NYMASA 2009 CFP: A More Perfect Union?

full name / name of organization: 
Sarah Chinn
contact email: 


The New York Metro American Studies Association (NYMASA) announces a call for papers for our 2009 annual one-day conference:

A More Perfect Union?

November 14, 2009
St. John's University, Downtown Manhattan campus

Our annual conference this year explores the appeal of and challenges to the national ideal of "a more perfect union," initially posited at the emergence of the legal entity known as "the United States."

As this call for papers goes out, the governor of Texas is suggesting that his state secede from the United States. Although his quest is unlikely to succeed, what's most interesting is its transhistorical consistency. One hundred and fifty years ago, William Lloyd Garrison demanded "no union with slavery!" Of course, students of American studies have long examined cultural and political fault lines in the US, including race, gender, class, religion, and sexuality. Indeed, from our disciplinary perspective, the real surprise may not be the failure of unity in the national polity, but its enduring promise.

Suspending some of our discipline's conventional skepticism, this conference asks what American studies can or should teach us not only about the divisions in US culture, but about its uneven potentials and latent desires for unity. How can we analyze the desire for a "more perfect union" in terms of both perfection and unity?

We invite papers on the multiple nodes--historical and contemporary, virtual and material--which both express and interrupt this urge towards unity: How, for example, does the proliferation of different types of media, from TiVo to Twitter, from blogs to Facebook, disrupt traditional unities organized around nation, region, and family (not to mention consumer capital)? What do we make of the fact that Obama's overwhelming victory in the presidential election--after a campaign thematized by his calls to "choose unity over division"--was accompanied by majority votes in three states to deny same-sex marriage and to restrict adoption rights for gay Americans? Or that, afterward, national gay journalists and pundits (many of whom were Obama supporters) led a media charge to scapegoat California's African American voters, while spontaneous protests across California, major US cities, and the internet, targeted the Mormon Church?

We especially invite papers which reflect on the conference location in Lower Manhattan, near Ground Zero, where the redevelopment effort has also involved ideals of unity and perfectability. How have rhetorics around national and transnational unity that emerged out of September 11 been reworked in subsequent years? How have these issues played out in local politics? In what ways do tensions over community dissent/assent, historical and geographic dis/unity, and the conflicting agendas of politicians, cultural and economic groups coexist with a hope (spoken or unspoken) that the rebuilding of the World Trade Center site will spur creation of a "more perfect" urban area and global city that will heal the ruptures of 9/11/01?

We welcome papers from a variety of disciplines, as well as from culture workers and policy professionals outside academia. Please note that we accept only individual papers (not panels). Topics may include, but are not limited to:

*Dis-union (necessary oppositions, irreconcilable differences)
*Intimate unions (marriage, civil unions, miscegenation, human-animal
relations, therapeutic bonds)
*Labor unions (historical, graduate student unions, after NAFTA and Bush)
*Economic unions (business, wage-labor, slavery, sex work, marriage, collective
*Perfection, perfectibility, progress, and development (economic, evolutionary,
political, and social)
*Political unity (assent, dissent, party politics, strange bedfellows)
*Historical unions (relations across time, subjugated knowledges)
*Geographic unions (territory, jurisdiction, expansion, transportation)
*Alliances (historical, contemporary, uncanny, unexpected, entrenched)
*Temporary unions (flash mobs, blogstorms, Facebook protest groups)
*Collaborations (multi-media, multi-disciplinary, multi-purpose)
*Creative/creating unions (pastiche, editing, compilation)
*Changing unions (moves toward unity or moves away from it, in history, representation, politics, knowledge, etc.)
*Unified fields

Please send proposals and inquiries to nymasa09@gmail.com by June
30, 2009.