The Southern American Studies Association will bring its conference to Georgia State University in Atlanta this week. Scholars will travel from France and Kansas, California and Germany to present at the meeting, although a preponderance of the participants hail from institutions in southeastern states such as Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee, and South Carolina. Operating under the capacious tent of American Studies, the conference includes contributions from scholars of history, literature, music, popular culture, and sociology, among other disciplines.We have looked through the program to single out some particularly intriguing panels. (The entire schedule can be viewed here.) The panels selected will hopefully provide a thumbnail sketch of the most interesting work going on in the multiple fields that make up American Studies, for both casual readers and possible attendees. Although any academic conference includes its share of comedy-gold paper titles — a quick glance at the MLA’s most recent program serves up the likes of “Bootleg Paratextuality and Aesthetics: Decay and Distortion in the Borat DVD” and “The War of ‘Of’ and Other Polyvocal Syntaxes in ‘An Ordinary Evening in New Haven’” — we hope to focus attention on some of the most provocative and promising papers in the conference, whether they focus on Elvis Presley or excrement or spottieottiedopalicious angels. The following is a taste of the freewheeling interests of those who study America and its culture today:
Friday, 2/18, 9:00 to 10:30 AM
Rapture and Resistance: Contemporary Christian Music and Literature in the U.S. South
This panel looks to offer a fresh perspective on Christian themes in an array of Southern cultural texts; Carrie A. Allen looks at the “Southerngospeltality” of hip-hop in Houston, while Anthony Dyer Hoefer traces the influence of the apocalyptic tradition in Bastard Out of Carolina and Tara L. McLellan links Pentecostalism and the classic trope of the bildungsroman to narratives of resistance in Southern fiction.
Disease and DisEase in the Souths
The participants in this panel provide wide-ranging perspectives on the history of public health. Brian M. Ingrassia explores how Progressive Era reformers (c.1905-1910) sought to craft intercollegiate football reforms that would maintain the purity of American bodies, minds, and morals. Ingrassia focuses especially on the forward pass, which many thought would make the field of play more “open” and thus safer by limiting hard hits — drawing parallels between the discourse on football reform and Progressive rhetoric around pure food & drug legislation and trustbusting. Elizabeth Mather examines the imagery and rhetoric of advertising for feminine hygiene products in the 1930s and 1940s, while Renee Schatteman also addresses how health was mediated through popular culture, examining how literature in South Africa and the United States depicted HIV and AIDs.
Friday, 1:30 to 3:00 PM
Reconstructing Ken: Alternative Masculinities
Any panel that looks at gay male rappers in New Orleans has to be interesting. Other papers include Jon Payne’s study of the construction of black masculinity in the work of James Baldwin and Randall Kenan and sociologist Stanley Thangarai’s analysis of the intersection of sports and ethnic identity in Atlanta.
Friday, 3:30 to 5:00 PM
The South and the Construction of Nation
In this panel, Brannon Costello looks beneath the surface of the Captain America comic book for clues about the politics of nationalism and race, while Emma Bertolaet analyzes how Mad Men has depicted the 1960s struggle for civil rights in the South on television.
Saturday, 2/19, 9:00 to 10:30am
Who Dat?: Competing Visions and Mass-Mediated Tensions in Post-Katrina New Orleans Narratives
In this panel, scholars from English and American Studies look at the multiple ways that New Orleanians’ experience of survival and recovery has been culturally mediated since 2005. Catherine Michna discusses “second line literatures and discursive democracy,” while Leigh Ann Duck considers the role of the “citizen/voyeur” in film representations of the devastated city. Finally, Lynell Thomas examines the ways that HBO’s much-hyped drama Treme, developed by the creators of The Wire, has constructed images of “racial harmony” in New Orleans.
Across the Color Line: Race & Politics in Atlanta During the 1960s
This panel offers a series of papers that look at Georgia politics through the lenses of higher education, the built environment, and political party building. Christopher Huff discusses the role of race in campus activism at Emory University, while Irene Holliman Way describes how Atlanta’s efforts to be a “model city” ran up against popular resistance to so-called urban renewal in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The third paper explores how race figured in the Georgia Federation of Republican Women’s efforts to turn a traditionally Democratic state “red.”
Saturday, 11:00am to 12:30pm
Much Ado About the Market: A Roundtable to Help Graduates Prepare for the Academic Job Market
English scholars Amy K. King, Martyn Bone, and Paul Outka join Michael Elliot, a dean at Emory, and Joy Kasson, American Studies scholar at UNC-Chapel Hill, for a panel that could have been more aptly titled “Much Ado about Nothing.”
The South and Sexuality
This panel provides two interesting takes on sexual politics in Southern literature and music. The University of Arkansas’s Lisa Hinrichsen offers an ambiguous but evocative paper with the title “Dirty Pleasures: Taste, Waste and Let Us Now Praise Famous Men,” bringing what promises to be a new perspective to the classic 1941 photo essay by James Agee and Walker Evans. In the panel’s other paper, Nicole Richards looks at the hidden and disguised expressions of same-sex desire in the work of black female performers in the South during the early twentieth century.
Coping with Precarious and Peripheral Positions
In a panel that ranges across wide swaths of time and geography, these papers look at how people have survived in desperate situations. Marcus Nevius examines variations in the experience of escaped slaves in eastern North Carolina, while Lawrence Aje explores how free black people in Charleston managed “life as a performance” in the midst of a slave society. Providing an interesting juxtaposition, geographer Christopher Johnsons offers a take on the nonviolent tactics that help youth in Brazil persevere in the face of violence and poverty.
Constructing Otherness in the Souths
This panel draws on the study of race, sexuality, and sensory history to look at the ways that “the other” has been constituted over time. Larry Grubbs, who has written previously on American economic development efforts in Africa during the 1960s, expands on this work by looking at the role played by the senses in developing an idea of the Global South during the Cold War. Grubbs argues that the non-visual senses – including sensory stereotypes and such visceral emotions as disgust – fueled and distorted American intervention in Asia and Africa during the Cold War, particularly in such conflicts as Korea and Vietnam. Meanwhile, Richard Reitsma discusses the emergence of Atlanta as a destination of migration for GLBT people in the South, a “city of refuge” amid the socially restrictive hinterland of the Bible Belt.
Saturday, 1:30 to 3:00pm
Transformative Pedagogies: Urban Agriculture as a Vehicle for Non-Violent Social Change
In this keynote address, activist Rashid Nuri discusses his efforts to introduce organic farming to Atlanta’s urban landscape. Nuri left his native Boston to pursue a career that took him around the world, first with Cargill and later as an appointee in the Agriculture department during the Clinton administration. A self-described “child of the 1960s,” Nuri sees the roots of his urban farming project in a bygone era of radicalism: “Back then, we were talking about nation building. In order to build a nation, you’ve got to be able to feed, clothe, and shelter your people. So I decided that I wanted to learn everything about food, from the seed to the table.” Truly Living Well Natural Urban Farms operates a network of growing sites throughout greater Atlanta, teaching city dwellers how to grow their own food and working with local officials to overcome legal obstacles to urban farming. (Many cities, including Atlanta, passed laws decades ago to prevent rural migrants from bringing practices such as raising chickens and growing vegetables with them when they left the countryside, and such restrictions now form an impediment to those who want to build community gardens or raise food on their own urban property.)
Saturday, 3:30 to 5:00pm
Crossing and Confounding Southern Religious Borders
In this panel, several scholars look at the complex experience of members of minority religions in the famously, zealously Protestant South. Yale’s Rachel R. Bergstein examines the history of Judaism in the so-called “New South,” while Florida State’s Daniel C. Dillard looks at the significance of transnationalism in the work of Mohja Kahf, a Syrian-born poet and novelist who teaches at the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville.