Ruth Scodel, SCS delegate to the American Council of Learned Societies, has written up her report of the annual ACLS meeting.
You can read her full report below:
The most important news from this year’s meeting of ACLS may be from the president’s report: the organization is financially healthy.
For the Thursday evening session there was a panel about free speech in the academy (“The Contested Campus”). Leon Botstein was a member of this panel. Of course the other speakers were interesting and distinguished people —Judith Shapiro, the president of Teagle; Jerry Kang, a UCLA law professor and the first vice-chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion; Ben Vinson, soon to be provost at Case Western, Botstein dominated, as I suspect he does in any event in which he participates. Never having seen the Botstein show, I was fascinated. The panel considered two related problems—how difficult it can be to have even serious speakers from the right, and how hard it can be to manage the provocateurs who have nothing worth hearing like Yiannopoulos. Botstein was furious over complaints that a conference at the Arendt Center had included Marc Jongen, especially since Jongen’s respondent was Ian Buruma.
On Friday were the usual mini-reports from five societies. The Shakespeare Society talked about the seminars they have at their annual meeting, and it made me wonder if the SCS should think about whether we could have seminars on our program that would be designed specifically to bring together younger and senior scholars.
After the business meeting, there were the usual presentations by recipients of ACLS fellowships. Mattie Burkert worked on the connections between the theater and finance in England after 1688; Quito Swan on black internationalism in Melanesia, and Rian Thom on the history of Islam in China. The last was especially interesting, but also painful—doing research on a history that an authoritarian government does not approve is a tricky job. The lunchtime speaker was the new chair of the NEH, Jon Parrish Prede, and the mood was celebratory, since the NEH has at least survived. In the afternoon, I attended the breakout on free speech issues that continued the themes of the Thursday night panel. One attendee told a horror story of a law professor being the object of student complaints because he had quoted Nixon’s use of the “n-word” (with obvious disapproval). Alas, neither the Friday night session nor the breakout provided many practical suggestions for improving the situation or for effective pedagogy.
In the evening, the Haskins Prize Lecture by Sally Falk Moore told a story of privilege (growing up with a governess, a cook, and excellent New Deal connections), discrimination (there weren’t a lot of women at Columbia law school back in the day), and just weird luck. For example, she become an anthropologist almost by accident, studying in the field after coming back from Nuremburg while waiting for a job at the UN to open up.