We are pleased to offer this final report of the 2009 program committee. We were fortunate to have had the opportunity to meet in Washington D.C., where the conference theme of “Practices of Citizenship, Sustainability and Belonging” resonated powerfully with the membership, resulting in an exciting, memorable, and well-attended conference. There were 1975 registrants for the 2009 Annual Meeting, one of the two largest meetings in ASA history (the other being 1997 in Washington DC) and continuing to build on our largest meetings outside of DC (Hartford 2003, Atlanta 2004, Oakland 2006, Philadelphia 2007, and Albuquerque 2008).
As we mentioned in our interim report, ASA scholars responded with great creativity to the theme and its interlocking concepts, producing a diverse and wide-ranging program that advanced the interventions of ASA scholars in recent years, including critical intersectional approaches to race, belonging, empire, citizenship, and the salience of categories of class, sexuality, and the visual for all of these areas. The American Quarterly editorial board held three panels organized around the theme “Between Life and Death: Race, Social Death, Necropolitics, Disposability” which reflected our sense that the triangulation of sustainability with citizenship and belonging raised issues of human needs, security and natural resources as fundamental political questions. Indeed, “sustainability” generated an impressive number of panels in Environmental Studies, which we had hoped to accomplish. We were pleased to see a number of panels on food and foodways, as well. The conflict between participatory democracy and neoliberalism, and its effects both in the U.S. and abroad, was much in evidence. Many of the conference sessions powerfully confronted the moment of crisis, and yet the engagement and high quality of presentations seemed to generate a spirit of excitement.
As we had hoped, the theme and the location of the meeting in the nation’s capitol helped attract a substantial number of scholars from the social sciences, including politcal science, communications, geography, and sociology, many of which have methodological and intellectual affinities with the humanities disciplines that are traditionally strong at ASA. The location in DC also facilitated participation by public sector and public policy researchers and activists, including Jaime Grant of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force who provided an important overview of GLBT issues at the "GLBT Policy and Movement Building After Proposition 8" panel. We hope that this trend will continue, with as wide a representation of academic disciplines, fields, and analytics, public policy and independent scholars, journalists, and community activists as possible at future ASA meetings.
Along with the usually well-represented fields of ethnic studies, media studies, gender and sexuality studies and African American studies, the program boasted a stronger than usual presence of panels in early American and nineteenth century studies. And there were exciting panels in many other areas, including religion, disability studies, working class studies, postcolonial studies, public practice/scholarship and museum studies, and visual culture studies. International scholars had a robust presence on the program, with such sessions as Practices of Community and Belonging: Teaching Graphic Narratives in a Post-9/11 World. Our hopes of increasing the number of panels in which international scholars are in dialogue with U.S.-based presenters achieved modest results. We hope the ASA membership and future program committees will continue this most welcome trend of increasing collaboration across national boundaries within sessions.
The program featured several featured sessions in response to ongoing political crises. Having done its work during a turbulent period marked by a historic election campaign, and more ominously, the repeal of same sex marriage in California by referendum, the onset of the Great Recession, as well as the continuing chaos of wars of occupation, suicide attacks, and instability in the Middle East and the South Asian subcontinent, and the deepening crisis in public higher education, culminating in mass protests on University of California campuses in the early fall, the program committee organized or highlighted sessions that addressed current political and social states of siege. Featured sessions were also held in honor of the recently deceased past ASA presidents John Hope Franklin and Emory Elliott (In this elegiac vein there was also a session around the work of Studs Terkel). These moving and informative panels provided an occasion for those in attendance to reflect on the past and reaffirm some of the ASA’s recent priorities and initiatives, including fostering scholarship committed to social justice, promoting open-ended dialogue among scholars across international boundaries, and forging partnerships with K-16 educators, cultural institutions, and public advocacy organizations.
We were extremely fortunate to collaborate with the National Museum of the American Indian, which generously hosted the ASA welcome reception in its beautiful facility. When not mingling with colleagues in the museum’s rotunda, those in attendance explored the museum’s exhibits, including one featuring the artist Brian Jungen. At the reception, Kevin Gaines presented on behalf of ASA an award for “Distinguished Public Service” to Mary Frances Berry, former Chair of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, and one of the founding members of the Free South Africa Movement during the 1980s. The Visual Culture Caucus also took advantage of the cultural resources of Washington by holding its sponsored events in the National Portrait Gallery.
Among several featured sessions, there were two panels organized by the program committee on Palestine, "Palestine in Crisis" focused on the various pressures facing educational institutions in Gaza and the West Bank. "Academic Freedom and the Right to Education: The Question of Palestine" explored the ways in which ASA citizen-scholars might become involved in political organzing and education about Palestine. In addition, there were several sessions more broadly concerned with U.S.-Middle East relations, an important instance of the "transnational turn" in American Studies.
The program committee also organized a session in response to the death of Michael Jackson that examined his transformative role in modes of musical performance, the music industry, global flows of popular culture and U.S. race politics. In addition, the program featured a panel and reception marking the 50th anniversary of American Quarterly. On behalf of the ASA membership we offer our warmest thanks to Curtis Marez, who edited the journal for the last 5 years, and whose vision and leadership has made AQ one of the best and most vibrant academic journals in the country. Starting in July of 2010, the new editor will be Sarah Banet-Weiser.
In conclusion, we wish to thank the members of the program committee for their diligence and collegiality which lightened the workload over an unseasonably warm March weekend in DC: Luis Alvarez, Devon Carbado, Angela Dillard, Natalia Molina, Kelly Quinn, Robert Reid-Pharr, Sarita See, and Robert Vitalis. Our labors were eased by the support and guidance of ASA staff, Zachary Gardner, Barry McCarron and Gabriel Peoples, and to them we express our gratitude. Finally, it has been a pleasure to work with John Stevens, the Executive Director of the ASA, whose vast expertise and institutional memory provided a indispensable foundation for the work of the program committee in all of its phases.
Joanna Brooks, Melani McAlister, and Barry Shank