The co-chairs of the 2004 American Studies Annual convention, Shirley Geok-lin Lim, George Sanchez, and Rafia Zafar, again thank everyone who participated in making the meetings in Atlanta, Georgia, such a memorable success. From the members of the Program Committee, Siva Vaidhyanathan, Shirley Thompson, Estevan Rael-Galvez, Greg Robinson, Craig Howe, Cathy Choy, Joel Dinnerstein, Tiffany Lopez, and Oscar Campomanes, to ASA executive director, John Stephens, convention managers Larry McReynolds and Vanessa Mason, and ASA staff, to our site resource colleagues Pearl McHaney and Christine Levenduski and president Shelley Fisher Fishkin, the 2004 ASA convention was truly a team effort. We also thank the entire ASA membership for its sterling support, understanding and patience, particularly with the new technologies that the staff had put into place for on-line submissions and drafts of program schedules and information. The convention, together with its deployment of innovative initiatives, owes its successes to you all.
The convention theme, “Crossroads of Cultures”, provided a fertile and capacious venue in which to display the multiple theoretical approaches, disciplinary models, interdisciplinary excursions, and exciting discoveries that have become a hallmark of the American Studies conventions. While the theme invited a dizzying diversity of presentations, the convention's panels and sessions visibly traced the dominant intellectual trajectories in American Studies, post Sept. 11th and in the new millennium of U.S. global power and struggles, providing opportunities for fresh interrogations of historical moments and identities in the context of current international politics, new cultural productions under the aegis of critical race theories, and emerging bodies of studies inflected by transnational dynamics, new media, popular culture, and other discursive flows. The shape of the 2004 ASA convention was marked particularly by its location in Atlanta, with Southern regionalism, Black history and identities, Civil Rights history and discourse forming the topics for many panels; by the historical moment, featuring scholarly sessions over US militarism and empire past and present; and by emergent social identities, including ethnic, gender, class, cultural, transnational and globalized operations on multiple identities. The international presence of scholars attracted to the convention through the International Initiative made more emphatic the convention's simultaneous focus on the cross-roads of the local and the global and the interpenetration of national and international scholarship that had characterized American Studies from its inception and that continues to define its present disciplinary character.
Nearly two thousand scholars converged on the conference site in Atlanta, where participants could choose from the rich assortment of on-site sessions and also explore Atlanta itself, via off-site sessions and other notable excursions, beginning with “Moonlight and Magnolias”, a panel that was held at the Atlanta History Center to much acclaim. Special sessions, “Expulsions: The Trail of Tears and Beyond”, “The Americas as Crossroads from Prehistory to the Present: Cultural Collisions and National Delusions”, “Same Sex Unions and the Construction of Marriage” and “The U.S. Abu-Ghraib Continuum: Torture, Prisons, Militarism, and the Racial State”, each addressed the implicit and explicit social, cultural and historical significance of violent collisions in the on-going formation of the American nation. Special evening events, such as “Playing Race: Performing and Construing Racial Identity in the Works of William S. Yellow Robe, Jr. and Raul R. Salinas” and the film premiere of “Imagining America: Icons of 20th Century American Art” provided conferees with the opportunity to consider how performance and the visual arts enhance our understanding of crossroads and cultural contact. The Atlanta History Center based session “Not All Moonlight and Magnolias”, offered attendees insight into Atlanta and the South, both contemporary and past. Panels on subjects as widely divergent as southern food, historically black and tribal colleges, science and race in nineteenth century America, and technological consumerism give a tantalizing sense of the diversity and energy generated during the convention. The convention fielded a record number of sessions, spurred by the boom in proposals fed by easier, on-line submissions and the enthusiastic participation of numerous international scholars from dozens of countries.
November 2004 also marked the Inaugural International Initiative of the ASA. With scholars from literally dozens of countries in attendance, the association, and with it the interdisciplinary field of American Studies, took on a genuinely global cast. Sessions of particular interest to our international colleagues were highlighted in the printed program book. Other special events on behalf of the International Initiative included sessions for editors of international American Studies journals and receptions and meals during which colleagues from around the world could make contact and exchange ideas.
A breakfast meeting highlighted the effervescence of the initiative, for scholars filled a banquet room to capacity, savoring the opportunity to share ideas and news with American Studies colleagues from around the globe. In Atlanta, the globalization of American Studies went from desired end to actual beginnings.
Another first-time event, ASA’s “Celebration of Authors” was extremely popular. One hundred and seventy one authors were feted for the recent publications of their books, and enjoyed cake and champagne provided by the association. Several publishers lent financial support to the celebration as well. All in attendance praised it as a celebration that should take place at every ASA convention. The buzz from the “Celebration” doubtless led to the reports from exhibitors of the highest attendance and sales in years. Many lauded the Celebration of Authors’ event as leading to excellent interactions between conferees, authors, and publishers.
This year, too, marked our organization’s full entry into the internet age. 2004 marked the first year ASA members could submit their proposals online, an initiative perhaps not unrelated to the fact that the convention managers logged in the highest number of proposals ever recorded. Together with the proposals generated by the International Initiative and an increase in international submissions, the number of overall sessions had also to increase—and the number of time slots as well. (About three-quarters of the pre-constituted session proposals were accepted, while somewhat more than half of individual paper submissions were approved.) This increase in time slots resulted in trade-offs, however, notably and unfortunately with lower attendance for the earliest panels on the first day. Yet a decision to return to the smaller number of sessions found in previous years will result in increased competitiveness for the correspondingly fewer number of appearance slots. One option may be to arrange certain sessions, such as those targeted for program directors and editors of journals, to “pre-convention” slots, as per the practice of other organizations such as the MLA, although careful attention must be paid to weighing the desires of possible attendees with the increased costs (as early morning Thursday panels mean an additional hotel night for many). With the growth ASA has recently experienced come choices, and the ASA officers and membership will be grappling with decisions of all kinds in the years to come.
We can say, in fact, that the title of 2005 Convention, “Crossroads of Cultures” may in some measure to be overdetermined, for we as a scholarly organization are at a crossroads--of growth, of technological advances, of internationalization--and must carefully move into this newer, larger, more complex venue. Thus, and perhaps paradoxically, ASA’s burgeoning size might temporarily demand a ‘smaller is beautiful’ outlook: we need to consider a variety of ways to keep the energy and close camaraderie of ASA at the same time the association expands on multiple fronts. If our organization is to continue to provide the collegiality and interdisciplinary leadership upon which so many of us rely, growing pains are inevitable. And growing pains mean we are heading upwards still.