I’m structuring my field notes much as I did last year, with an introduction detailing themes & overarching qualities, a list of keywords that emerged, and then meeting notes related to each of the sessions I attended.


One of the strongest assets of the Imagining America program is that you are able to connect with large networks of people who do work similar to yours. This has the benefit on the one hand of supporting and encouraging public scholars, but also provides a space in which new and creative ideas and approaches emerge and spread. This is encouraged further by the highly interdisciplinary nature of the conference. While other people are concerned with the same questions or intellectual challenges, they approach these in diverse ways. It’s also very inspiring to see the increasing attention paid to communities, to public engagement, and to the political potential of intellectual - or, in my case, academic - work.

I think, though, that this diversity presents a challenge to the IA conference, and to us as public scholars more broadly, and this challenge is one of language, terms, and concepts that motivate us and provide our conceptual thrust. For instance, “mapping” emerged as a buzzword early on in the conference, and it almost seemed to snowball, with the term eventually being used in every session by both speaker and questioners. As a geographer I fully recognize the rich complexity afforded by a  “mapping” metaphor (I even tweeted at one point “...thought: what's given to us by shifting between map (n.) & map (v.)?”) and think it could be very useful to push us as public scholars forward; however, going back to my tweet, I can’t help but recoil from the lack of nuance at times - mapping how, why, and by whom? And when we say “map”, it’s important to understand mapping not only as a positioning and delineating, but also an enrolling of power relations and representational strategies. Here’s the epitomy of this challenge as it relates to “community”, also in the form of a tweet that was published at the conference: “...trustees should be looked at as allies. they are *in* the community and want the university involved in external work.” All this to say that interdisciplinarity is awesome but presents unique challenges - and opportunities!

Key Words and Phrases


Collaboration (what does this mean? co-knowledge-production? or can one collaborative with community organization and then publish on our own, for instance?)

Community (sometimes prefixed with “your”; this is a welcome change from last year. Still left wanting more nuance, though)

Translating (very useful for us in the CPS program - how do we make our artifacts & evidences translatable to multiple audiences (if that’s our goal)?)

Audience (closely related to “Translation” - who is our target audience, and how do we translate with them in mind? Also, when considering audiences, who is empowered by being our ‘audience’, or by not being our audience?)

Engagement (closely related to “Collaboration”, but I like this idea as it relates to my own work - I think of blogs, for instance, more as ‘engagement’ than ‘collaboration’).

Pedagogy/teaching (interesting thought here. Depending on context, this may portray a sense of intellectual superiority - do we teach to communicate knowledge or to understand the knowledge of our public?)



Technologically Enabled Adventures in Nashville and Iowa City

-This session recounted a project the technologies used to assist in remote collaboration between project organizers. Some background was given on their “project”, although it seemed more like the project was simply remote collaboration.

-Techs used:

-Skype        Allows video conferences, multi-way conversations

-Google Docs        Multiple authors on single docs, revision history, easy sharing

-YouTube        Able to distribute project information and results widely

-Digitally-enhanced classrooms        Polling software, anonymous questions/contributions

-Twitter        Quick updates, mentions (“@someone”), hashtags (“#IA2011”)

-Conceptually, they were driven by the question “how can we create warm, welcoming environments conducive to multiple learning styles?”

-Technology can teach students lessons about audience, voice, writing (e.g., who will be reading this, and what should/shouldn’t be said?

-Technology can also “create a new sense of ‘where we are’ geographically and socially”

-We should use technology to “promote conversation”

-Kept repeating that it’s important to enjoy each others’ company, and that they shared many meals together.

Community Knowledge Collaboratory Workshop

-This session was comprised of three parts. First, Jack Tchen talked about his project documenting Chinatown NYC’s history. Second, Kim Yasuda reported on an elderly home art project that brought the ‘audience’ into the performance of Penelope & Odysseus. Third, Alison Mountz described a community mapping project that represented ‘subversive’ spaces, everything from queer establishments to prisons.

-Jack used technologies to mobilize the concept of “history-as-narrative”

-Jack’s motivation was to “explain processes not using the language of assimilation”.

-Smartphone apps were particularly useful for this project since they allow you to see layers of history behind a landscape.

-Kim wanted to build a “partnership” with her independent living community.

-They filmed the performances, both to show their activities to family, but also to maintain self-confidence.

-Video can be found by Googling “371 productions Penelope”

-Alison thought about how maps can become interesting tools for locating people and their knowledges

-This brings up issues of identity

-Showed examples of mapping spaces and the knowledges it can reveal: “mapping detention”, for instance (for me reminds of Perkins & Dodge “Satellite imagery and the spectacle of secret spaces”)

-Detention Watch Network (dwn.org)

        -crowdsourced map of detention centers

-Maps of “queer” spaces in her own town (reminds me of Knopp & Brown’s “Queering the Map”)

-Alison passed around examples from Radical Cartography.

Plenary Session: A Copernican Moment - Public Work and the Revolution in Higher Education

Didn’t take enough notes on this

-Introduced with an arts performance - very moving (spoken word/chant, costumed performers, passed around bowls of water, dances)

-David Scobey, The New School

-Incredible challenges raised by increased corporatization of the university

-Metrics and measurements particularly increase profs’ responsibilities but without giving credit to intellectual or community-engaged work

-However, we can reformulate these metrics, reforms, and priorities; we can ‘sabotage’ them, make them work for public scholarship. That’s our major challenge.


Poster session

-Humanities Research Center: represented by John Scofield, Jane Moody

-The Happiness Initiative: represented by John de Graaf

-Seeing Phillips and Seeking Understanding: represented by Amanda Spencer

Keynote Address: Rose Brewer & Seitu Jones

-Very, very insightful conversation. Opened with a very strange discussion about Minneapolis vs. St. Paul, and then a local choir singing a thank-you for all their work.

-Both discussed the challenges of being black scholar-activists.

-Seitu posed a challenge that resonated quite strongly with me: he said that in the poorest area of St Paul he was challenged by someone who said their community had been “poked and prodded long enough” by academics and research, and that now they actually needed something to be done. This resonated with me as a white lower-middle-class public scholar wanting to do some research in Haiti. Wow.

-Seitu gave a slide show of some of his work as a public artist. Really awesome stuff.

Site Visit: Center for Urban and Regional Affairs, UM

-Site visit was to CURA and the Hannuka Community Church + Women’s relief center

-CURA is a UM organization that pairs researchers with community organizations.

-They also provide space for community organizers to, well, organize. This space is offered on a rotating basis.

-Leaders at CURA only help researchers who want to work on a long-term basis that actually benefits the community.

-Inside of Kwanzaa Church there’s a women’s relief center where women who are facing any kind of problem can come and talk to someone. It’s not counselling per se, since the people at the center only provide a listening ear, a warm room, and food/water if needed.

-The center is not publicized since many of the patrons are former sex workers, and could become a recruiting location for men who wish to sell the women (colloquially, “pimps”).

-The church is currently being upgraded and will soon offer much more amenities, including a gym, a kitchen, a shower, and a more welcoming space.

-The renovations will be partly under the guidance of local women artists.

-The outside sidewalk is a mural, most prominently of a condom covering a gun. I wasn’t sure what to make of the message.

-A GIS specialist gave an interesting talk on tornado relief efforts in Minneapolis that took the form of a collective mapping initiative. They were given enough money to pay people to visit all the homes in the path of the tornado to see what needs were present. I hesitate to call this “participatory mapping” as they did, simply because it was still a top-down process. The mappers were people given money by FEMA.

-After the GISer gave his talk, we returned to CURA to reflect on our experience. I found this part the least interesting, sadly.