The most extraordinary and unique feature of the 2016 ASA annual meeting was undoubtedly the US presidential election that took place the week before we gathered in Denver. A Clinton victory would have prompted its own sort of reckoning at our meeting, but the Trump victory created an altogether different level of cognitive, intellectual, and psycho-social consternation for the American studies scholars who gathered at the foot of the Rocky Mountains November 17-20.
To hazard a guess on what will be remembered most about ASA Denver 2016, I would offer the suggestion that we learned while still in the immediacy of the election’s results that our gathered strength, shared consideration, and collective attention is a powerful resource for comprehending and analyzing the new and shifting realities now upon us and that our annual meeting is an invaluable site of collaboration, witness, and, yes, reckoning.
Among many treasured moments for me personally will be the end of the presidential address, when the Denver Singers, a local Northern Plains drum group, led us in a blanket dance during which we collected money to send to those at the meeting who were heading to Standing Rock and the water protector camps alongside the Missouri River. Our round dance around the perimeter of the Centennial Ballroom at the Hyatt Regency served as a rousing reminder of how deep and how long the arc of history is that we engage as American studies scholars, and how we can embody the music and movement of that arc in our work.
In the short interregnum between US election day and the start of the Denver meeting several new panels and events came together, including jam-packed sessions featuring election analysis by Keeanga-Yahmahtta Taylor, Moustafa Bayoumi, Lisa Duggan, and Joanne Barker and an emergency meeting convened by Jason Ruiz that focused on the role of college campuses in the movement to provide sanctuary to those now targeted for deportation and other forms of anti-immigrant repression.
Those sessions provided a remarkable sense of the intellectual power of our association in seeking to get ahead of the waves of history now breaking on our shores. Perhaps even more remarkable, though, was the resonance of the program that had taken form months and months before election day in the US. Indeed, the collective sensibility that gathered and grew in Denver is a testament to those who responded to the call for proposals with so many compelling sessions and papers on critical prison studies, sexuality, indigeneity, race, gender, class, and other topics that demonstrate the breadth of scholarship those of us in ASA represent.
Several of those sessions are available in video format, and I encourage you to edify yourselves through those recordings, especially if you were not able to attend. These include sessions that commemorated the contributions of Prince (featuring Greg Tate, Steven Thrasher, Daphne Brooks, Scott Paulson Bryant, Nicole Fleetwood, Josh Kun, and Andreana Clay), Cedric Robinson (with Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Erica Edwards, Christina Heatherton, and Avery Gordon), and Patrick Wolfe (featuring Robin D.G. Kelley, J. Kēhaulani Kauanui, Jean O’Brien, Saree Makdisi, and David Lloyd), each of which is stunning in its own way and well worth watching. What’s perhaps most remarkable about these sessions and the ones already mentioned that we added at the last minute is that these all-star lineups of incredible scholars were drawn from our existing membership. All of which goes to say that the work of American studies as we practice it now is the scholarship that is already responding to the precarious present. That is why we gather and why coming together to share our work is so vitally important.
Sincere thanks and endless gratitude are due the 2016 program committee and it co-chairs, who worked incredibly hard to shepherd a collection of sessions and papers that performed beautifully under the unique stresses of the meeting and its context. Sharon Holland, J. Kēhaulani Kauanui, and Jean O’Brien provided incredible leadership to a wonderful committee made up of Maria Cotera, Kevin Murphy, Joshua Chambers-Letson, Richard Rodriguez, Nicole Fleetwood, Alex Lubin, Rebecca Hill, Cynthia Franklin, and Susan Stryker. Together, we relearned a lesson that every program committee learns, which is that the great strength of American studies as reflected in our association is the amazing membership of the ASA. On behalf of the co-chairs and the committee, I want to thank all of you who helped make ASA Denver 2016 such a memorable and consequential success.
Robert Warrior, President, American Studies Association