2011 Annual Meeting

The 2011 ACLS Annual Meeting took place at the L'Enfant Plaza Hotel in Washington, D.C. 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 Board of Directors met on May 5. (Board members in attendance are pictured at right.) For current membership, see Board and Committees.

There were two informal sessions that evening. In one session, Jessica Irons, executive director of the National Humanities Alliance, reported on the situation in Washington with respect to the humanities. Participants expressed concern about Congressional budget cuts of a wide range of federally-funded humanities programs. The group discussed strategizing advocacy efforts, and Irons encouraged those in attendance to respond to NHA’s action alerts. In the other session, William E. Davis, executive director of the American Anthropological Association, moderated a panel on "The Consequences of Financial Turbulence in the Academy." The panel was composed of Srinivas Aravamudan, president, Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes, dean of the humanities in the Trinity College of Arts and Sciences, and professor of English at Duke University; B. Robert Kreiser, associate secretary, American Association of University Professors; David Marshall, dean of humanities and fine arts and executive dean, College of Letters and Science, University of California, Santa Barbara; and Elizabeth Richmond-Garza, director, Program in Comparative Literature, University of Texas, and secretary-treasurer, American Comparative Literature Association. Attendees heard reports of retrenchment and reorganization in higher education and discussed strategies for responding responsibly. Panelists stressed the necessity of engagement: wishing away besetting fiscal problems is not an option. Speakers noted how important it is to build alliances with scholars and educators across academia and not leave the humanities as an isolated, special case.

ACLS Board Chair Anthony Appiah opened the Council meeting on Friday morning, May 6. Nancy J. Vickers, treasurer of the ACLS Board of Directors, and Lawrence R. Wirth, ACLS director of finance, reported on ACLS finances. Voting members (Delegates and board members) approved the ACLS budget for FY 2012 and the following elections to the board:

  •  James J. O’Donnell, classics, provost, Georgetown University, was elected to a three-year term as secretary.
  •  Nancy J. Vickers, literary and cultural studies, president emeritus, Bryn Mawr College, was elected to a three-year term as treasurer.
  •  Donald Brenneis, anthropology, University of California, Santa Cruz, was elected to a four-year term as member.
  •  Terry Castle, English literature, Stanford, was elected to a four-year term as member.

Also by vote of the Council, the World History Association (WHA) was admitted as ACLS's seventy-first member society. The WHA represents 1,400 researchers, teachers, students, independent scholars, and authors, and fosters historical analysis undertaken not from the viewpoint of nation-states, discrete regions, or particular cultures, but from that of the human community. For more information, visit the WHA website.

Nicole Stahlmann, director of fellowship programs, reported that ACLS was able to award nearly $15 million to 350 scholars worldwide for 2011-12.  

In the "Report to the Council," Pauline Yu discussed the progress of ACLS programs in the context of the financial and organizational challenges facing the academic humanities. She quoted George Washington, who urged our new democracy to promote the establishment of institutions of higher education as it was essential that the public opinion be enlightened. She called special attention to the serious reductions in federal support for the humanities.

President Yu continued by considering the need to develop a new relationship between the state, society, and the university. While the current trend is to treat higher education as a private good, it is in fact a public good, an investment in human capital whose returns benefit the whole society. In concluding, she noted that society invests heavily in the sciences and technology in order to better understand our place in the world. But the fullest understanding can only be achieved through research and education in the humanities and interpretive social sciences. She invited comments and conversation on the topics raised.

As in recent years, the Council meeting concluded with a presentation by current ACLS Fellows on “Emerging Themes and Methods of Humanities Research.” This year's speakers were Mary Flanagan, 2010 ACLS Digital Innovation Fellow, Dartmouth College; Rebecca E. Keegan, 2010 Henry Luce Foundation/ACLS Dissertation Fellow in American Art, Duke University; and Matthew Walker, 2010 New Faculty Fellow, Rutgers University, New Brunswick. 

National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Chairman Jim Leach spoke at luncheon on "Defending the Liberal Arts."

The afternoon session focused on "Global Perspectives on U.S. Higher Education." It was moderated by Thomas Bender, University Professor of the Humanities, professor of history, New York University, and featured Lisa Anderson, president, American University in Cairo; Peter Lange, provost, Duke University; and John Sexton, president, New York University. The session contrasted two types of American engagement overseas: new, autonomous institutions and new campuses established by U.S. universities. Representing the former, Lisa Anderson stressed that today non-traditional sites such as Cairo have special advantages because of their dual character as both local and international. Peter Lange and John Sexton discussed their campuses abroad, noting their cosmopolitan character and the benefits of circulating technology and ideas as well as students and faculty.

Henry Glassie, college professor emeritus of folklore at Indiana University, Bloomington, delivered the 2011 Haskins Prize Lecture in the evening of May 6.  

The annual meeting concluded with a reception and dinner in Professor Glassie's honor in the Great Hall of the Library of Congress. While at the Library of Congress, attendees had the opportunity to visit the John W. Kluge Center. Kluge Center Director, Carolyn Brown and several staff members were on hand to guide visitors and to answer questions on the historical rooms and its collections. Awardees in two ACLS programs—the Frederick Burkhardt Residential Fellowships for Recently Tenured Faculty and the Mellon/ACLS Early Career Fellowships for Recent Doctoral Recipients— may opt to take up their fellowships in residency at the Kluge Center.

The Conference of Administrative Officers (CAO) held their spring meeting on the following day, May 7. Also gathering that day were Burkhardt Fellows celebrating the tenth anniversary of the program. 

The 2012 ACLS Annual Meeting will be held in Philadelphia, PA on May 10-12. Joyce Appleby will deliver the Haskins Prize Lecture.