Call for Papers — Canadian Association for American Studies

Conference CALL FOR PAPERS: Health/Care/Nation
Sponsored by the Canadian Association for American Studies and the University of Windsor

14-17 October 2010

Keynote Speakers:

Gerard Boychuk, Director of the Global Governance Graduate Program at Balsillie School of International Affairs and Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Waterloo

Donna Smith, journalist and activist, California Nurses’ Association/National Nurses United

During 2009 fears of “death panels” clashed with calls for universal coverage, as President Barack Obama encountered an increasingly heated debate about health-care reform. In this moment the very definitions of the terms health and care and their relations to concepts of the nation are taking on new significance in American political and cultural life. For some vocal Americans, the deeply held values of self-reliance and suspicion of government control are bound up with the “system” (be it the health-care system, or more general national, economic, social, and/or cultural systems), while at the same time a majority wants the government to guarantee health insurance for all in a Medicare-like program. A different provision for health-care invokes various and contradictory national and personal self-definitions and political battles. Body scanning, pandemic planning, the criminalization of abortion, and the proposal that all citizens must have health insurance are just a few examples of sites where these new definitions and struggles are engaged. What becomes apparent, then, are the complicated layers and contradictions in political and cultural debates. This conference, sponsored by the Canadian Association for American Studies and the University of Windsor, aims to explore the topics of U.S. health, care, and nation, together or separately, in order to illuminate and clarify the cultural contradictions and historical, cultural, and philosophical roots of these issues. We particularly encourage interdisciplinary panels that address the questions from different intellectual angles–history, literature, film and media studies, gender and sexuality studies, political science, sociology, philosophy, or the arts. Topics could include, but are not limited to:

The American political system and the problem of health care reform
Representations of health (widely defined)
Representations of health-care
Representations of disability
Biopolitics, surveillance, and/or socialist medicine
The philosophy and/or history of American “health”
The history of earlier American proposals for national health insurance
Health and gender
The philosophy and/or history of stem cell research
The philosophy and/or history of abortion and women’s medicine
Feminist health care activism
“Caring” and the nation
Nationalism vs. nationalizing
The American body politic
The business of selling health
Pandemics and other fears
The Hollywood Image: Anorexia/Obesity/Plastic
Race and health

This is only a partial list–topics from all areas of American Studies will be considered. We invite panel or individual proposals from faculty and independent scholars and particularly welcome graduate student proposals. A brief CV for each participant and an abstract of 250 words or less for each paper, with an additional paragraph of 200 words to describe panels, should be sent electronically by 31 May 2010 to:

Christina Simmons, CAAS Conference Committee
Department of History
University of Windsor
401 Sunset Ave.
Windsor, ON N9B 3P4

Hacking an Alternative Department Site with WordPress

Department Web SiteThe department website, standardized across an institution, has become a common feature of the digital landscape of higher education. Although it is possible to create something useful with a great deal of work, passionate advocates, and skilled people, in most cases the static, limited department site, often with a single gatekeeper or two, restricted formatting options, and limited multimedia usage doesn’t do a good job of meeting the main goals of a department site.

These sites should, at a minimum, allow faculty of a department to share disciplinary resources, practical announcements, and student/faculty accomplishments with current students. These sites should also increase interaction with the faculty of the department (preferably by doing more than just including email addresses/phone numbers/office hours). Ideally these sites should facilitate communications with alumni and advertise the department to prospective students, the school, and the outside world.

One Potential Solution: WordPress

As you may have noticed, we here at ProfHacker like WordPress. No really; we really, really like WordPress.

UMW Dept of History and American Studies

The Department of History and American Studies at the University of Mary Washington decided about a year ago to add a WordPress-based blog to complement our official department site. The materials we kept on our official department site are items that rarely change during the course of the school year: faculty areas of expertise; reference materials for our methods class; writing/researching guides; links to basic school resources such as the catalog.

As seems to be the case at many institutions, campus-wide online publishing and content management tools such as Adobe Contribute work well for ensuring institution-wide consistency, top-down control, and largely static pages, but are less easily turned by individual departments toward easy updating, creativity, or student engagement. [An informal survey of colleagues at various institutions suggests that frustration with the limits of third-party tools and some internally developed systems abounds.]

In my department, our static site is now complemented by our departmental blog and announcements site.  We acquired our own domain name (, though it’s not necessary to do so; and we’ve built it on UMW’s in-house WordPress blogging platform (, though another department might choose to use or your own hosting account (see Julie’s post on hosting and domains for a good primer).

WordPress is a good choice for working with faculty, for a number of reasons, including: the ease of use for faculty (or students or staff) regardless of their level of technical expertise/comfort; the ease of adding images and video (useful for departmental events or guest speakers); the ease of linking to online resources; and the remarkable flexibility in terms of templates, plug-ins, and the large developer/support community. The blogging post/page system makes it easy to differentiate between constantly updated announcements and more lasting items (e.g., links to departmental course sites). WordPress widgets offer a number of ways to organize access to content for both the blog and our static web site. WordPress also makes it easy to have multiple authors posting to the site.

In our department, four of the twelve full-time faculty post to the department’s blog and announcements site. This means that we don’t have a bottleneck of posts waiting for a particular faculty member to get to. It also means that the workload of keeping up with the flood of departmental and speaker announcements, job and internship opportunities, even the process of identifying good resources or exceptional student work to showcase, is spread out among those faculty members interested and willing to contribute.

Find us Elsewhere

Another powerful reason to use WordPress is the large number of plug-ins available. Of particular interest for us recently is Find Me Else Where, which enables automatic republishing of content on twelve different social networking sites (though we only use three). So, when one of our department’s authors posts something about a UMW student winning a Fulbright Award, it automatically is sent to our department’s Twitter feed (@umwhistory), Linked-In account, and Facebook page. [We can debate the merits of wanting to be present on Facebook given their current privacy woes, but many students and alums continue to inhabit the space.]

This plug-in allows the department to reach out to current and former students in a variety of social media channels, but with virtually no extra work on our part.


There are a few issues that you’ll need to consider if you want to try this with your department’s site:

  • First, be aware of institutional regulations about information content, format, and site location. Public Relations offices may see any site outside the school’s domain as confusing the school’s marketing campaign or image branding; IT may have rules against purchasing outside domain names or hosting solutions; most schools want every department to have an official site that clearly looks like the rest of the site. Better to know these rules before you are forced to take a site down.
  • Second, web publishing and site management tools are constantly changing, so it’s likely that the people responsible for managing your school’s online presence are considering new options right now. If you ask, you might even be able to be an effective part of that conversation.
  • Third, make sure you have a conversation among all the authors about the goal of the site and the kinds of posts that engage students and benefit the department.
  • Finally, be sure that you’re willing to publish new content on a regular basis. The dates on blog posts make it quickly clear to a site visitor how often such additions occur. Similarly, most social media network feeds are a constant stream and without regular contributions, departmental posts might not even be seen by the people you are trying to reach.

Despite these cautions, I’d recommend exploring WordPress as an option to the standard department website. Though it’s too early to tell for sure how well this new multi-channel publishing system works in conveying information to students and alums (especially in comparison to more traditional avenues such as snail mail or email), so far anecdotal feedback has been positive and limited analysis of site views over the last few months indicates increasing student visits to the WordPress site.

What has your department done to liven up its online presence? How have faculty members at your institution reached out to current, former, and prospective students online? If there are barriers at your institution to this kind of innovation, what are they? What platforms, plug-ins, social networks have you found to be the most effective?