American Studies Association
The American Studies Association (ASA) is an organization founded in 1951. It is the oldest scholarly organization devoted to the interdisciplinary study of U.S. culture and history. The ASA works to promote meaningful dialogue about the U.S., throughout the U.S. and across the globe. Its purpose is to support scholars and scholarship committed to original research, innovating and effective teaching, critical thinking, and public discussion and debate.
The ASA consists of almost 5,000 individual members along with 2,200 library and other institutional subscribers. It publishes the American Quarterly at Johns Hopkins University Press. The concerns and activities of the organization are international in scope.
The American Studies Association was founded for purposes of
- the promotion of the study of American culture through the encouragement of research, teaching, publication, the strengthening of relations among persons and institutions in this country and abroad devoted to such studies, and the broadening of knowledge among the general public about American culture in all its diversity and complexity.
Officers and Governance
The President of the ASA for the 2014-2015 term (ending June 30) is Lisa Duggan, Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis at NYU. The President-elect is David Roediger, Professor of History at the University of Kansas. Curtis Marez of the University of California, San Diego was President during the 2013-2014 term.
Membership is available to any individual with an interest in the study of American culture. Colleges, universities, museums, foundations, societies and other institutions can also be members of the ASA.
The ASA includes thirteen chapters:
- The American Studies Association of Texas
- The California American Studies Association
- The Chesapeake American Studies Association
- The Eastern American Studies Association
- The Great Lakes American Studies Association
- The Hawaii American Studies Association
- The Kentucky-Tennessee American Studies Association
- The Mid-America American Studies Association
- The New England American Studies Association
- The New York Metro American Studies Association
- The Pacific Northwest American Studies Association
- The Rocky Mountain American Studies Association
- The Southern American Studies Association
The ASA regularly produces several publications including:
- The American Quarterly (AQ): Published in March, June, September, and December, the Journal's essays engage with important issues in American studies. It is available online to ASA members and through Project Muse and JSTOR.
- The ASA E-Newsletter: Published quarterly, this newsletter provides information on programs, publications and opportunities relevant to ASA members, while aiming to promote a broader awareness of the challenges facing the American Studies Community.
- The Encyclopedia of American Studies: An online database featuring over 750 searchable articles. The ASA claims that the "Encyclopedia of American Studies is the leading reference work for the field."
The annual ASA annual meeting features speakers and workshops connected to a broad theme important to the field. The 2015 meeting, "The (Re)production of Misery and the Ways of Resistance" is scheduled for October 8–11, 2015 at the Sheraton Centre in Toronto, Canada. The 2014 meeting, "The Fun and the Fury: New Dialectics of Pleasure and Pain in the Post-American Century," was held on November 6–9, 2014 at the Westin Bonaventure in Los Angeles. Subsequent meetings are scheduled for November 17–20, 2016, at the Hyatt Regency Denver at Colorado Convention Center in Denver, Colorado, and November 9–12, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois.
Prizes and grants
The ASA awards a number of prizes and grants including:
- Constance Rourke Prize for the best article in American Quarterly
- Wise-Susman Prize for the best student paper at the annual meeting
- Yasuo Sakakibara Prize for the best paper presented by a scholar at the annual meeting
- Ralph Henry Gabriel Prize for the best dissertation in American Studies
- Lora Romero First Book Publication Prize
- John Hope Franklin Best Book Publication Prize
- Angela Y. Davis Prize for public scholarship
- Mary C. Turpie Prize for teaching, advising and program development in American Studies
- Carl Bode-Norman Holmes Pearson Prize for outstanding contributions to American Studies.
2013 boycott of Israeli academic institutions
In December 2013, members of the ASA voted to join the boycott of all Israeli educational institutions. This followed a similar vote taken in April 2013 by the Association for Asian American Studies (AAAS) to boycott Israeli universities and academic institutions in response to calls from Palestinian civil-society organizations, such as trade unions, NGOs, religious organizations, and student groups.
In a statement on the boycott, ASA's National Council encouraged members to vote in support of the boycott because of "Israel's violation of international law and UN resolutions; the documented impact of the Israeli occupation on Palestinian scholars and students; [and] the extent to which Israeli institutions of higher education are a party to state policies that violate human rights." Some faculty, however, have objected that it is inappropriate for senior administrators to publicly position their college or university on an issue that faculty believe is one of academic freedom.
After a ten-day online voting period, the resolution passed with 66.05 percent of voting members endorsing the boycott, 30.5 percent voting against it, and 3.43 percent abstaining.
The boycott has since been joined by the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association, the African Literature Association, the Critical Ethnic Studies Association, and the National Women's Studies Association. Organizations that have voted against similar resolutions include the American Anthropological Association and the Modern Language Association.
Israeli officials and the Anti-Defamation League reacted by stating that political and academic debates should not be mixed and accused the ASA of discrimination against Israel and "Orwellian antisemitism", a charge denied by supporters of the boycott such as George Bisharat, David Lloyd and Colin Dayan. The Israeli ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, stated, "Rather than standing up for academic freedom and human rights by boycotting countries where professors are imprisoned for their views, the A.S.A. chooses as its first ever boycott to boycott Israel, the sole democracy in the Middle East, in which academics are free to say what they want, write what they want and research what they want." UCLA professor Robin D.G. Kelley argued that such statements “grossly mischaracterized” the ASA resolution “as an assault on academic freedom. On the contrary, it is one of the most significant affirmative acts any scholarly organization has proposed in defense of academic freedom since the anti-apartheid movement. Palestinian students and faculty living under occupation do not enjoy academic freedom, let alone the full range of basic human rights.”
Senior administrators at over 200 universities have rejected the academic boycott of Israel and four universities withdrawn from the organization: Brandeis University, Indiana University, Kenyon College, and Penn State Harrisburg. Prominent university and college presidents who have publicly condemned the boycott include Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger, Princeton University President Christopher L. Eisgruber, New York University President John Sexton, Amherst College President Carolyn Martin, University of Rochester President Joel Seligman, MIT President L. Rafael Reif, Wesleyan University President Michael S. Roth, Bard College President Leon Botstein, Case Western Reserve University President Barbara Snyder, Boston University president Robert A. Brown, Oberlin College President Marvin Krislov, and Harvard University President Drew Gilpin Faust.
The Association of American Universities, the American Association of University Professors, and the American Council on Education have all publicly denounced the boycott as a violation of the academic freedom of not only Israeli but also US scholars as well. The AMCHA Initiative maintains an updated list of universities that have terminated their ASA membership, and a list of universities that reject the boycott.
Some politicians have expressed criticism through open letters and legislation. Democratic Congressman Eliot Engel sent a letter to the ASA's president in which he criticized "the unfair double standard Israel is regularly and unfairly subjected to by organizations such as yours." In January 2014, 134 members of Congress (69 Democrats, 65 Republicans) signed a letter to ASA president Curtis Marez and president-elect Lisa Duggan, which accused the ASA of engaging in a "morally dishonest double standard." The letter stated that: "Like all democracies, Israel is not perfect. But to single out Israel, while leaving relationships with universities in autocratic and repressive countries intact, suggests thinly-veiled bigotry and bias." 
Jeffrey Klein, a New York State Senate Co-leader, and Assemblyman Dov Hikind announced plans introduce a law that will withdraw state funding from colleges maintaining memberships in groups boycotting Israel. In a joint statement, the lawmakers described the ASA boycott as "targeted discrimination against Israel that betrays the values of academic freedom that we hold dear."
On January 27, 2014, the New York State Senate, by a vote of 56-4, approved a bill that will ban Universities and colleges from funding organizations that "have undertaken an official action boycotting certain countries or their higher education institutions." The bill's sponsor, Jeffrey Klein stated that "This legislation sends a very simple message, which is that we should never ask taxpayers to support religious, ethnic or racial discrimination" and further vowed that "I will not allow the enemies of Israel or the Jewish people to gain an inch in New York." In response, ASA president-elect Lisa Duggan described the bill as a thinly veiled attempt to hide Israel’s "ongoing violations of international law and human rights" and asserted that the legislation "let[s] Israel off the hook for restricting the academic and other freedoms of Palestinians, while punishing those who protest those injustices." The bill did not pass into law, as the New York Assembly never voted on this measure, and therefore it was not passed on to the governor.
Individual academics and commentators have sharply criticized the boycott through editorials and op-eds. George Mason University professor David Bernstein, described the ASA as having moved from, "the ordinary lunatic fringe" into "the racist lunatic fringe," and Stanley N. Katz of Princeton University questioned the practical effect of the resolution, stating that the ASA "lacks any formal ties with Israeli institutions in the first place." Canadian journalist Rex Murphy argued that the ASA "seeks to amputate all connection with thousands of other scholars. Not because of the content of those scholars’ ideas, their research, their intelligence, or their field of study. But because they are Israelis. Or teaching and researching in Israel."
In a January 2015 speech to Columbia Law School's Center for Law and Liberty, former Harvard University President Lawrence Summers said that in response to the ASA boycott, "universities should make clear that their names cannot be invoked as the purported sponsor for conferences or dialogues in which the primary thrust is demonization of Israel.... And it goes without saying that they should not allow themselves to be used as economic leverage against Israel."
Response from the ASA
Curtiz Marez, the president of the American Studies Association and an associate professor and chair of the ethnic-studies department at the University of California at San Diego has responded to critics of the boycott by arguing that the ASA is "targeting Israeli universities because they work closely with the government and military in developing weapons and other technology that are used to enforce the occupation and colonization of Palestinian land, while university-associated think tanks develop political and communications strategies to advance government aims and defend them internationally." He has also predicted that "one day, after the tide turns, boycotts against Israel and the apartheid regime it has instituted will be viewed in the same way" as the Academic boycott of South Africa during the years of apartheid is now viewed, and that this comparison is especially apt just after the death of Nelson Mandela.
Speaking to The New York Times, Marez argued that America has "a particular responsibility to answer the call for boycott because it is the largest supplier of military aid to the state of Israel." Marez acknowledged that the United States has previously, and is currently, the largest supplier of military aid to many governments, including some with poor human rights records, but explained that Israel is the only country in which "civil society groups" had specifically asked the ASA to launch a boycott. Further responding to accusations that the ASA was singling out Israel while ignoring many other nations that have comparable or even worse human rights records that Israel (including many of Israel's neighbors), Marez replied: "One has to start somewhere."
Marez has written on the organization's long-standing commitment to social justice, and the ASA's belief in nonviolent strategies as a tool to effect change. "The academic boycott of Israel," writes Marez, "is grounded in the same anti-discrimination principles as other historical divestment and boycott strategies used to protest repressive state practices, including those employed against the South Africa apartheid regime and racial segregation in the United States." Marez goes on to note that the United States Supreme Court holds these kinds of boycotts, ones which "aim to effect 'political, social, and economic change," to be constitutionally protected speech activities.
Additionally, some members of the ASA have linked their support of the boycott to their own studies. Angela Davis, a distinguished professor emerita at the University of California, Santa Cruz, wrote that “[t]he similarities between historical Jim Crow practices and contemporary regimes of segregation in Occupied Palestine make this resolution an ethical imperative for the ASA.” Professor Eric Cheyfitz of Cornell University, who is Jewish and has a daughter and three grandchildren who are Israeli citizens, wrote that “just as the myth of American exceptionalism seeks to erase the genocide and ongoing settler colonialism of Indigenous peoples here in the United States so the myth of Israeli exceptionalism seeks to erase Israeli colonialism in Palestine and claim original rights to Palestinian lands.”
However, eight past ASA presidents have signed a letter which described the boycott as "antithetical to the mission of free and open inquiry for which a scholarly organization stands." The letter also criticized the fact that “ASA Members were provided only the resolution and a link to a website supporting it. Despite explicit requests, the National Council refused to circulate or post to the ASA’s website alternative perspectives."
In April 2016, four American studies professors sued the ASA, alleging that the boycott violates Washington, D.C., law governing nonprofit corporations and that the adoption of the boycott violated the ASA’s internal rules and procedures. The lawsuit argues that the resolution falls outside the scope of the ASA’s corporate charter and stated mission, a type of legal argument known as ultra vires.
In April 2017, a federal district court in Washington, D.C. issued a mixed ruling on the lawsuit. The court dismissed the ultra vires claim that the resolution was beyond the ASA’s corporate charter, ruling that “the boycott resolution was aimed both at encouraging academic freedom for Palestinians and strengthening relations between American institutions and Palestinians” and therefore within the ASA’s expressed purposes of “advancing education and the promotion of the study of American culture.” However, the court allowed the additional claims alleging a breach of fiduciary duty and internal voting procedures to continue, and the case has proceeded to discovery.
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- Applause for the academic boycott of Israel by George Bisharat, Chicago Tribune, January 30, 2014.
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- MIT joins list of campuses denouncing US scholarly group's boycott of Israeli academic institutions by Matt Rocheleau, Boston.com, December 30, 2013.
- Dozens of universities reject academic boycott of Israel (update) by Valerie Strauss, Washington Post, December 23, 2013.
- Congressional Letter: Academic Boycott of Israel is 'Thinly Veiled Bigotry' by Lori Lowenthal Marcus, Jewish Press January 10, 2014 (updated: January 14th, 2014.)
- Incoming American Studies Association president supports Israel boycott, Rox News, January 03, 2014.
- State lawmakers battle Israel boycott by university organization American Studies Association by Kenneth Lovett, New York Daily News, January 4, 2014.
- Bill S6438-2013 - Prohibits the use of state aid by colleges and universities to fund or provide membership in certain academic institutions
- New York Senate passes bill penalizing academic group for Israel boycott by Renee Lewis, Al Jazeera America, January 29, 2014.
- Senate passes Klein’s don’t-boycott-Israel bill by Casey Seiler, Capitol Confidential, January 28, 2014.
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- The Pro-Israel Backlash to Anti-Israel Activity Continues by Lori Lowenthal Marcus, Jewish Press, January 31, 2014.
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- Scholars’ Group to Disclose Result of Vote on an Academic Boycott of Israel by Richard Perez-Pena, New York Times (online edition), December 15, 2013.
- On the Eve of a Vote by Elizabeth Redden, Inside Higher Ed, December 12, 2013.
- Federal judge advances lawsuit challenging academic group’s Israel boycott by Eugene Kontorovich, "The Washington Post", April 3, 2017.