On the next steps in a scholarly organization’s growth.
One month from tomorrow, I’ll be headed down to Connecticut’s Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center for the start of the New England American Studies Association’s Fall 2013 Conference. Over the nearly three years that I’ve been blogging here, I’ve traced NEASA’s ongoing development, including my 2011 conference at Plimoth Plantation, the Spring Colloquiua that we’ve instituted, and the summertime pre-conference blog that now precedes every conference. This year’s pre-conference blog is well underway, and it’s been really great to see this conversation become an annual tradition, and to share our NEASA participants and voices with scholars and audiences near and far.
I have other ongoing goals for NEASA, though—ones that parallel my public scholarly interests more broadly, and toward which I’m also trying to help the Northeast MLA (NeMLA) move—and I’m even more excited to see that this year’s conference is helping us move closer to them. For one thing, I believe that scholarly organizations, like scholarly publications, must connect not only to academic institutions and faculty (and students), but also to other interested and interwoven communities. The Museum itself represents one such community, full of voices and perspectives, past and present, with which NEASA can and must be in conversation; but even more, to my mind, does the Mashantucket Pequot tribal land on which it is located. Too often, it seems to me that academic conferences are located in hotels or conference centers with precious little connection to the place itself; this location could not be more distinct, more grounded in its environment.
I have another ideal goal for organizations such as NEASA and NeMLA, however; while it connects to that kind of communal grounding, it’s also more explicitly active, and significantly more radical, of a step. In short, I believe our scholarly organizations have an opportunity, if not an obligation, to make public service part of our mission—and that connecting annual conferences to public service initiatives in their localities is a particularly efficient and engaged way to do so. For NeMLA, I have the luxury to plan every aspect of my conference (which will be in Hartford in the spring of 2016), including this service component, far in advance; my hope is to connect to the city’s public education system in one way or another. I have not had the same kind of preparation time for NEASA, so any service component will have to be far more focused and partial—but nonetheless, I am determined to find out some way in which we can work with the Mashantucket Pequot tribe and add our efforts to their community.
Next autumn event tomorrow,
PS. Thoughts on these questions? Fall plans of yours you want to share?
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