Culture conference links U-M with community

April 3, 1997

ANN ARBOR—American Culture graduate students at the University of Michigan are sponsoring their first conference, “Contested Sites: Negotiating American Cultures.” The April 18-19 event will be held in the Rackham Building on the U-M Central Campus.

The multidisciplinary conference will bring together the research and visual arts of 30 graduate students and faculty members from various U-M units, as well as guest presenters from other campuses. Conference attendance is free and is open to the public.

According to its organizers, the conference seeks to create an interdisciplinary dialogue about challenging established definitions, identities and arrangements of power in historical and contemporary American cultures. Among topics to be explored are issues in race and ethnicity, gender and sexuality, public policy, literature, and popular entertainment.

Visual arts exhibits will include a video installation dealing with family and femininity; painted panels addressing the ambiguity of sexuality; and a photography show documenting the World War II internment of Detroit-area Japanese American families.

The keynote address will be presented by Betty Ch’maj, recipient of U-M?s first doctoral degree in American culture in 1961. From 1957 to 1972, Ch’maj was professor of humanities and American studies at Wayne State University in Detroit and then taught at California State University at Sacramento from 1972 to 1996. Author of several books and articles, Ch’maj has been credited with spearheading the introduction of women’s issues in American culture studies. She has produced two documentary videos about life in contemporary South Africa. Her presentation on April 19 at 11:45 a.m., “Revisionism, Resistance, and Rehabilitation: The Case of Charles Ives,” will address the conference theme in relation to the work of unorthodox American composer Charles Ives. A luncheon in Ch’maj’s honor will follow.

U-M alumni David Mitchell and Sharon Snyder will present and discuss their documentary video, “Vital Signs: CRIP Culture Talks Back” (with interpretation for the hearing-impaired) at 11:45 a.m. on April 18. It provides a forum for the subcultural perspectives of disabled artists, scholars and activists who are all too often reduced to objects of charity or news stories about “overcoming,” according to Mitchell and Snyder. The documentary was awarded the grand prize at last year?s Rehabilitation International Film Festival.

Two Ann Arbor businesses will also participate in the “Contested Sites” conference: Shaman Drum Bookshop is the site of an open reception on April 18, 5:30-7:30 p.m., featuring the publications of American culture faculty and conference participants. Proprietor Karl Pohrt is an alumnus of the U-M American Culture Program.

The Michigan Theater is the site of the regional premiere of “When We Were Kings” on

The complete conference schedule is on the Web: Call (313) 763-1460 for information.

The “Contested Sites” conference is funded by the following U-M units: Program in American Culture; Latino/a Studies; Asian/Pacific American Studies; Rackham School of Graduate Studies; College of Literature, Science, and the Arts; the departments of history, English, communication studies, sociology, Romance languages, film and video studies; Office of Services for Students with Disabilities; Women’s Studies; and the Institute for Research on Women and Gender.

American Culture