Rose Linda Fregoso, Carla Peterson, and David Roediger, the co-chairs of the Program Committee, thank committee members David Eng, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Roberta Hill, Josh Kun, Melani McAlister, Marita Sturken, Leti Volpp, and Laura Wexler for developing an exciting and provocative program at the 2003 ASA. The committee benefited from an exceptional Site Resources Committee, co-chaired by Lisa MacFarlane and Todd Vogel, who worked in cooperation with the New England American Studies Association to produce superb locally based programming, on- and off- site. The program’s “Violence and Belonging” theme reflected both the intellectual inspiration and the passion for productive consultation that ASA president Amy Kaplan brought to all of her work with the committee. The patience, wisdom, and hard work of John Stephens, and of ASA staff members Tina Braxton, Vanessa Mason, Larry McReynolds, and Aaron Palmer made it possible to sort through the hundreds of proposals and to present 196 full sessions, forty of them assembled from individual paper proposals by a subcommittee under Carla Peterson’s creative direction.
The capacious theme of “violence and belonging” produced a great variety of programming, examining issues of war, empire, migration, race relations, the nation-state, incarceration, and repression in a wide range of arenas such as politics, society, art, popular culture, and the media. Conceived at a time when the Iraq war was looming, the theme took on special urgency by the time of the conference when paradoxically military operations were said to be “over” but the country was still quite obviously at war. Two major conference sessions directly addressed these current events. In her presidential address “Violent Belongings and the Question of Empire Today,” Amy Kaplan examined the current permutations of American Empire—military intervention abroad, security for the homeland—and its meanings for the field of American Studies today. The later plenary session “The State of War,” featuring Ruth Gilmore, Tariq Ali, Judith Butler, and Michael Berube, extended these themes and provided a model of spirited and provocative exchange among the speakers and the audience.
Beyond providing a forum for specific discussion of the Iraq war, the theme “violence and belonging” provided a coherent intellectual focus and framework for the conference as a whole. Conversation and debate took place in both the more traditional panel sessions as well as new presentation formats, including two “talk format” panels, an online discussion, nine roundtables, and sessions featuring artistic performances and opportunities to her influential American Studies professionals working outside academia. Some of the panels referred to other global conflicts taking place today and the relation of the U.S. to them; particularly noteworthy in this regard was the session “American Jews, Israel, and the Palestinian Question,” and the two Arab/Arab-American Feminist Roundtables, “The Enemy Within: Nation, War, and Belonging,” and “Spaces of Empowerment, Communities of Resistance?” Other panels served as sober reminders of the nation’s all-too-long history of violence. From this perspective, several sessions revisited earlier periods of U.S. imperialism such as the Philippines and Vietnam wars. Others looked at the ways in which our borders have historically served as contested sites of violence and belonging. Still others examined more “local” instances of violence, whether against queer students in schools, non-white populations in urban settings, or women in the home.
The city of Hartford provided an excellent backdrop for the conference. Attendees did note some problems with the venue, which we hope can be avoided at future meetings—most especially, the difficulty of getting from one hotel to another, the poor acoustics at the Convention Center, and the inaccessibility of the book exhibit. But collaboration with many of Hartford’s illustrious cultural institutions greatly enhanced the meeting: a discussion of the nineteenth-century literary community Nook Farm at the Harriet Beecher Stowe House; sessions of the collection of fine and decorative arts at the Wadsworth Atheneum, and a workshop on bringing material cultural and literary studies together at the Mark Twain House.
The Program Committee is proud of a most successful 2003 conference and thanks the Association for the opportunity to help shape the event and to work with the ASA staff and one another.