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Dimensions of Empire and Resistance: Past, Present, and Future
Annual Meeting of the American Studies Association
San Juan, Puerto Rico, November 15-18, 2012
Puerto Rico Convention Center (All Events)
This year, the program committee received a record-setting 488 session proposals, as well as 350 individual paper proposals, which made selecting panels both a blessing and a challenge. Submissions simultaneously reflected the existing strengths in American Studies as well as a creative and organic engagement with the conference theme, “Dimensions of Empire and Resistance: Past, Present, and Future.”
Submissions reflected a concern with thinking deeply about the conceptual and methodological demands of a truly transnational American Studies, as evidenced in the following panels: Remapping Empire: Telling, Selling, and Touring Transnational American Souths which examines the Mason-Dixon line, New Orleans, Puerto Rico, South Africa and asks what marks the threshold to “the South” for the United States?; The Sun Never Sets I: Rethinking Geographies of U.S. Imperial Power, a panel rooted in examining U.S. imperial power in South Asia raising questions about the locations and geographies of U.S. imperialisms; Dimensions of Empire and Resistance: Language Ideologies, Spanish in the US, and Latinidad, which seeks to engage in a discussion regarding the current forms of imperial ideologies in an increasingly globalized society; Decolonial Feminist Critique, which asks us to think about de-colonization even beyond the frame and dimensions of Empire to analyze efforts in the Americas as acts of hemispheric collaboration, theorizing, and as important social/political/cultural interventions; Transpacific Exclusions and Imaginations: Cultural Crossings Between Asian and American Empires, which asserts that the foregrounding of “Transpacific studies” poses fundamental challenges to American, Asian and Asian American studies because all of these fields are built to some degree on excluding the importance of transpacific cultural crossings; Mercenaries, Missionaries, and Explorers: 150 Years in Africa, which focuses on the ways in which the United States is implicated in the imperial contest and colonialism in Africa prior to decolonization and the cold war.
Scholars also put forth generative themes regarding the transnational traffics generated by imperialism and anti-imperialism. For one, the choice of Puerto Rico as a site for the conference encouraged scholars to connect with one another and examine the varied and various geographies of imperialism, such as in, Turtle Leads the Way: A Poetics of Contact Literatures in the Early Americas, which examines the sounds and symbology that circulate around the circumference of the early Atlantic and Caribbean world that links Africa and indigenous America in the expanse of Spanish, French, and English colonization; Triangulating Latinidad across the Americas: Cuba, Guatemala, Mexico, and the United States, which examines racialized struggles for social justice across the Americas; Circuits of Empire: Communication and Circulation in the Early Caribbean, sponsored by the American Antiquarian Society, which examines the islands of the Caribbean as central nodes of power and information in multiple networks of imperial authority, whether exerted by Spain, France, Britain, or the United States; Imperial Designs: US Empire, Technology, and Transcaribbean Space, which explores the extended Caribbean as a key site for the development, deployment, and reformulation of technologies of United States empire.
In keeping with this move to examine the transnational, panelists also examined the local and transnational specificities of Puerto Rican history and culture, such as Caucus: Critical Prison Studies: Prisoners of Empire: Puerto Rican Political Prisoners and Resisting U.S. Colonialism which investigates the prison as a tool of colonial domination; Between Island and Diaspora: Locating, Creating and Performing Afro-Puerto Rican Bomba, which brings together bomba practitioners, cultural workers, and scholars to discuss the global dimensions of the form; Vieques Struggle: Political, Social and Historical Significance, which discusses the political, social and historical significance of Vieques' anti-military struggle.
Along with the theme of Empire, panels made clear how citizenship must be understood in relation to histories of colonialism and resistance, including: Against Wardship: The Society of American Indians and the Making of U.S. Citizenship, 1911-1923, which demonstrates how the U.S. framework of citizenship served as model in Hawaii, the Philippines, Guam, and Puerto Rico; Birthright Citizenship and Its Discontents: Historical Contexts, Transnational Circuits, which traces the historical underpinnings of citizenship and exclusion and demonstrates their transnational contemporary circulation; Citizenship and Belonging: Disability, Race, and Sexuality in America, which draws on material and visual culture, literature, legal studies, and institutional histories to examine how subjects have revised citizenship and boundaries of belonging; A Conversation on the Past, Present, and Future of U.S. (Un)Equal Rights, which demonstrates how the U.S. imperial project has granted more rights to some, while disenfranchising others.
Submissions also interrogated slavery and emancipation in ways that connected past, present, and future; Slavery: Past Lives and Afterlives of Slavery whose panelists collectively trace a genealogy of racial capitalism; The Nineteenth Century Prison, which demonstrates that the histories of U.S. empire and U.S. prisons are intimately entwined; Prisons, Policing, and U.S. Empire, Part II: Cold War Crucible that traces the relationship of Cold War counterinsurgency, colonialism, and anticommunism to the militarization of policing and explosion of hyperincarceration in our day.
Since the publication of Donald Pease and Amy Kaplan's Cultures of United States Imperialism in 1994, empire has come to hold a central place in American Studies scholarship. Many submissions reflected a meaningful engagement with this call in ways that reflected a new era, an “Empire 2.0” version of the scholarship, such as the Ethnic Studies Committee sponsored panel The Question of Palestine in the Context of Contemporary and Historical Struggles against Racism and Settler Colonialism, which discusses Palestine from the perspective of different contexts of settler colonialism, racism and apartheid; The Guantánamo Public Memory Project which explores the challenges of building a public memory of the US naval base at Guantánamo Bay; Turning the Tide of Empire: Analyzing, Challenging and Eradicating Settler Colonialism in Hawai‘I, in dialogue with the special issue of the American Quarterly Alternative Contact: Indigeneity, Globalism, and American Studies examines the framing of settler colonialism as a means to think through the particularly complex power relations in Hawai‘i.
Other panels chose to explore imperialism through an examination of its footprints in capitalism, globalization and neoliberalism including the roundtable, The Occupy Movement and its Discontents at One Year: History, Neoliberal Resistance, and Criticism; Occupy Academe, Resist Colonization: Neo-liberal Crisis and Transnational Student Protest, which discusses the campus branch of the Occupy movement and current student protest movements in Puerto Rico.
The submissions reflected many of the strengths of the ASA, as basic as getting people from different fields in the same tent to have meaningful conversations are reflected in panels such as Situating Sustainability in an Unequal World: Tales from California, Texas, Puerto Rico, UAE and India which brings together scholars from political ecology, geography, anthropology and American and Ethnic Studies to consider key questions in the study of global sustainability; The Body Politic: Comparative Area Studies, Queer Theory and Transnational American Studies brings together humanists and social scientists working across the U.S., Africa, South Asia and the Middle East.
This is but a small sampling of the diverse proposals we received but we hope it conveys to you the richness of the program of the 2012 conference.
In addition, the Site Resources Committee, co-chaired by Wilson Valentin-Escobar and Jade Power-Sotomayor, has proposed a rich combination of tours and events that promise to be of great interest to a wide variety of conference participants. Events in the works include an environmental justice boat tour of Cano de Martin Pena, a one day tour of a plantation on the south side of the island, and a historic walking tour of Old San Juan. In addition, there will be usual tours available to hotel guests, including a visit to the El Yunque rainforest and the Cuevas del Rio de Camuy (for those interested in the archaeology of Indigenous Taíno culture). There are some planned film showings regarding civil rights and police brutality in Puerto Rico, the university student strikes, and Puerto Rican political prisoners, as well as screenings of the Queer Film Festival. In the arts, the committee is working on presenting an installation by Diasporican artist, Adal Maldonado, and a performance and workshop on Afro-Puerto Rican bomba and percussion. A reception at the University of Puerto Rico Museum is also being organized in collaboration with colleagues at UPR. We will also have a film festival within the conference addressing a range of topics including police abuse, the UPR student strike and colonialism in the Philippines. Highlights of the film festival include Bernardo Ruiz's documentary of baseball legend, Roberto Clemente, which has never been screened in Puerto Rico, and writer-director John Sayles' Amigo, with special appearances by both Ruiz and Sayles. Lastly, the performance artist and filmmaker, Nao Bustamante, will serve as the Artist-in-Residence for the conference where she will present her project, “Personal Protection,” project which investigates the relationship between women and war. Our goal is that these local activities will serve as an opportunity to connect conference participants with the local community and to engage with them in their history, arts, politics, environmental concerns, and cultural productions.
We would also very much like to thank members of the program planning committee whose own areas of expertise reflect the diversity and strengths of American Studies. Thank you, Ernesto Chávez, Mona Domosh, Matt Guterl, Pablo Mitchell, Tavia Nyong'o, Merida M. Rúa, Sandhya Shukla, Stephanie Smallwood, and Thuy Linh Nguyen Tu. A special thank you to Matt Jacobson who brought together such an intellectually generous and genial group and whose own intellectual leadership and affability made dozens of hours of reading proposals and meetings enjoyable. Thanks to John Stephens, who fielded a thousand questions that came down the pike with terrific speed and grace and whose long institutional memory served us well. Lastly, thanks to Gabriel Peoples whose spirit and resourcefulness made him a pleasure with which to work.
Frances R. Aparicio, Northwestern University
Elizabeth Maddock Dillon, Northeastern University
Natalia Molina, University of California, San Diego