What’s your ideal AJS conference?

Carol Zemel

York University

Thinking about my ideal AJS conference, I face a pleasant challenge: there isn’t much I would change or add. I came to Jewish Studies after a midcareer reorientation from the history of modern art to Jewish visual culture, modern and contemporary. From my first AJS conference in December 2000, I knew I had found my way home. But what makes the annual conference better or more effective than other scholarly meetings? Well, the AJS conference is relatively small and heimish (I hope not clannish), and that suits me fine. Even though our annual breakfast is at 7:00 a.m., I really value the wonderful work of the Women’s Caucus. I do a lot of schmoozing with what I think of as “the-only-Jewish-community-where-I feel-at-home”; as a secular Jewish woman, it’s my ideal beit midrash.

Still, with schmoozing and committee meetings, I get to fewer sessions than I’d like. I’m not sure how to resolve this embarrassment of riches. I’m looking forward to this year’s new program formats—the seminars, in particular. I love the idea of precirculated or posted papers from a group of scholars, more discussion, and lengthened or multiple timeslots. I’m concerned, though, that this might be an elite conversation; I’d really enjoy a more open seminar discussion with a fixed number of participants—maybe twenty to thirty—who sign on in advance, study the work, and bring prepared voices to the discussion. Digital projects are important teaching and research tools for me. I’d like to learn about them in the more intimate setting of a scheduled display booth encounter, much like the book display, rather than using up dedicated session slots. Finally, I ‘d love to attend an annual session devoted to “second thoughts,” in which senior scholars think aloud about the changes, revisions, and vagaries of their earlier scholarship. It would be part methodology, part experience, and a view of how our intellectual practice works.

The AJS conference is a great intellectual and community gathering. Can’t wait till December!