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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

September 29, 2015: AMST Colloquiums: Studying Salem

[This past weekend, we held the fifth annual New England American Studies Association (NEASA) Colloquium. So this week I’ll share some responses to each of the five colloquia to date, leading up to a special weekend post on AmericanStudies in 2015!]
On one more layer to our analyses of a complex, crucial American city.
I spent a week’s series of posts following up the 2012 NEASA Colloquium, and the presentations and conversations about Salem, Massachusetts that it featured. I won’t repeat here all that I highlighted in those posts, and will instead keep today’s post relatively short in the hopes that you’ll check out those brief 2012 follow ups and then return here to share your thoughts on them and Salem (and other such American spaces)!
I will, however, add one more thing here. I have returned to Salem many times in the three years since that colloquium (it remains my favorite historic site in Massachusetts, and likewise features my favorite single public site I’ve encountered, the Witch Trials Memorial), and have found myself again and again thinking about the same question: do the city’s more tacky elements (the occult shops and ghost tours, the over-the-top Witch Museum, the reenactments of chasing a “witch” down the street) represent a contrast to the amazing sites and spaces?; or do they instead bring tourists and visitors to the city and give them the chance to experience the best sides of the city? I asked a pop culture version of that question in this piece for Ethos Review, wondering whether popular versions of Salem witches add to the mythologizing or bring audiences to the histories. I can’t say that I have come up with definitive answers to either of these questions yet—so I guess I’ll have to keep returning to Salem to think more about them!
Next follow up tomorrow,
PS. What do you think? Other complex American spaces you’d analyze?

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