Last week, I attended the annual meeting of the American Studies Association in San Antonio Texas. The four days went by in a blur of attending panels, attending panels, trying to sneak into the car show next door, eating almost every meal in the hotel restaurant, attending panels, buying books that I will probably never read at the book fair, and attending panels. The theme of the conference this year was "Crisis, Chains, and Change: American Studies for the Twenty-First Century." In keeping with these themes, many of the panels coalesced around questions of neoliberalism, prisons, immigration, and militarization and their various intersections. I was gratified to see at least three panels (including my own) that looked seriously at the 1970s as the genesis of many contemporary tendencies in culture and the political economy. American Studies as a discipline takes on many forms and I think of this conference as a kind of index of current interests in the field, so it was nice to see so many ideas circulating that I found personally resonant.
I am going to write about one panel in particular, "The Roundtable 2.0: A Reconfigured Conference Session for the Digital Humanities," put on by the Digital Humanities Caucus, which was founded at last year's annual meeting. Although it was listed in the program as a panel with four participants, the bulk of the roundtable was in the form of "lightening talks" in which attendees took five minutes (no more, there was a very serious timer) to describe digital projects that they were working on. About fifteen people presented current work. Some of the presentations that stuck with me were Rice University's "Our Americas Archive," which allows users to tag archival search results and place them into timelines and maps, the American Studies Keywords wiki, and a digital book in the USC/Vectors project (url's to follow).
While there were some common concerns over all of the presentations: wider access to materials, using digital platforms to foster new modes of searching and interpreting data, user-as-maker, more attention to how data might be spatially and temporally configured, and new possibilities for collaboration, I was impressed with the many different ways in which scholars and practitioners (and scholars *and* practitioners) are working within the possibilities of the digital. I will be posting short descriptions and URLs for all of the presentations sometime soon but wanted to get this brief account out there first.