The 2008 ASA Annual Meeting brought scholars from the broad range of American studies scholarship "back down to the crossroads." Papers, performances, screenings, tours, roundtables, workshops, and other events provided an opportunity to reflect on the many pathways that we as an association have traveled in the past decade. Phil Deloria, who presided over the meeting, called us to that reflection, and ASA members responded through an excellent set of scholarly interventions.
Hanging over the meeting was a growing sense of crisis as financial institutions in the US and around the world were collapsing. Indeed, a significant number of people cancelled due to fiscal constraints their home institutions were putting in place. Since the foundation grants that have previously subsidized the participation of international scholars from areas other than Asia ran out in 2008, the impact of the spreading recession was sharply felt.
At the same time, many at the meeting expressed hope for political change on the eve of the US presidential election that was then just weeks away. Indeed, ASA president Phil Deloria, in the version of the presidential address that he submitted to American Quarterly on November 7, declared his closing paragraphs the most rewritten in ASA history, as he strove to keep up with political and economic events. The address, which will appear in the next issue of AQ, was a reflection on questions of disciplinarity and interdisciplinarity in a rapidly shifting social and political world. It generated significant conversation and debate, including a lively rejoinder from Nikhil Pal Singh, a co-chair of this committee. Thus, our meeting recognized the stakes of a United States in flux and took place as a sort of microcosm of the world our field seeks to understand.
Looking back over the program, it's clear that our association has become one that values and highlights cross-cultural, transnational, global versions of American studies even as we also have cemented the critical study of race, ethnicity, gender and sexuality into our agenda. To the extent that the subject index of the program tells us anything, it's clear that these are the main roads that now cross at our annual meeting.
The verbs in session titles point vividly to the discourses of change and challenge, of positioning and craft that Deloria also surveyed in his thoughtful keynote address. Conference participants were "recasting," "reexamining," "reframing," "remapping," and coloring "outside the lines," even as they were "hearing," "negotiating," "theorizing," "visualizing," "crossing," and "self-locating." Presenters were a dialogic bunch, "engaging exception" "thinking with W.E.B. Du Bois at the Crossroads of Theory and Practice," "Troubling Citizenship," and tracking "clashes and alliances."
Many participants heeded the program statement and responded by, indeed, "Thinking Big about American Studies: From Case Studies to Field Imaginaries," as one session title proclaimed. An ambitious sequence of panels on Race, Sex, Class took on "Theories in American Studies," meditating reflexively upon the keywords and analytical frames that have become the fundaments of our interdisciplinary practice.
Ambitious linkages appeared in significant "ands": "Political Theory and American Studies at the crossroads"; "Sacred/Secular Crossroads and Conundrums"; "Teaching Politics and the Politics of Teaching" and, at a Breakfast Forum sponsored by the Students' Committee and the Ethnic Studies Committee, "The Future of American and Ethnic Studies." "Places of Critical Thinking" focused on gender and sexuality; another session looked at "Queer Studies, Media Studies." But the largest number of sessions characterized by this kind of relational, comparative, or intersectional discourse (at least according to the program's subject index) remains global, transnational, and inter-cultural studies. Thus, we seem as a whole to remain focused on the ways in which American refers not only to a country, but to a hemisphere and to ideas, ideologies, and goods that travel all across the globe.
The emphasis on environmental studies and indigeneity in the Program Statement inspired strong sessions in both areas, as well as striking linkages between the two (e.g., "Race, Nature, and Nation at the Crossroads," "Listening to the Land: At the Crossroads of Ecofeminism, Transnationalism, and Native American Studies,” and "Challenging Ecocriticism: New Directions for the Study of Literature and Environment"). One panel focused on "Positioning Native America with/in American Studies," while a series on "Alternative Contact" examined "Race and Indigeneity in Hawai'i," “Contesting American (Indian) Lands and Nations,” and "Mixed-Race Indigeneity."
It is clear that environmental studies, cultural geography, and work on landscape and the built environment are emerging concentrations within the field. Attention to locality, space, and place is part of what is driving this expanding intellectual enterprise. Likewise, the study of food and foodways attracts broad and growing interest. In this context, it's worth nothing that this is the first ASA conference for which participants could purchase carbon offsets when registering online.
Amidst all the growth and maturation, we find it important to note the continuing under-representation and conceptualization of the social sciences within ASA—indeed, while writing this final report we revisited the astute analysis of this question in the final conference report of 1998, a decade ago. Nonetheless, the methodologies of mapping and ethnography, in particular, are clearly migrating from geography and anthropology to the humanities, performance practice, and community-based scholarship and creative work. We wonder what a larger number of scholars with expertise in social science methods might bring to our shared work.
Our meeting took place in Albuquerque for the first time, and the brilliant light and tonic air of the city enhanced the event immensely. Many ASA conference participants visited Old Town and the Albuquerque Museum in order to view Albuquerque's geographic and temporal crossroads, where Route 66 intersects with El Camino Real, where the Santa Fe Railroad intersects with the Santa Fe Trail. New Mexico is a transnational crossroads with an international border four hours south and inter-national borders with Isleta, Laguna, and Sandia Pueblos within a few miles west, north and south.
More than the setting, though, the work of Alex Lubin and members of the Site Resources Committee he chaired provided a wonderful set of local events that showed off various sides of Albuquerque. South of downtown is the National Hispanic Cultural Center, located in the historic Barelas neighborhood. Conference attendees, including a lively group of colleagues from Taiwan, converged on the NHCC for a sizzling art exhibit by the De La Torre Brothers, "Meso-Americhanics (Maneuvering Mestizaje)," whose work yielded the powerful image on the 2008 Convention Program. A lively accompanying exhibition explored "Border Baroque." As the NHCC's program aptly put it,
Einar and Jamex de la Torre are a two-man bi-national renaissance. While the brothers travel back and forth between National City, California and Ensenada, Mexico on a weekly basis, they have been called Mexican, American, Californian, Chicano, and Latino.... They translate their creative passion and critical thinking into intensely collaborative, opulent and monumental blown glass "mix" media works. And, even though their art constantly addresses and questions complex issues, they love a joke, a visual pun, hidden symbols, and wordplay. For the de la Torre Brothers nothing - and everything - is sacred including politics, religion, tradition, and geographical location.
This high-energy evening concluded with a performance by Guillermo Gómez-Peña, "El Mexorist 2 - America's Most Wanted Inner Demon." The performance was part of the NHCC's regular performing arts series calendar, and thus brought together ASA visitors with local audiences.
The Environment and Culture Caucus and Early America Matters Caucus joined the Site Film night at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, which featured a reception of Pueblo-inspired foods and short films by emerging Native filmmakers, drew over seventy people. Chris Wilson, the J.B. Jackson Professor of Cultural Landscape Studies at UNM, led a walking tour of downtown.
On Sunday, October 19, conference attendees who stayed in Albuquerque after the official close of the conference took a day trip of the Acoma Pueblo, said to be the longest inhabited community in North America. Acoma is a one-hour drive west of Albuquerque and contains a new history and cultural center, as well as Acoma's original settlement, or "sky city."
Several other performances and readings took place onsite, including Jeffrey Q. McCune performing his show, “SeeSaw” and Laura Tohe reading from her new opera and Diane Glancy reading from her new play.
In what is probably a first for ASA, the dance party following the awards ceremony and the Presidential Address featured an open invitation to a Battle of the Bands. The Leisure of the Theory Class, a band whose members contained both current ASA president Phil Deloria and incoming president Kevin Gaines, kicked off the cut-loose part of the evening.
Co-chairing the Program Committee was a terrific opportunity to grab hold of the energies of our association and be propelled by our collective scholarly and intellectual power. We offer gracious thanks to Phil Deloria for his leadership, keen ear, and musicality, and for giving the three of us the chance to work together; to John Stephens and the ASA staff (especially outgoing conference coordinator Kristen Hodge, whom we congratulate on completing her doctorate, and to a spirited, good-humored, and hard-working program committee.
Robert Warrior, Julie Ellison, Nikhil Pal Singh