2016 Annual Meeting

The 2016 ACLS Annual Meeting took place at the Renaissance Arlington Capital View Hotel, Arlington, VA, on May 5-7.  In attendance were members of the ACLS Board of Directors, delegates of the constituent societies, members of the Conference of Administrative Officers, presidents of the constituent societies, representatives of affiliate organizations, representatives of college and university associate institutions, ACLS fellowship recipients, committee members, foundation representatives, and other invited participants.

The ACLS Board of Directors met on May 5. (Those in attendance are pictured in the image gallery at right.) For current membership, see Board and Committees.

“Extending the Reach of the Humanities PhD"

Thursday evening's session, "Extending the Reach of the Humanities PhD," was devoted to exploring the early results of efforts by ACLS, select learned societies, and universities to broaden the applicability of the humanities PhD to careers beyond the classroom. Steven Wheatley, ACLS vice president, introduced the session’s theme and briefly recounted ACLS’s collaborative efforts with The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to launch the Mellon/ACLS Public Fellows program, which places recent PhDs in two-year fellowship positions with a variety of government organizations and nonprofits. Wheatley then introduced the sessions’ participants:

  • Adela de la Torre, communications director of the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) in Washington, DC and supervisor to a Mellon/ACLS Public Fellow;
  • Rosemary G. Feal, executive director of the Modern Language Association, whose Connected Academics initiative works to prepare doctoral students of language and literature for a variety of careers;
  • James Grossman, executive director of the American Historical Association, which, like MLA, has developed a program to promote career diversity for historians; and
  • Sara Guyer, director of the University of Wisconsin, Madison’s Center for the Humanities, which patterned its successful Public Humanities Fellowship for UW graduate students on ACLS’s postdoctoral program. 

It was generally agreed that doctoral education might be improved so as to encompass a broader set of career outcomes—quantitative literacy and communication across a variety of media were among the skills mentioned—but it was also stressed that those same skills would benefit PhDs working in the academy. The question was raised as to how the trend toward more open support for careers outside of the academy affects the traditional economic rationales underlying graduate study in the humanities. 

President’s Report to the Council

The annual meeting proper opened Friday morning with President Pauline Yu’s "Report to the Council." She spoke of the relation of the humanities, education, and democracy and argued against the “velvet rope economy,” in which goods and services are increasingly offered in distinct tranches, with a more expensive premium product reserved for the more affluent. “The humanities do not belong behind the velvet rope,” she asserted, for they are integral to a holistic education, to social and cultural progress.” She went on to describe ACLS programs aimed at supporting a broad range of humanistic inquiry and strengthening scholarship’s public presence. 

Micro-reports from Five ACLS Member Societies

Representatives of five member societies reported briefly (under three minutes) on topics on which their societies were currently engaged. Presenting were:

  • Leith Mullings, delegate, American Anthropological Association, on two of AAA’s public education initiatives: Race and World on the Move;
  • Scott Casper, delegate, American Antiquarian Society, on the social engagement of scholars;
  • Rona Sheramy, executive director; Association for Jewish Studies, on inter-societal collaborations and webinars for members;
  • Barbara Altmann, delegate, Modern Language Association, on MLA’s projects including those on language consultancy, preparation for careers beyond the classroom, and Commons Open Repository Exchange (CORE); and
  • Adam Blistein, executive director, Society for Classical Studies, on succession planning for learned society leadership

Meeting of the Council

ACLS Board of Directors Chair James J. O’Donnell presided over the Council meeting.

Jonathan Culler, secretary of the ACLS Board of Directors and chair of the Nominating Committee, announced the following elections to the board:

  • Nicola Courtright, Art History, Amherst College, re-elected to a three-year term as vice chair, expiring in 2019;
  • Peter Baldwin, History, University of California, Los Angeles, and New York University, elected to a four-year term as member;
  • Michele Moody-Adams, Philosophy, Columbia University, elected to a four-year term as member;
  • Carl H. Pforzheimer III, Carl H. Pforzheimer & Co. LLC., elected to a four-year term as member; and
  • Richard J. Powell, Art History, Duke University, elected to a four-year term as member.

Leith Mullings, delegate from the American Anthropological Association and chair of the Executive Committee of the Delegates, reported on the election of two new members to that committee: Vivian Curran, American Society of Comparative Law, University of Pittsburgh, and Elaine Sisman, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Columbia University.

Nancy Kidd, executive director of the National Communication Association and chair of the Executive Committee of the CAO, reported briefly on CAO activities, including two recent publications: Learned Societies by the Numbers and Learned Societies Beyond the Numbers. These publications are the result of the CAO’s data gathering efforts and provide a snapshot of the current state of ACLS’s member societies.

Nancy J. Vickers, treasurer of the ACLS Board of Directors, reported on ACLS finances and investments. Voting members (delegates and board members) approved the ACLS budget for FY 2017.

Also by vote of the Council:

  • The Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing (SHARP) was admitted as ACLS's 74th member society. SHARP was founded to create a global network for book historians working in a broad range of scholarly disciplines. Research addresses the composition, mediation, reception, survival, and transformation of written communication in material forms from marks on stone to new media. For more information, visit the SHARP website.
  • The group of executive officers of ACLS member societies, known as the Conference of Administrative Officers, was renamed the Conference of Executive Officers.

Matthew Goldfeder, director of fellowship programs, reported on the 2015-16 competition year. ACLS will award over $18M to approximately 300 scholars who have applied to more than a dozen distinct programs. Information on the array of fellowship programs can be found online on ACLS Competitions and Deadlines

Emerging Themes and Methods of Humanities Research

This annual session features presentations by and discussion with recent ACLS fellows. This year’s session was moderated by Donald Brenneis, professor of anthropology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and member of the ACLS Board of Directors. The three fellows are based in different disciplines and work on topics in different parts of the world and separated by nearly two millennia, yet their work is united by the use of digital methods to research and disseminate their scholarship. 

  • Kim Gallon, a 2015 Digital Innovation Fellow and an assistant professor of history at Purdue University addressed the group remotely. Her project, “The Black Press Born Digital,” is an interactive, multimedia digital platform that demonstrates the importance of the black press in American history from its inception in the early nineteenth century through the civil rights era.
  • Brook Lillehaugen, a 2015 ACLS Fellow and an assistant professor of linguistics at Haverford College, spoke next about her project on colonial Zapotec manuscripts. Her project uses digital methods to analyze and disseminate a corpus of sixteenth-century manuscripts written in Zapotec, a now endangered language indigenous to Oaxaca, Mexico. Lillehaugen’s work is at once a highly detailed grammar geared toward academic linguists, an archive that restores damaged manuscripts through digitization, and a publicly accessible resource dedicated to empowering extant Zapotec speakers and preserving an endangered language.
  • Michael Penn, a 2011 Frederick Burkhardt Residential Fellow and the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Religion at Mount Holyoke College, concluded the panel with a presentation based on his project, “Syriac Christian Reactions to the Rise of Islam.” Penn uses rarely studied Syriac texts from the thousand years beginning in 200 AD to demonstrate that there was, in fact, much greater hybridity, permeability, and convergence between Christianity and Islam than is commonly acknowledged. Image processing algorithms are used to make these obscure texts more readable.

Luncheon Speaker

William “Bro” Adams, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, spoke at luncheon. In his remarks, Adams gave an account of several of the Endowment’s new initiatives, emphasizing their goals of public engagement and widening access to research opportunities and the books, articles, and programs resulting from research.

Ford Foundation President Darren Walker in Conversation with ACLS President Pauline Yu

Darren Walker set the tone of this session by enthusiastically suggesting, “Let’s just make it fun!” Walker talked about the life experiences that lead him to his current position. He came to understand the power of the humanities at the University of Texas where a course on the classics changed his life. When Yu note that he put the struggle for inequality front and center at Ford, he explained that he sought to reorganize the Foundation with one focus: viewing its programs through the lens of inequality, and asking “what drives persistent inequality.” Universities, he said, are challenged by inequality, their leadership feeling they can’t speak out for fear of offending their donor base. Foundations, on the other hand, are not beholden to donors, election cycles, shareholders, etc., yet they have remained far too conservative. While agreeing that we have an obligation to capitalism, Walker emphasized a need to improve on the system at a time when the majority of Americans across race and class see the system as rigged. “We have to improve capitalism; we have to make it work,” he asserted.

Breakout Sessions

There were six hour-long concurrent sessions on the following topics:

  • Constructive Approaches for Adjunct Faculty. Kwame Anthony Appiah, professor at New York University and member of the ACLS Board of Directors, facilitated a conversation about the status of adjunct faculty at colleges and universities, in academic departments, and as members of learned societies. Appiah remarked that all faculty—tenure track or not, full time or part time—share a single, educational mission, and should have the proper resources to do their job well and be effective as educators. In discussing the circumstances of adjunct faculty and what might be best practices, there was recurring attention to the variety of circumstances these faculty are employed. For example, some adjunct faculty teach full-time at a single institution whereas others teach full-time only through employment at multiple institutions, and still others work part-time—in addition to another career—whether they wish for full-time teaching or not.

    At the level of colleges and universities, the discussion focused on the need to think strategically about remuneration policies as well as the reliability of such employment, which touches on issues of review, reappointment, and pathways to promotion. Several attendees spoke of the need to think clearly about adjunct faculty as members of the department, which includes attending faculty meetings, questions of voting and serving on committees, and otherwise participating (and have the time to be involved) in faculty governance and the local scholarly community. In particular, the importance for adjunct faculty having access to online research databases was noted, whether that could be provided by educational institutions or, perhaps, learned societies. Representatives from some of the member learned societies mentioned policies about membership and conference fees, set, for example, by income range, and travel grants for adjunct faculty. It was noted that societies could learn from each other about how to encourage adjunct faculty to participate more fully in their societies.

  • PhD Career Diversification, led by Amy Ferrer, executive director of the American Philosophical Association, was the site of a lively discussion about the effects of recent efforts, including the Mellon/ACLS Public Fellows program, to multiply the number of career paths open to humanities PhDs. Ferrer began the session by asking attendees how scholarly associations could better prepare graduate students and their faculty advisors to recognize career opportunities beyond the academy. Ferrer also invited the group to suggest strategies for making PhDs working in non-academic positions more visible, and even integral, to learned society communities. One participant noted that many graduate departments have not—and still do not—keep close track of the postdoctoral careers of their students, especially when those careers are not traditionally academic. It was argued that such information is vital to efforts to re-integrate those PhDs into disciplinary societies and university communities. Other participants shared their strategies for tracking the careers of PhDs, noting that a good deal of data is freely available online and analysis would require an investment of time, not money.

    The discussion then turned to the question of graduate school training. Most participants felt that graduate departments had not fully confronted the reality of PhD education, i.e., that a sizable portion of PhDs have sought careers outside of higher education. It was also widely agreed that faculty advisors face an ethical imperative to clearly convey the state of the academic job market to both aspiring graduate students and current graduate students. As far as advising graduate students about non-academic careers, a number of participants argued that faculty need not become experts about working for government agencies or NGOs; however, it is critical that faculty foster a supportive atmosphere, where all graduate students are encouraged to explore multiple career options. A number of Mellon/ACLS Public Fellows attended the session and shared their experience in the program. Some fellows related how their transition to meaningful careers outside of the classroom led them to redefine what it means to be an “academic,” a “researcher,” and an “educator.”

  • Creative Approaches to Annual Meetings was led by Pamela Wojcik, professor of film, University of Notre Dame; and delegate, Society of Cinema and Media Studies. She opened the session by noting that just as faculty were rethinking the classroom—“flipping” it—perhaps it was time to consider “flipping” societies’ annual conferences. Most agreed with one participant’s assessment that the traditional two-to-three-person panel with commentator was “a very successful dinosaur,” but that there was an urgent need to diversify how meeting-goers share ideas. Colleagues offered brief descriptions of innovations their societies had undertaken. These included, 1) small-group seminars that convene each morning of the conference. This form was a useful means of combining “orphan” papers submitted solo to the program committee and giving advanced graduate students an opportunity to interact more intensively. “Admission” to the seminar was decided in advance but ad hoc auditors were welcomed; 2) hosting continuing workshops that stretch across annual conferences; and 3) lightening rounds, TED-type talks, and PechaKucha-style presentations, in which presenters are limited to 3–5 minute talks, with slides or other information presented rapidly. “Instead of hearing from three people, you hear from 20,” noted one colleague. At one society’s meetings, these rapid-fire sessions are styled “slams.”

    Special panel selection procedures, such as presidential panels, can schedule sessions on “hot topics” or “late breaking news” that mitigate the “siloing” of specialization-specific panels. “Creative conversations” concerning and administrative and professional issues can be scheduled. Poster sessions can allow more applicants to present work than do separately-roomed panels. It was noted that one society has combined poster sessions with happy hours to good effect.

    Video essays instead of panel presentations, panel swaps with other societies dedicated to the same field, and “unconference” sessions allow for flexible convocations in which those attending determine in situ the issues they want to address. The challenge remains, however, that the traditional annual meeting participation in the form of “giving a paper” is recognized by chairs and deans as an activity worth supporting but that many of these new activities need to be justified separately. Society directors noted that they spent considerable energy writing to the colleges and universities with such explanations.

  • Inequality and Diversity in the Humanities, led by George Sanchez, vice dean for diversity and strategic initiatives and professor of American studies & ethnicity at the University of Southern California, drew an enthusiastic group who picked up on themes highlighted in the lunch presentation by William “Bro” Adams, chairman of NEH, and Pauline Yu’s conversation with Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation. Discussion focused around the question, “How can we develop a more diverse professoriate?” An emerging theme concerned ways to create a pipeline to produce the diverse professoriate of the future. Sanchez pointed out that a disproportionate number of minority PhDs are produced by a small group of programs. These PhDs are mentored by a small group of faculty. It was noted that departmental heads can consider the hiring of a faculty member of color as a sufficient response to the need for diversity. These faculty members find themselves in a constant fight for legitimacy. Imbalance and oppression needs to be acknowledged and addressed at the institutional level. The advantage of building a critical mass of diverse faculty was discussed, suggesting that it was better to cluster these faculty in a few institutions rather than spreading them out. The importance of extending the “pipeline” further down (to K-12 education) was also mentioned. As examples of things that work, two foundation programs were cited—the Ford Foundation Fellowship Programs and the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program (MMUF).

  • Advocating for the Humanities: A new toolkit for scholarly societies, was led by Stephen Kidd, executive director and Beatrice Gurwitz, assistant director of the National Humanities Alliance (NHA). Kidd introduced a web interface designed to be incorporated in the websites of NHA members, including those of learned societies, so as to increase the visibility and expand the work of NHA.

    The toolkit highlights current issues and action alerts related to the humanities, including changes in government policies and funding cuts. This interface aims to reach academic communities on a local level by forming a liaison between NHA’s work and the individuals within its member organizations. The goal is to increase advocacy activities, e.g., increased support for appeal meetings and letters to Congress. Kidd and Gurwitz presented the model’s potential appearance and described customization options to mesh with the particular interests and work of individual societies. One of ACLS’s member societies has incorporated the Advocacy Toolkit within its website; its executive director spoke about the implementation process and the positive response from members.

  • Democratic Engagement in Teaching and Learning was led by Scott Casper, dean of the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences and professor of history at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, as well as delegate from the American Antiquarian Society. The conversation addressed different ways in which colleges, universities, and learned societies can--and do--deploy the humanities to engage their students and members in wide and deep thinking about their civic responsibilities. Participants shared both successes and challenges from their campuses and societies in two primary areas: 1) co-curricular and extra-curricular civic engagement projects for undergraduate, graduate, and law school students, and 2) civic engagement among humanities faculty that aligns with their teaching and/or research. Examples of civically engaged programs were shared by participants, ranging from legal clinics that law students participate in, to an initiative linking scholars and artists in Baltimore to incorporate art and design into public life, to a mock congressional briefing program to demonstrate history’s contemporary political relevance. Participants noted two primary challenges: 1) training faculty in civically engaged pedagogical methods, and 2) incentivizing faculty to incorporate civic engagement in their teaching and publishing through changing tenure and promotion guidelines.

2016 Charles Homer Haskins Lectures

The annual meeting concluded with Cynthia Enloe, research professor in the Department of International Development, Community, and Environment at Clark University, delivering the 2016 Charles Homer Haskins Prize Lecture on Friday evening.  

The Conference of Executive Officers (CAO) held its spring meeting on the following day, Saturday, May 7.