First AISNA Graduate Forum – October 27-28, Rome. Report

 The first AISNA Graduate Forum Conference, held on September 28, 2018 at the Center for American Studies in Rome, was dedicated to the fiftieth anniversary of the protests of 1968, and aimed at investigating the legacies of the social movements that emerged during the1960s to fight against discriminations of race, class, gender and sexuality.

1st AISNA Graduate Forum Conference— “Rethinking 1968 and the Global Sixties”

day 0 – pre-conference pizza

The event, which took place right after the annual general meeting of AISNA (the Italian Association of North American Studies), was preceded by a nice pre-conference dinner in which our plenary speaker, Prof. Jeffrey C. Stewart, most of the organizers, and some of the participants had the possibility to get to know each other in a friendly atmosphere. This was a particularly pleasant moment for some of the members of our forum, who had been interacting with each other mostly via e-mail for months in preparation for the conference and could finally meet in person for the first time.

plenary speech

The next day, the conference was opened by a plenary lecture by Jeffrey C. Stewart, professor of Black Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, titled “The Knowledge Revolution of 1968 at 50.” In his engaging talk, Prof. Stewart reflected on the power of technology to change our perceptions of knowledge and on the importance of owning and controlling means of knowledge production such as computers. As an example, he chronicled the North Hall Takeover of the computer center at University California Santa Barbara (UCSB) by twelve African American students in October 1968, which led to the founding of the UCSB’s department of Black Studies. Stewart discussed at great length the pedagogical shift started by the 1968 protest movements. With their activism, students favored the passage from a monologic system to a more interactive and dialogic one, centered on student contribution and group discussion. The plenary was followed by an animated Q&A session led by Virginia Pignagnoli and Lorenzo Costaguta, and by a lively coffee break where participant could continue the conversation with Prof. tewart in a more informal way.

morning panels

The morning proceeded with two parallel panel sessions of four speakers each. One was chaired by Marta Gara, and explored the legacy of the global 1960s from a transnational perspective. The panel focused on shared elements of national movements, and included talks on the image of Native Americans in Italy, the travels of American activists in Chile, the concept of auto-gestione that emerged out of French socialism, and the role of the Wasp class in the US.

The other was chaired by Alice Balestrino and focused on the literary representations of the turmoil and social paranoia that characterized the 1960s, and in particular on radical manifestations of dissent problematized through literature. After the morning sessions, participants met for an informal lunch.

Afternoon panels

During the afternoon, three sessions of three speakers each run parallel. Edoardo Frezet chaired a panel on the impact of the social protests of the 1960s on contemporary forms of social activism. His panel explored the theme of the body as a means of protest and presented three different perspectives—entertainments, popular meetings and management of power—to reflect on the broader theme of body politics. In particular, speakers pointed out a divergence between the ideological tools of contemporary protests and those of reactionary rhetorics.

Lorenza Mammarella led a discussion on the representation of 1968 in the media, and the debate expanded to investigate the role of women in contemporary protest movements such as #MeToo and Time’s Up. I moderated a session on the influence of the Civil Rights and Black Arts movements on contemporary African American literature, in which participants discussed on the legacy of those movements in contemporary forms of resistance to manifestations of so-called “new racism.” The afternoon ended with an informal AISNA Graduate Forum meeting, where members of the forum explained how AISNA Graduates is structured and what our future goals are to some of the participants who might be interested in joining the group.

Here you can find the detailed program of our conference.

final thoughts

As a group, we are more than satisfied with our first graduate forum, in particular we have been pleasantly surprised by : first, the presence of a considerable number of international participants, which demonstrates that the activities of AISNA Graduates have reached a broader audience than expected; second, the level of competence and engagement demonstrated by the participants and the lively and interesting discussions that animated the various panels; finally, the overwhelmingly positive response of the AISNA Board, whose members deemed our first event a great success. We can say with confidence that we’re off to a great start!

Our online, peer-reviewed journal JamIt! will host the contributions of the conference. Feel free to check our website for updates on upcoming events and other call for papers or academic opportunities.

Thanks to all the people who took part in the event, to the U.S. Embassy for their logistical and economic support and to the Centro Studi Americani for hosting us. We look forward to meeting you soon at other AISNA Graduate Forum events!

Monia Dal Checco

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