This last weekend Juntoist Glenda Goodman and I attended the Society of Early Americanists’ biennial conference in Savannah.
First things first: have you been to Savannah? It’s lovely, and you should go immediately if you haven’t made it there yet. It’s eminently walkable, and everywhere you ramble you find pretty squares with statues, intersecting streets overhung with Spanish moss.
The walkability factor helped a lot, as there were quite a lot of great panels to capture my attention during the run of the conference; it was nice to be able to pop out for lunch, and to get back (mostly) in time for afternoon panels.
Among the sessions I enjoyed were “Travelers, Tongues, and Talents in the Colonial Northeast,” with papers by Andrew Lipman, Kate Grandjean, and Strother Roberts; and the Material Culture Colloquy at the Davenport House, convened by Zara Anishanslin (who, incidentally, will be writing a guest post for the Junto later this month—stay tuned).
I found the “International Approaches to Early American Studies” roundtable particularly instructive in this age of global, transnational, and Atlantic history. As an early American Atlanticist I hadn’t thought particularly hard about how our overseas colleagues might struggle to teach and advise students studying and seeking jobs in early American studies. Brycchan Carey, from Kingston University, made what I thought was an interesting point when he suggested that PhD students from the UK met with little success applying for jobs as early Americanists (in the field of literature; the same doesn’t necessarily hold true for history), but did better when they applied as specialists in, say, the eighteenth century. It seems silly to me to think that universities in the UK or Canada prefer to hire American PhDs to teach early America, given the fact that to some extent we are all incapable of fully understanding the people we study. Being American, in other words, doesn’t grant me some deeper understanding into the foreign world of my own country’s past—but the international job market might suggest otherwise (PhD candidates, take heed!).
On an entirely different note, I was absolutely staggered by the amount of people talking about food at this conference, compared to the same conference two years ago, in Philadelphia. I presented at a panel called “Food, Dress, and the Politics of Everyday Colonialism,” and am grateful to Christina Snyder and Christian Ayne Crouch for organizing the panel, and to co-panelist Jenny Shaw for her participation as well. I found it immensely exciting to see so many people interested in the things that I’m interested in—what a time to be in the field! The other food panel, “Culinary Contact Zones,” with Lauren Klein, Michael LaCombe, Molly Perry, and Stephen Rachman was also very enjoyable.
I’m also a sucker for food-related conference events, and the Lowcountry Heritage Food Event was hard to beat as they go (though the conference with the ice cream sundae bar I attended at BU last year comes close). Professor David Shields gave the talk that preceded the dinner, and spoke about reviving heritage foods and grains. The talk was good, but everyone was anxious to have at the abundant spread of (decidedly non-vegetarian) collard greens with pot likker, Carolina Gold rice cakes, spoon bread, and beans. The food lived up to Shields’s anticipation-making talk.
More generally, it was reassuring to see an immense surge of people participating in the conference online. 95 Twitter users talked about #SEA13 during the conference for a total of 1,151 tweets—@jsench, @JBD1, and @speitz_O_life took the prize for top three users. A Google Docs archive of conference tweets is available here.
In sum, it was a fantastic conference. On a personal note, this was my first academic conference post-defense, and let me say that it feels good to feel legit.
Sad that you missed out on the conference and have to wait a whole two years before it comes around again? Dry your eyes, good reader: there’s an off-year conference in London next July, called “London and the Americas.” Proposals are due in September.
If you attended the conference and have comments on additional panels, please add your thoughts in the comments section below!