Report from Kansas City: The 39th Annual Conference of the GSA

The GSA Conference in Kansas City (September 18-21, 2014) was both intellectually stimulating and a great success. Over 1,300 German Studies scholars and advanced students participated in this year's annual conference, held in Kansas City, just down the street from the National World War I Museum, an appropriate location on the centennial of that conflict's outbreak. There were 326 sessions, panels, roundtables, and seminars held in the rooms of the Westin Kansas City Crown Center.

The conference opened with an especially thought-provoking plenary lecture on Thursday evening by historian Christopher Clark, author of the widely heralded study The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914. And a number of panels and sessions focused on World War I, such as those on 'Austria-Hungary 1914-1918,' 'Beyond the Schlieffen Plan,' 'Visualizing the Great War,' and 'Archive und der Erste Weltkrieg.' But since 2014 also marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, that more recent historic event was also well represented. One of the luncheon presentations was given by (then) Mayor of Berlin, Walter Momper, who held the crowd spellbound as he recalled the little known, behind-the-scenes communications between leading politicians in the East and West about an imminent lifting of restrictions on travel for GDR citizens, and the harried preparations in West Berlin for what they anticipated would be a veritable deluge of people. 

Several conference sessions focused on various aspects of that 1989 event and its aftermath: for example, 'Reflections of the Fall of the Wall on German Literature,' another on 'German Studies after the 'Wende': What Changed after 1989?,'and yet another on 'The Future of GDR Studies.' But beyond these two 'anniversaries' that provided focal points for major portions of the conference, the usual extensive range of topics, issues, and problems in various panels, roundtables, and seminars prevailed as always. Not only were there many interdisciplinary sessions and discussions, but also numerous 'disciplinary' ones, reflecting the broad range of our membership: historians and literature scholars, political scientists and legal experts, cultural studies and film studies practitioners, medievalists and global studies students.

2014 was also the second year in which the conference included a series of three-session seminars which provided participants the opportunity to more deeply engage with colleagues in exploring a particular topic than is ordinarily available in just one session. Among the seminar topics this year were one on 'Art, War, and Trauma,' another on 'Berlin in the Cold War ' The Cold War in Berlin,' yet another on 'The Future of Teaching the Holocaust in German Studies, History, and Comparative Literature in the U.S.,' and still another on 'Rethinking Migration and German Culture.' The breadth of topics was extensive, and the interest in participating in the seminars by conference attendees was equally large.

Finally, two more special events at the conference should also be noted. This year's Presidential Address, given by Professor Suzanne Marchand, outgoing GSA President, on 'The Great War and the Classical World,' was regarded by the several hundred who attended the banquet as a genuine tour de force of interdisciplinary scholarship. And the reading by the German-speaking writer from the South Tyrol, Maxi Obexer, who splits her time between there and Berlin, was a genuine literary treat for those who heard her, the reading co-sponsored by the Austrian Cultural Forum and the German Academic Exchange Service. 

As always, as in this case, many of the 'partners' of the GSA were present in full force with their major contributions to the conference: the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) also held its pre-conference, day-long workshop for all North American DAAD visiting faculty members and sponsored or co-sponsored other sessions and events; the Austrian Cultural Forum New York was also actively present, with its annual reception, its own sponsorship of several sessions, and its generous funding of a number of travel grants for 'Austrianists' in attendance; the American Association of Teachers of German (AATG), the German Historical Institute (GHI), the Goethe Institute NY, the Friends of the Literaturarchiv Marbach, the Friends of the Dokumentationsstelle der 'sterreichischen Widerstandsbewegung (Vienna); and a large number of book publishers with their popular exhibits were also major contributors to the excitement and success of this year's GSA conference. If your weren't in Kansas City for the conference, you missed something! 

And now the attention of the GSA officers, Board members, and several committees is already beginning to focus on our next annual conference which will take place in Washington, D.C., from October 1-4, 2015. The host hotel will be the Crystal Gateway Marriott in Arlington, where we have met on several previous occasions. So, mark your calendars and plan to participate with your many GSA colleagues who will be there. Instructions on seminar and conference submissions will be circulated soon!