Wednesday, November 9, 2011
November 9, 2011: Moments That Remain 3
[The 2011 New England American Studies Association conference has come and gone; but while I’ve come to the inspiring end of that more than year-long road, I can’t quite let go. So each day this week I’ll briefly highlight one powerful and affecting moment from the conference’s full and diverse and profoundly perfect two days. This is the third post in that series.]
One of the aspects of the conference that made me the happiest was the diversity of our attendees, including not only academic scholars from virtually every AmericanStudies discipline but also secondary educators, museum and institution directors, librarians and archivists, historical and cultural performers, freelance writers and journalists, and Native American tribal historians, elders, and storytellers. Yet while we might have had a few more such attendees than at past conferences, by far the most striking group of attendees comprised another, and even less common (in my past NEASA experiences, at least), category: undergraduate students. Thanks to the efforts of two main point people at their institutions (professors Laura D’Amore and Julia Lisella respectively), more than 30 students each from Roger Williams University and Regis College attended the Friday morning sessions, took part in Friday’s plenary panel and luncheon, and went out onto the Plimoth grounds that afternoon.
I can’t say for sure what the experience meant to those undergrads, although I know I sensed some definite excitement, and heard the same from those great faculty point people. Certainly they were able to fit a great deal of diverse conference and AmericanStudies experience into their day: from those different possible panels (ones on recreating the Revolution, heroism, the visual arts, and secondary educators’ perspectives in just the first time slot alone); to the five very distinct plenary voices (moving from a Wampanoag elder to a professor of New England Studies to a Wampanoag historian to a cultural archaeologist to an anthropologist who studies historic and heritage tourism); to all that Plimoth has to offer. At the very least, I have to believe that it was a day not like many others in their undergrad experiences—not least because I never had, or perhaps just never took advantage of, the opportunity to spend such a day during my college years.
Yet whatever the experience meant to those attendees, what I can say for sure is that their presence meant a great deal for the conference’s energy and atmosphere, particularly on its crucial first day. In the past few years, the Friday morning panels had tended to be extremely small, with most conference participants not having arrived yet; similarly, the past few plenary panels, which were scheduled on Friday evening, had likewise drawn far smaller audiences than their excellent speakers and topics deserved. The undergrads were far from the only attendees present at our Friday events—our four panel rooms sat 30-40 people each and were nearly full from the first time slots on; the plenary luncheon had at least 100 registrants in addition to the 65 or so undergrads—but they represented a huge and energetic part of those events, bringing energy and enthusiasm and, yeah, youth to the mix in really affecting ways. If NEASA is going to get more public, more a part of broad as well as academic conversations and communities, it can’t just connect outside of universities—it also has to make clear to the people who comprise the bulk of every university why AmericanStudies matters to them. This weekend was a great start!
More tomorrow, the last in this series of reflections,
PS. Any undergrad experiences that were as unique and (I hope) interesting as this one?