPENING OF THE AMERICAN MIND. In truth, the conversation format proved highly successful; the participants stayed within their time limits, and a large number of the audience was able to participate. The response to this and other sessions where panelists gave brief (five to ten-minute) presentations, leaving more time for audience discussion was extremely positive. Although such formats might be overwhelming for the entire conference, many people encouraged us to arrange more of those kinds of sessions.
The usual problems regarding Sunday morning attendance arose, as well as, in this conference, problems of burn-out by late Saturday afternoon. It's not clear that there is any way around these problems as long as we want to continue our acceptance ratio. Perhaps more panels mid-day on Saturday and fewer on Sunday morning would help, but that may not be possible depending on the conference facilities. Some suggested different formats for late Saturday afternoon sessions to break and perk up the day's rhythm. Many believed holding sessions in two different hotels posed little difficulty, while others held that the division broke up the feeling of togetherness. (Some caught room-envy when comparing the differential accommodations.) We received complaints over thin walls between adjoining sessions, especially when music was being played in the next room. Those problems, of course, are recurrent and their resolution depend upon goodwill between neighbor panelists and a judicious selection of hotel site.
We appreciated the detailed instructions on how to reach the conference hotels from airports and train stations, but would urge future programs to include helpful information about public transportation in and about the cities we visit. Washington, D.C., for example, has extensive public transportation systems that conferees might use to great advantage.
As we foresaw after having assembled the program, there were gaps that attendees rightly pointed out to us at the conference. Those absences were in large part due to the limited range of submissions with which the program committee had to work, despite our best efforts to recruit sessions in those underrepresented areas. We would thus encourage proposals in the areas of law, the environment, labor, and the eighteenth century.
We also noted that many proposals failed to conform to the guidelines, and subsequent dealings between paper presenters and their chairs and discussants were sometimes marred by unprofessionalism. We encourage all participants to adhere to basic understandings of courtesy, particularly as to getting papers to commentors on time, as a matter of professional courtesy, recognizing that discussants, too, are giving a public performance and need time to compose intelligent comments of use both to the audience and panelists. We urge all participants to refer to the message by Peggy Pascoe and David Gutierrez, the 1996 program chairs, published in the ASA Newsletter 20:1 (March 1997). Their advice is most helpful.
Our impressions, confirmed by most of the session chair evaluations, were that most panels were well-attended, the papers were of an overall high quality, and there were very few no-shows among the panelists. The large number of excellent proposals and the record attendance at the conference affirm our belief that American Studies is uniquely situated to examine the public sphere(s) in all its (their) complexity, by virtue of the field's very interdisciplinarity and its history of engagement between scholars and the public discourse. Surely the richness and diversity of approaches to the questions of "Going Public" evidenced at this conference surpassed many of our understandings and expectations. And that should be the measure of any conference.