Curating the AAG

Even more accurate than the first daffodil as a mark of spring’s approach is the onset of my recurring anxiety dream. It goes like this: I’m walking quickly through endless corridors, becoming more and more filled with dread as I just can’t seem to find the room in which I am about to present a paper. It is my “AAG” nightmare. About 15 years ago or so it replaced my “exam” nightmare, the one in which I’m in a room about to take an exam and realize that I know nothing about the subject. I’ve been told these types of anxiety dreams are common and “normal” and, at least for me, as our annual conference approaches, they are always tempered by the anticipation of connecting with old friends and the excitement of encountering new ideas. And Chicago 2015 promises to fulfill those expectations in spades. In this column I highlight some of the more unusual and creative events associated with the conference (what I referred to earlier as the more-than-conference events) and do my best to bring to the fore some of the sessions that are of particular interest since they relate to one or more of the conference themes and/or resonate with my own personal concerns. This, then, is an idiosyncratic, abridged, and highly curated whirlwind tour through AAG 2015 (and speaking of curation, see sessions 4443, 4543, 4643).¹


If I wasn’t on the AAG council I would be attending one of the pre-conferences: the 28th annual political geography pre-conference all day Monday April 20th at DePaul University or the Gendered Rights to the City: Intersections of Rights and Identity two-day (April 19th-20th) pre-conference at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee . As it is, I will be spending much of Sunday, Monday and Tuesday (the 19th-21st) locked inside a conference room with my fellow AAG councillors drinking copious amounts of coffee to keep us going as we work through a fairly long agenda. This year that agenda includes (but certainly isn’t limited to) discussions of the AAG’s long-range plan, the future of the AAG archives, our impending membership survey, new editors for some of our journals, and our ongoing and new initiatives around diversity. So if you run into some bleary-eyed geographers on Tuesday, when you’re fresh and ready-to-go, you’ll know who your councillors are.

I will do my best to be re-energized to start the ‘official’ part of the conference after our meeting ends Tuesday at noon, and will be rushing off to all the fabulous sessions, some already in progress (1291 on Illinois-based scholars and activists working to end mass criminalization and deportation), some just beginning (the subconference will be taking place in sessions 1444, 1544, 1644, while discussions of a more-than-verbal geography are in sessions 1419, 1519, 1619). I won’t want to miss feminists on the frontline of geography, sessions 1526 and 1626. With a short break for a double expresso, I will be heading to the Presidential Plenary, session 1723 (ta da!). With the theme of Radical Intra-disciplinarity, I have paired geographers from a broad range of subfields to speak/perform/create around five topics: Martin Doyle and Becky Mansfield on Nature, Patrick Bartlein and Stephen Daniels on Time, Harriet Hawkins and Sarah Elwood on Visuality, Josh Barkan and Laura Pulido on Justice, and Tariq Jazeel and Dan Friess on Landscape. You don’t want to miss it.

I hope to continue conversations around geography’s Radical Intra-disciplinarity on Wednesday with panel session 2229 that raises important questions about our discipline’s hybrid status (science-social science-humanities) and our engagement with global environmental change, while Cultural Geographies annual lecturer (2429) Katherine McKittrick will be employing poetry and literature to address enisle and black geographies, thus contributing also to the theme of GeoHumanities. And how could I not be intrigued by the combination of politics and art from the sci-fi feminists, Future Force Geo Speculators, in session 2129? A symposium on International Geospatial Health Research will be held in session 2238, conversations concerning the status and key challenges of Geography and Online Education will take place in sessions 2517 and 2617, while I don’t want to miss the dialogue on David Harvey’s new book (2522). And given all the events of the past several months I’m particularly looking forward to session 2615 in which a range of scholars/activists will be discussing Ferguson and other contemporary North American police states. I’m sure at this point I’ll be ready for a drink to discuss these issues and others with my wonderful international colleagues at a reception in their honor, before heading out to the GPOW reception at Open Books. And dinner of course!

I’m dedicating most of Thursday to Physical Geography, with two important morning sessions on environmental reconstructions (3122, 3222) followed by Julie Winkler’s Past Presidential Address on how best to communicate the complexity and uncertainty of climate change (3324). Given my concerns over academic labor I want to spend time at sessions 3149 and 3249. I certainly will wander through the exhibit hall to see the robust Physical Geography (3470, 3570) poster session (over 90 presenters) that afternoon with topics that range from the affects of longleaf pine mast variations on climate reconstructions, to the change in the amount of CO2 absorbed by forest in Heilongjiang Province, to channel transformation in the Little Wabash River, to fire histories in Minnesota and Montana. I’ll make some forays out from the poster session to hear speakers address Marxist geographies (3257, 3457, 3557, 3657), green Chicago (3426), a forthcoming Atlas of Peace (3450, 3550), new directions in mapping (3444, 3544), the launch of the GeoHumanities journal (3433), and I better not forget my own session (3602)! With a quick stop for drinks with friends at the physical geography happy hour I’ll finally get some fresh air as I head to the Newberry Library for a reception celebrating the publication of the History of Cartography in the Twentieth Century. Then, I’m off to IronSheep to test my map/mashup skills.

An important panel session bringing to the fore issues surrounding Sexual Harassment in the Field and Laboratory Settings is Friday morning (4217), as is a screening of the documentary Rare Earth (4244), and questioning Geography’s ‘healthy subject’(4124, 4224, 4424); while in the afternoon I’m interested in learning more about deaf geographies (4401, 4501, 4601), geographies of John Muir (4519), and the complex relationships between health and environments (4141, 4241, 4341, 4441,4541,4641). Saturday I might sleep in until the AAG Awards Banquet at noon, and with that new energy make it to sessions on affective ecologies, living economies, and alternative ways of valuing nature (5154, 5254, 5454, 5554), consuming the Anthropocene (5180, 5280), anarchist geographies (5467), and will do my best to run between all of the 43 sessions scheduled in the last time frame of the conference (I feel your pain!).

Have I mentioned the parties? I don’t want to miss those, while touring our new on-site child care is high on my list. And what would a geography conference be without field trips organized by our local arrangements committee – everything from activism and activists in Chicago in the 1960s to Chicago Beer Geography. And, importantly, there are the spontaneous events: bumping into folks in the hallways, going for walks around town, meeting up for drinks with friends from graduate school. These often prove to be, as least for me, some of the most enriching personal, political, and intellectual encounters of the conference.

Whew, just thinking about it all is tiring, but exhilarating too. It is also, of course, a cause of anxiety, and for me particularly so: how, really, does a President act? What happens if I “really” can’t find the correct room? I guess I’ll figure it out. In the meantime, I’ll be busy doing what most of you are doing: preparing papers, panels, and parties. I can’t say I will make it to all of the events and sessions that I’ve highlighted but I will aim to. And I can’t say that I’ll be able to chat with all of my new and old friends but I will want to. If I don’t recognize you in the hallways it’s most likely because I’ve left my glasses in the previous room, or haven’t slept well the night before, or am having a senior moment. Please do me a giant favor and re-introduce yourself to me. I don’t want to miss anything.

¹ For those uninitiated, the numbering system for the sessions goes like this: the first digit refers to the day (1=Tuesday, 2=Wednesday, 3=Thursday, 4=Friday, 5=Saturday), the second to the time slot, and the last two to the actual session number. You can track these easily on the interactive calendar.

DOI: 10.14433/2015.0005