Wednesday, March 5, 2008

SAM Roundup

San Antonio? Funny town. Feels a bit like Disneyland, complete with an alcoholic version of the Jungle Cruise. And then there is that "Alamo" thing in the middle of town. Everyone says it is smaller in real life, and so I was expecting it to be small. But really, it is tiny. But as they say, it's not how big your metaphor for Texan liberty is, it's how you use it.

My paper went very well, the panel even better. Our two papers went together very nicely, I thought, giving a glimpse of the beginning and the end of identity politics. We were missing our third panelist, but it did mean that we had actual time for discussion afterwards, which was nice.

SAM is, as I said earlier, a lovely group of people, and the conferences are a ton of fun. I wonder sometimes what will happen to it in the future. It used to be that to research American music made you something of a dissident in musicology. That's no longer true, now that (most of) the big programs are turning out Americanists in droves. If one of the best places to study American music is Harvard...well, it means being an Americanist is something very different.

Similarly, going to SAM always reminds me that it's not exactly ideologically neutral to study the music of the most powerful country in the world, and I wish more of us would acknowledge that fact. And perhaps also acknowledge that our work has often been sustained by the state itself. Oscar Sonneck, after all, worked for the Library of Congress. And many of the pioneering scholars of American music had explicit ties to the government. A few conferences back there was a big tribute to the pioneering Americanist Gilbert Chase. At one point, almost in passing, someone mentioned that just as he was writing America's Music from the Pilgrims to the Present, he was also a longtime employee of the State Department in the 1950s. People working in the discipline of American Studies have been much more successful than we have, I think, in acknowledging what it means to be an "Americanist" in a time where that is a rather fraught political identity in the world. I know SAM as an organization has been trying to promote more transnational work, and to expand our scope to include all of the Americas. But so far, I don't think it's quite caught on. And even beyond expanding scope, there's a lot more self-reflexivity that could be occurring. Just my two cents, and not original cents at that. I fully admit I'm still trying to figure it out in my own work.

1 comment:

Dan B. said...

I love SAM. It was my first conference back in 2006, and I remember being surprised at how community-making it was and how easy it was to meet people.

I'm glad your paper went well. Rebecca is still singing that damn song.