The American Studies Association is the oldest and largest association devoted to American studies.
The association was chartered in 1951 at the Library of Congress with Carl Bode of the University of Maryland as its first president. Within the next year, the ASA officially adopted American Quarterly, which had launched in 1949 at the University of Minnesota. The premiere journal of the field, American Quarterly described it as “studies in the culture of the United States” bearing the intent to interpret it “more comprehensively than has been done before.” Emphasizing interdisciplinarity and globalism, the editors sought contributors who “concern themselves not only with the areas of American life which they know best but with the relation of each of those areas to the entire American scene and to world society.”
Founded during the Cold War, the ASA both reflected and challenged reigning ideas regarding American exceptionalism. By 1967, when the ASA held its first independent national convention in Kansas City, Missouri, new social movements and a move toward the democratization of universities in the U.S. dramatically transformed the association and led to deepening its emphases on the study of race, class, gender, and empire.
At the Kansas City meeting, the Council of the American Studies Association approved a plan to create regional societies—and, quickly, three were formed: in New York City, Minnesota-Dakotas, and upstate New York. By the century’s end, regional chapters had replaced these societies and had proliferated to include Hawaii, California, and Pacific Northwest groups on the Pacific coast, and the Eastern, New England, Chesapeake, New York, and Southern on the Atlantic. In between were Rocky Mountain, Great Lakes, Kentucky-Tennessee, and Mid-America chapters.
This growth signaled the vibrancy of the field. An organization of about 300 members after its first year, the ASA enrolled over 5,000 individuals by the end of the twentieth century. In the twenty-first century, the ASA continues to attract members, and to date over 2,200 libraries and institutions subscribe to American Quarterly. New generations of researchers and teachers claim American studies, broadly construed, as an important part of their intellectual genealogy. That American studies defies disciplinary methods and assumptions and crosses institutional boundaries is amply evident at the ASA annual meeting, where representatives of the humanities and social sciences, communications and media studies, science and technology, the arts and politics, converge to share research and think with one another.
Throughout its history, the ASA has overlapped with a wide range of fields and discourses that share its interest in analyzing the United States and the meaningfulness of “America.” These include: race and ethnic studies, queer studies, African American studies, Native American and indigenous studies, Latina/o studies, Asian American studies, women’s, gender, and sexuality studies, folk and popular culture studies, and material and visual culture studies. The rich intellectual diversity of ASA caucuses, which come together based on shared research interests, propose panels, and collaborate on work that often extends beyond the annual meeting, reflects this rich variety of fields and approaches representing American studies.
- Bode, Carl. “The Start of the ASA.” American Quarterly 31 (1979): 345-54.
- Browne, Ray B. “The ASA and Its Friends.” American Quarterly 31 (1979): 354-58.
- Davis, Allen F. “The Politics of American Studies.” American Quarterly 42 (1989): 353-74.
- Deloria, Philip J. “American Indians, American Studies and the ASA.” American Quarterly 55 (2003): 669-80.
- Maddox, Lucy, ed. Locating American Studies: The Evolution of a Discipline. (Johns Hopkins Univ. Press 1998).
- Marx, Leo. “Reflections on American Studies, Minnesota, and the 1950s.” American Studies 4 (1999): 39-51.
- Nye, Russel B. “Robert Spiller and the ASA.” American Quarterly 19 (1967): 291-92.
- Radway, Janice. “What’s in a Name: Presidential Address to the American Studies Association, 20 November 1998.” American Quarterly 51 (1999): 1-32.
- Wise, Gene. “’Paradigm Dramas’ in American Studies: A Cultural and Institutional History of the Movement.” American Quarterly 31 (1979): 293-337.