This morning I attended the session "Fictions of Belonging: Revising Collectivity in Early American Literature," which featured some theory-heavy discussions about aesthetics and literary allegories. I confess that much of that went over my head, but the papers included some really fascinating leads to books, like early American huckster-criminal Stephen Burroughs' memoirs (among others).
It was a beautiful morning so I took the second panel session today and had a short walk around the city, stopping in at Book Trader, one of the large used-book shops here in town.
The afternoon panels were really an amazing capstone to the conference. The author colloquium with Annette Gordon-Reed included some great responses to her work by the panelists, and Gordon-Reed's own comments were most enlightening. She noted how Jefferson's own record-keeping enabled her to learn much about the Hemings family and their doings, and made the really excellent point that with the reinterpretation of Monticello "as a plantation rather than just a house with a lot of cool gadgets in it" will begin to change the general view of Jefferson and give people a more complete view of the man and his world. Also, she argued, between her work and the Monticello changes, historians won't have any option to ignore slavery as an aspect of Jefferson's life anymore: they will have to grapple with it, whether they like it or not.
Last but not least, the final panel of the conference was "What is the Future of the History of the Book?" Patricia Roylance discussed her work on literary anachronisms in the early republic, discussing the reprints of John Winthrop's journals in the early 19th century and their use by Hawthorne in constructing his short essay "Mrs. Hutchinson." Jonathan Senchyne's talk was "Is There Paper in our Future? Material Textuality and Early Print Nationalism," in which he made some really good points about nostalgia for paper, using as examples some writings from the early national period and brought up the audible gasp at the "Why Books?" conference last fall when someone mentioned the arrival of digital childrens' books. And Jordan Stein in "Can We Have Sex in the Archives?" talked about some notable aspects of the study of sexuality and the limitations posed by current archival methodologies, &c. Paul Erickson gave a very lively response, which sparked an even more lively discussion about the various topics brought up during the panel. The discussion raised some excellent questions and issues, while also tying together many threads that had been teased out earlier in the week's sessions.
It was very heartening to see the #sea11 Twitterstream pick up steam over the course of the week, and I know those of us who were tweeting the conference were delighted to be able to show how Twitter can be useful for conferences like this.
As we all depart Philadelphia and head homeward, I'm sure that the conversations begun here will continue (both online and off); I know I look forward to strengthening ties made this week.
Finally, today's big news was that the next SEA biennial meeting, in 2013, will be held in Savannah (very exciting for me, since it's another place I've never managed to visit). I'll be there!