2013 Annual Meeting

The 2013 ACLS Annual Meeting took place at the Baltimore Renaissance Harborplace Hotel in Baltimore, MD on May 9-11. 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 10.  (Those in attendance are pictured at right.) For current membership, see Board and Committees.

There were two informal sessions on Thursday evening, each on a selected topic of interest to meeting participants. In one session, Mary Ellen K. Davis, executive director of the Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL) moderated a panel entitled “Open Access: Managing Change.” Davis was joined by two panelists, Kara Malenfant, senior strategist for special initiatives at ACRL, and Brett Bobley, chief information officer for the National Endowment for the Humanities.  Davis opened the session by providing background on the notion of open access, and what it means for both the scholarly community and the wider public. She related in detail her own organization’s experience and experimentation with open access publication. Her colleague Kara Malefant posited that the more traditional “lifecycle of scholarship,” (i.e., from creation to publication to dissemination of a scholarly product) has in recent years been disrupted by a number of factors, including economic pressures faced by academic libraries, the Internet-driven expectation of easy access to source materials, as well as various changes in the social and political landscape. Bobley concluded the session’s panelist presentations by detailing the White House’s recently mandated Open Data Initiative, which, while specifically targeted at the sciences, has distinct implications for the humanities as well. The panel concluded with a lively question-and-answer session.

In the concurrent Thursday evening session, Amy Newhall, executive director of the Middle East Studies Association of North America, moderated a panel discussion on changing funding patterns in international and area studies. The other panelists were Rosemary G. Feal, executive director of the Modern Language Association of America, and Lynda Park, executive director of the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies. Newhall presented an overview of the history of federal funding for foreign language study. She cited restrictions on language study in the 1930s, the expansion during World War II and the Cold War, followed by increased support of language study with the passing of the 1958 National Defense Act and the creation of Title VI and the Fulbright program. Park also discussed Title VI and the Fulbright program, and noted that government funding now focuses on K-12 funding, with universities expected to pick up the slack. Feal pointed out that language requirements in college have decreased and the numbers of Ph.D.s in non-English based fields is decreasing. This is a serious problem, she argued, because the study of languages is about preserving and transmitting knowledge. During the lively discussion that ensued, members of the audience expressed the hope that advocates for international and area studies could be found within the U.S. Department of Education, and that other funding sources for these important fields might be identified.

The ACLS Annual Meeting proper opened on Friday with a presentation by current ACLS Fellows in a session entitled “Emerging Themes and Methods of Humanities Research.” he speakers included three fellows who are currently conducting research under the auspices of the ACLS central fellowship program: Ruha Benjamin, assistant professor of sociology and African American studies at Boston University; Sarah H. Jacoby, assistant professor of religious studies at Northwestern University; and Adrian Johns, professor of history at the University of Chicago. The panel was moderated by ACLS Board of Directors member Teofilo F. Ruiz, who drew connections to his own experience as an ACLS Fellow in 1979. 

Benjamin presented on her research project, “Provincializing Science: Mapping and Marketing Ethnoracial Diversity in the Genomic Age,” which explores the interactions between folk ethnoracial taxonomies, government classifications, and population genomics in India, Mexico, and South Africa. This research, which draws on interviews, participant observation, and various archives, seeks to locate the material practices of science vis-à-vis race and expose the non-neutral metaphors science employs, undermining the view that scientific practice is universal and autonomous from political struggle.

Jacoby traced her intellectual trajectory from first discovering a rare first-person account by an early twentieth-century Tibetan Buddhist, Sera Khandro, during a study abroad trip, to her ACLS-funded project, “Self, Society, and Sentiment in the Autobiographical Writings of a Tibetan Female Visionary.” Jacoby’s research aims to explicate the roles of women and of sexuality within Eastern Tibetan religious communities. Ultimately, these dialogues recounted by Khandro serve to redefine the place of love within Buddhism and challenge long-standing views of the uniqueness of Western romantic love.

Johns traced the recent struggles over intellectual property and online piracy, including debates over congressional bills like the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, back to debates during the rise of print culture. Citing Bruno Latour’s famous saying that “we have never been modern,” Johns discussed how his project, “The Intellectual Property Defense Industry,” demonstrates the premodern issues and practices underlying recent debates about contemporary technological advances.

In her "Report to the Council," President Yu took note of several current efforts to frame the value of the humanities to liberal education and to the public interest in general. The ACLS Public Fellows program, she reported, was an effort to provide postdoctoral opportunities for new PhDs while also exemplifying their value to fields outside of academia. She also announced a new research fellowship program in Buddhist studies supported by the Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation and open to scholars worldwide.

ACLS Board of Directors Chair James J. O’Donnell presided over the Council meeting following President Yu’s report. Nancy J. Vickers, treasurer of the ACLS board, reported on ACLS finances and investments. Voting members (delegates and board members) approved the ACLS budget for FY 2014 and the following elections to the board:

  • Nicola Courtright, Art History, Amherst College, was elected to a three-year term as vice chair.
  • Ann Fabian, U.S. History, Rutgers University, was elected to a four-year term as member.
  • William Kirby, Chinese History, Harvard University, was elected to a four-year term as member.
  • Teofilo Ruiz, European History, University of California, Los Angeles, was elected to a four-year term as member.

Nicole Stahlmann, director of fellowship programs, reported that that during the 2012-13 competition year, ACLS offered support through 12 discrete programs, 10 of which focus on US-based scholars and two of which are open to scholars based abroad. The most recent additions to the ACLS fellowship portfolio are the New Faculty Fellows program and the Public Fellows program, which offer opportunities for the period directly following the conferral of the Ph.D. Overall, ACLS awarded over $15 million to scholars worldwide in the 2012-13 competitions.

National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Chairman Jim Leach spoke at luncheon on "STEM and the Humanities: a Misconceived Dichotomy." The talk, which explored the complementarity of research in the humanities and STEM-fields.

The afternoon plenary session was devoted to the burgeoning phenomenon of MOOCs, and in particular their ramifications for the humanities, learned societies, and the higher education model. The session was moderated by ACLS board chair Jim O’Donnell, who was joined by panelists Jennifer Summit, professor of English, Stanford University; Jeremy Adelman, professor of history, Princeton University; and Howard Lurie, vice president, edX.. After a brief introduction by O’Donnell, Adelman delivered a brief, multimedia presentation that related his experiences and lessons learned over the course of preparing and teaching a MOOC that engaged nearly 100,000 learners. Summit then offered her perspective as an American Council on Education (ACE) fellow at San Jose State University, noting that increasing student demand for access to state higher education and ever-shrinking public education funding spurred interest in some quarters in MOOCs as a “solution.” San Jose State’s experiments with MOOCs in engineering, she warned, cannot be mapped wholesale onto humanities curricula. Addressing the recent controversy at San Jose State regarding faculty resistance to the adoption of a popular edX course from Harvard’s philosophy department, Lurie stated that edX welcomes the increased attention, which helps bring to the surface long-overdue questions about pedagogy and the correct role for MOOCs on campus. O’Donnell opened the floor to questions, which initiated a lively discussion about the implications of MOOCs on issues of gender and class, and about the potential benefits of MOOCs for humanists looking to network and conduct outreach to the public.

 Robert Alter, Class of 1937 Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature at the University of California at Berkeley, delivered the 2013 Haskins Prize Lecture on Friday evening.

The Conference of Administrative Officers (CAO) held its spring meeting on the following day, Saturday, May 11.

The 2014 ACLS Annual Meeting will be held in Philadelphia on May 8-10. Bruno Nettl, professor emeritus of music and anthropology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, will deliver the Charles Home Haskins Prize Lecture on Friday evening, May 9.