I attended the AAASS National Convention this past weekend in New Orleans. I participated on two panels. A roundtable titled “Youth’s ‘Janus-Face Nature’: Youth and History in Russia/Soviet/Russia” and a panel called “Looking into the Past, Preparing for the Future: Civil War, Generations, and the Militarization of Soviet Youth, 1918-1941.” (The convention’s full program can be found here.) I co-organized both with Matthias Neumann, a young scholar who works on the Komsomol from University of East Anglia in Britain. Both panels were well received, though not well attended. This is expected since each of the conference’s twelve sessions, which spanned from Thursday afternoon to Sunday noon, had so many panels, that low attendance is a given unless you are a big name or work on some ultra-trendy topic. There was a visible increase in panels on media–film, television, and radio. Panels on Imperial Russian history were few. The Soviet period dominated in history. Predictably, the those that featured gore and ultra-violence were heavily attended. Panels on the Terror, Collectivization, and violence in Russia in general were packed. Especially if scholars like Lynne Viola, Ronald Suny, Norman Naimark, Sheila Fitzpatrick, J. Arch Getty, and other “celebrity” scholars.
Academic conferences are odd places. You really get a sense of how small the Slavic scholar community really is. More importantly, you realize how compartmentalized it is in regard to period, topic, theme and discipline. Panels are rarely multidisciplinary. Eastern Europe, the Baltics, and Russia tend to not cross paths. There is a growing Central Asian and Caucuses contingent but they seem to still be looking for where they fit in all this. Many of them go to the Middle East Studies Association conference, which is unfortunately at the same time as AAASS. Though general attendance was probably well over 1000, you quickly realize that the topics are either so specialized or esoteric that they could only appeal to experts. Conferences in general are probably one of the few places were so many people with shared interests, though with divergent opinions, are concentrated in one place. But I guess that is the point.
There is nothing too exciting to report. The conference is far to large to give an overall impression. Plus the whole thing is quite exhausting. Though it was nice to see some friends that I only get to see this time of year, I’m glad that such an event is only once a year. One high point was Sunday morning at the book exhibits. Despite promises that I wouldn’t buy any books, I took advantage of 50% discounts many publishers offer on the last day of the convention. Of the several books I bought, the ones that excite me the most are Alexander Rabinowitch’s third installment to his trilogy on the Russian Revolution, The Bolsheviks in Power: The First Year of Soviet Rule in Petrograd, Abby Shrader’s Languages of the Lash: Corporal Punishment and Identity in Imperial Russia, and Douglas Weiner’s Models Of Nature: Ecology, Conservation, and Cultural Revolution in Soviet Russia.
As for New Orleans itself, time didn’t permit me to take in the city as much as I hoped. However, a walk through the French Quarter is enough to see that the city is still recovering from Katrina. The city is depopulated. Many restaurants and shops in the Quarter still remain shut down or open intermittently. When and if they are open, they tend to be empty. I thought of going on a “disaster tour” but refrained because I couldn’t morally justify paying money to view misery. The few looks I did get of the city, it made me want to read Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism even more.
At any rate, a shout out to all my friends. And apologies to all the people I didn’t see or didn’t give ample time. See ya all next year in Philly.