Encounters: 1st Biennial Conference of IABA- Americas Chapter


Encounters Across the Americas: Archives, Technologies, Methods
June 4-7, 2015
Institute for the Humanities
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA


The International Auto/Biography Association (theiaba.org) was founded in 1999 as a multidisciplinary network of scholars working on all aspects of life writing. Three regional chapters have been established since then: IABA-Europe, IABA-The Americas, and IABA-Pacific Rim. The Americas Chapter of IABA, launched in San Juan, Puerto Rico in July 2013, has the following aims:

  • Fostering the participation of auto/biography scholars across the Americas;
  • Soliciting participation from scholars internationally whose work focuses on auto/biography in the Americas;
  • Identifying research networks and encouraging partnerships among scholars in the Americas; and
  • Supporting graduate students of the Americas working in life writing.The biennial conferences, as well as the contacts and collaborations generated through the IABA-A website (iaba-americas.org), facilitate these goals.

Across the Americas auto/biographical acts and practices create encounters–with ourselves and our past, with others, with storytelling genres, with language and culture, with economic and political conditions, with historical legacies, with possible futures. The media and arenas of auto/biographical encounters are multiple and heterogeneous: testimony and autoethnography, graphic memoir and ecocriticism, digital media and performance art, popular lyrics and material objects, political forums and family gatherings. We invite proposals for papers and panels that explore auto/biographical encounters of all kinds, particularly encounters with archives, technologies, and scholarly methods for interpreting auto/biographical acts and practices.

Archival Encounters 
Archives document encounters in stories of conquest, invasion, genocide, transportation, enslavement, cultural loss and survival, national expansion and global repositioning, local indigeneity and diaspora. They attest to acts of migration, mobility, conversion, transformation, or re-embodiment. Archives can be large or small, long-lived or ephemeral, drawn from Big Data or fragments. They may include letters, diaries, identity papers, inventories, logbooks, lyrics, or objects in many media: textual, visual, graphic, haptic, oral, aural, material. They encompass myths, memories, personal aspirations, and evidence of public spectacles. While archives can be, and have been, lost, silenced, overwritten, they can also be digitized and exposed as sources of stories to sustain individuals and communities–or disrupt and separate them.

How do life writers across the Americas encounter and use archives? What modes of evidence are discoverable in and through them? What kinds of life stories, acts of translation, and encounters do archives call forth? How are digital technologies enabling scholars of life writing to build archives? What issues of curation, preservation, assemblage, and circulation do archives present?

Technological Encounters 
Technologies may be conceptual, as in Foucault’s sense, or material, analog or digitally enabled. Encounters with technologies enable the recovery of histories of colonial violence, the circulation of postcolonial legacies, and the evocation of posthuman agencies. Technologies are employed in reorganizing ethnic identities and indigenous politics. Via cultural collisions, across contact zones, they produce multi-temporal histories that express the legacies of transport in both new and long-lived forms of witnessing. They point up intersections of geographic and sexual imaginaries embodied in disparate modes, from queer performance art to computer games about gender transition, and register the impact of environmental degradation in the Americas through ecocritical writing.

What is an auto/biographical technology? How have technologies enabled the telling of lives within and across the Western hemisphere, and to what effect? What histories of technology do auto/biographers draw on in constructing their stories? How do technologies facilitate the creation, or collection, or circulation of life narratives?

Encounters with, and as, Method 
Our acts of critical practice are encounters as well. In the medium of storytelling personal stories trace a history, generate a legacy, revision the possible shapes of embodied experience. But the heterogeneous aesthetics and politics of personal storytelling make the methodology of reading life narratives necessarily a choice among possibilities.  What methods of analysis do scholars of auto/biography now rely on?  How is a particular method related to past theorizing of the autobiographical or a larger theory of language, culture, subjectivity, sociality, or politics?

That is, papers might foreground method, asking, for example: What is entailed in performing a deep reading of an individual life story? What reading practices are marshaled in understanding a prosopography as a collective story? What issues arise in assembling an oral history of one or more marginalized subjects? When the focus is the subject, the self, the person, the community, the nation, or the corporation, what kinds of evidence or data are used in the analysis? Are there methodologies that point up networks of life writing practice specific to the Americas, with their long history of both heterogeneous reception and occasional congruence? If some theoretical approaches seem exhausted, what new approach to familiar or emergent forms of life narrative might be productive?

Papers and panels should address aspects of the genres, histories, and politics of life writing that circulate from the Arctic to the Antarctic, the Atlantic to the Pacific, and along the routes of life writing across the Western Hemisphere to distant worlds. Ideally they will pose theoretical and methodological questions of interest in and beyond the humanities. Accessible and provocative papers and panels proposing new terms or employing concepts from other disciplines are eagerly sought to expand claims about life writing for wider publics and conversations.

Specifics of Proposals for Papers, Panels, and Lightning Rounds

  • The length of papers will be restricted to eighteen minutes to enable sufficient time for questions and discussion.
  • Proposals for panels that focus on a single issue or question, with three speakers and abstracts for all panelists, are welcome.
  • “Lightning rounds” on specific one-word concepts or topics, with six participants, may also be proposed; each presentation should not exceed five-seven minutes.
  • When submitting your proposal, please state any media requirements–DVD player, internet connection from your computer, visual projection, audio enhancement, etc.

Because our scholarly association seeks to reflect our multilingual heritage yet communicate collegially across languages and cultures, proposals for papers and panels in Spanish, Portuguese, and French are welcome, although most papers will be presented in English.  If a panel and/or individual paper is delivered in a language other than English, a written English translation needs to be provided by the author two months ahead of the conference for copying and distribution to the audience. In exceptional cases, arrangements can be made for simultaneous translation during question and answer.

Your paper and/or panel title and a proposal abstract of not more than 300 words per paper should be submitted by November 1, 2014, along with a brief biographical statement (100 words) listing name and email address, affiliation and position, major publications, focus of interest in life narrative, language of presentation, and technical requirements. It may be written in English, Spanish, Portuguese, or French. Regretfully, late submissions cannot be considered.

Please send submissions to iaba-a2015@umich.edu. Shortly after submission you will receive an auto-generated notice that your proposal was received.

Proposers of papers and panels will be notified regarding acceptance by January 15, 2015. The conference website will, by that time, have information on options for and cost of lodging and registration fee, as well as small grants in aid for travel from other countries. Please note that a passport will be required for visitors from all other nations entering the United States, and a visa for most Latin American citizens.

NOTE: The tradition of IABA is that conference attendees attend and participate for the full four days of the meeting. Please plan to make this commitment.

Co-Convenors:Sidonie Smith (sidsmith@umich.edu)
Director, Institute for the Humanities, University of Michigan
Julia Watson (watson.235@osu.edu)
Professor Emerita, The Ohio State University

Ann Arbor is an exciting site of encounter. Near Detroit, Ann Arbor combines the congeniality of a Midwestern small town with the cosmopolitan energy of a great university city.  Participants will be able to reach all conference venues on foot from university residence halls and local hotels, and will enjoy a wide range of dining, entertainment, and recreational possibilities. Detroit Metropolitan Airport, a major hub for flights to and within the U.S., is conveniently located 30 minutes from campus, and easy ground transportation is available.

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