Tag Archives: ASA

ASA 2014: Assymetrical Haircuts and Other Adventures

If you recall, I was very wishy-washy on ASA (American Studies Association) last year. The 2013 meeting was controversial, tense, and a little stuffy. The Student Association events were a bright spot, and when I found out that the award I won at EASA came with a spot on an ASA panel, I decided to give the conference a second chance. I’m glad I did, although I still don’t see myself making the ASA an annual pilgrimage.

My trip began with a quick drive to my grandparents’ house. I wanted a direct flight to Los Angeles, and Dulles was the best option. However, it is 2 hours away from my home, and my grandparents live half way. Just as I was preparing to leave (at 4am), the power went out. And they live in the hills, where it’s dark even when the power is on. I felt bad abandoning them in the dark, but I had to get going. It was pouring rain, and it made for a very stressful ride to Dulles. However, after that the flight out was uneventful. Easy time through security and such. I even discovered that Starbucks makes a peppermint mocha frap, which makes me both happy and a walking, talking stereotype. Oh well.

Grand Central Market in Downtown, L.A.
Grand Central Market in Downtown, L.A.


The advantage of flying west is that you get three hours back. THREE HOURS. It’s like the flight barely happened. I got settled at the hotel, registered at the conference, and started figuring out which panels to attend. The first panel I went to was a Student Association workshop on “perfecting your pitch,” in which we gave our short (3 minute) proposal on our dissertation / project and receive feedback from a professor who has never heard it before. I spoke with Prof. Libby Anker from George Washington. Her feedback was refreshing, and it was especially nice to hear from a female in the field. She told me to be less apologetic and to emphasize the scope of my project rather than apologize for it. She liked my project, which was validating because I was convinced it wouldn’t fit in at ASA. Thank you Dr. Anker.

My roommate and I attended a lot of student events, including the opening night mixer. The graduate students at ASA are really wonderful to interact with, and we really got effective feedback at all of the student events we attended.

L.A. Manhole Cover
Social conscious manhole cover, Downtown L.A.


A colleague from the Penn State Harrisburg American Studies program, who is now at William and Mary, presented on the first day, and he did a fantastic job talking about the intersection of country music and race. My first day was rounded out with the Regional ASA meeting, at which I represented the Eastern American Studies Association (EASA). Our real rep is in India, so I was happy to fill in. I was fascinated to listen to how other regional ASA’s deal with having conferences. We are lucky enough to have a condensed geographic area and a lot of passionate people on the board, and therefore EASA has an annual conference that fills up every year. SASA (Southern ASA) has a conference every other year, while the Rocky Mountain ASA (which encompasses 8 very large states) has difficulty finding a way to make a conference possible for all attendees.

L.A. Public Library
Los Angeles Public Library, Downtown


Los Angeles is a strange city, and it was difficult to sight-see without a car. My roommate is a lot more intrepid than me, and she pulled me out into the sunlight to see some very cool places just around our hotel, including the Grand Central Market. On the last day, we walked towards the Staples Center, but it was really just movie theatres and regular outdoor malls. I wish we could have seen Hollywood or Santa Monica. Next time.

The student award winner panel was one of the most amazing panels I have ever been placed on at a conference. The discussion was substantive, helpful, and lively. People really understood my research, and it was really an honor to be recognized along side the other winners. I left the conference as a whole ready to dive into writing my dissertation.

I also attended a panel called “Killing the Keyword,” which was a non-traditional event in which everyone put a word or concept that they feel is overused or used incorrectly into a bowl. The panelists then pulled each one out and discussed it at length. Most of the words were just discussed and clarified, but some were “killed.” Neoliberal(ism) was one of the killed words, primarily because people tend to use it as a crutch to sound smart, rather than applying it appropriately. I put that word in the bowl, as did about 40 other people, so it was nice to hear a real discussion about how accessible we are as writers.

My flight home was exhausting, but that’s what you get when you take the red-eye. I was thrilled that I could take that trip, and that it was eventful in all the right ways. I had never traveled alone like that, and so that was a nice change of pace. My roommates were very nice, especially Brittany, who became a fast friend. She’s doing really great work in the Appalachian region, and I think she is going to effect change for that area of the country.

Next week I go to EASA for the 7th time as a presenter. It will be much more relaxing than last year because I did not organize the conference! I’ll write more about that later.

– The Lady Americanist.

The Lady Americanist at the ASA.

Over the last four days, hundreds of American studies scholars descended on the Washington Hilton to convene the annual conference of the American Studies Association.  And for the first time, I was among them.  I have been part of the field of American studies for nine years now, but this year was the first year I had an opportunity to attend. It is difficult to have a paper accepted, and my research is still in its infancy, so I did not submit a presentation, but I did sign up to speak at the Students’ Committee Lightning Talks.  I was ready to network and learn the trends of the discipline.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Me at Lightning Talk

First, the experiences I had with the Students’ Committee were awesome.  There was a very productive roundtable about teaching, a spirited discussion about student labor, and an eclectic set of lightning talks.  I received some excellent feedback on my own dissertation plans, as well as an offer of collaboration on future research from a colleague from Yale.  I also won five books through Students’ Committee give-aways, so I obviously enjoyed that.
As the weekend continued, the energy of the conference began to center on a proposed boycott of Israeli universities by the ASA.  Perhaps this would have escaped my radar, but a few of my professors were deeply involved in opposing the boycott.  Therefore, we were keeping an eye on the new information about the discussion.  A few of us even attended the town hall meeting to hear some of our professors speak and to hear others speak on the issue.  Never before had I been in a room where the energy was so tense.  My personal feelings stem from my own curiosity about how much good a boycott would do.  Yes, it would punish Israeli institutions (and therefore those associated with them), which is the goal for some; but would it actually help Palestinians?  It flies in the face of academic freedom and would not effect any real change on the Israeli-Palestinian issue.  Most of their complaints seemed to be with the State Department or with their home institutions anyway.  I’d rather see more concrete action being taken to help mediate between Israelis and Palestinians.
The boycott, along with the subjects of many of the panels, made me wonder what conference I had attended.  I felt I could talk shop with my professors and other students, but the panels seemed to be outside my understanding of American studies.  Perhaps, even at 27, I’m old-fashioned in my perception of the discipline.  Why do we have to be anti-American to be critical of American culture and history?  It was all very confusing.
On the practical side of things, we had a lovely trip overall.  We all bought way too many books, and we struggled getting them home.  We all overpacked (story of our lives), and one of my friends / colleagues and I got to experience the Newseum.  What an incredible place!  Our visit was far more emotional than I expected.  I was especially touched at the Berlin Wall (my own family was separated by the Iron Curtain), the 9/11 exhibit (including the antenna from the North Tower), and the JFK assassination exhibit.  I would go back again in a heartbeat, this time equipped with more downtime and more tissues.
Finally, my interest in Presidents was piqued when a book seller informed me that our hotel was the site of the assassination attempt on President Reagan (also the basis for the attempt on President Bartlett’s life on The West Wing).  My roommates and I studied the newsreel footage and managed to find what we think was the spot.
Washington Hilton
Who knows if I’ll ever attend the ASA again?  I would have to see both where my research goes and where the association goes.