Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Collaboration and Community at the Futures of American Studies Institute

— a report from the 2016 Futures of American Studies Institute (FASI) at Dartmouth College by Callie Gallo, GSAS-American Studies Summer Institute Fellowship Winner, 2016

The Futures of American Studies Institute
is an annual program at Dartmouth College
The 2016 Futures of American Studies Institute (FASI) at Dartmouth College welcomed scholars and graduate students from around the world for a week of programming featuring up-and-coming research in the field. As a fourth-year PhD candidate in the English Department at Fordham, I arrived in Hanover, New Hampshire on a warm and sunny day in June ready to learn about the latest areas of study, meet a cohort of unique professionals, and develop my own research project.

Less than a week later, I walked away from FASI with a new appreciation for the diverse and cutting-edge work of new and established scholars, including program directors Donald Pease (Dartmouth University) and Elizabeth Maddock Dillon (Northeastern University), as well as my peers. It was a great privilege to receive the GSAS-American Studies Summer Institute Fellowship and be given the opportunity to represent Fordham at such an innovative and prestigious event.

One of the unique features of FASI is the collegiality and collaboration between the featured speakers and attendees. Graduate students, junior faculty, adjuncts, writers with book projects, and senior faculty were all encouraged to share, debate, and exchange ideas in Q&A sessions, workshops, and on our down-time. All of the individuals who ran the Institute, as well as my session leader Winfried Fluck of Freie Universität in Berlin, encouraged me to network with scholars and talk about our projects in a friendly and supportive environment. We met in daily seminars where we became acquainted with other works in progress, gave feedback, and discussed the content of the daily plenary presentations. By fostering a collegial atmosphere, FASI gives scholars at all levels a way to learn from each other and exchange ideas that simply doesn’t happen at a typical conference.

This year, each plenary session at FASI was organized around a “Question Worth Asking” in the field that engages with issues or topics that American Studies scholars are or should be talking about right now. Some of these questions included “Why (not) surface reading now?,” “Afro-pessimism? Afro-optimism?,” “Affirmative biopolitics?,” and “How has digitization changed the archive of American Studies?” In addition to lively Q&A’s after each presentation, attendees also exchanged reactions and questions on twitter using the hashtag #FASI16.

Each plenary had a distinct focal point, but all sought to attend to re-think current critical and theoretical approaches. Yet as the event took place shortly after the mass shooting tragedy in Orlando at Pulse nightclub, and in the wake of a year marked by a series of high-profile police shootings of African Americans, many were eager to incorporate more discussion of those events and how to address them meaningfully through scholarship.

Callie's seminar group included, from left: Tim Salzer,
Katrina Kelly, Isil Özcan, Winfried Flick, Stephen Pasqualina,
Callie Gallo, Jesse Raber, Silke Schmidt, Sally Anderson
Boström, Greg Chase, and Joe Varghese Yeldho.
Eric Lott (CUNY Graduate Center) and Sandy Alexander (MIT) displayed some of the ways American Studies scholars are analyzing racial violence in their presentations on responses to racial divisions in popular culture and through black protest. Soyica Diggs Colbert (Georgetown University) and Hortense Spillers (Vanderbilt University) also gave stirring talks about the artistic practices of African American women and the possibilities for optimism amidst racial strife.

Two of my favorite presentations were delivered by Patricia Stuelke (Dartmouth College) and Annie McClanahan (University of California, Irvine), who responded to the question “Was … a neo-liberal fantasy?”. Stuelke looked at the “antiblack acoustics” of the US occupation of Panama and analyzed the military’s selected playlist of 90s pop and rock (e.g. “Don’t Have to Live Like a Refugee” by Tom Petty, and “Never Gonna Give You Up” by Rick Astley) that blared through General Noriega’s abandoned Presidential Palace.

In contrast, McClanahan examined endless economic growth as a neo-liberal fantasy that rejects the prospect of long-term stagnation, even as economists from the eighteenth century onward have predicted its onset. They both gave eye-opening and accessible presentations that resonated because of their unique case studies.

Being surrounded with such innovative and thought-provoking work at FASI gave me new perspectives from which I can approach my dissertation and find ways to be in conversation with scholars in my field. Additionally, the Institute professionalized me by pushing me to network and engage with scholars and to make connections with fellow graduate students. I left Dartmouth College feeling reinvigorated and excited about my research. Given the immersive and collaborative environment I found myself in at FASI, it’s easy to see why any scholar would jump at the opportunity to return time and time again.

Editor's Note: Callie Gallo was a recipient of the 2016 GSAS-American Studies Summer Institute Fellowship which provides support for Fordham graduate students to attend American Studies summer institutes both in the U.S. and abroad. For information on this the 2017 GSAS-American Studies Summer Fellowship, contact with "2016 GSAS-American Studies Summer Institute Fellowship" in the subject line!