Behind the Scenes of AAS 2020: The Program Committee Meeting

In March 2020, the AAS will return to Boston, after a 13-year absence, to host its Annual Conference at the Sheraton Boston Hotel and Hynes Convention Center. When we were last in Boston, back in 2007, the AAS still called its spring gathering an “Annual Meeting” (we elevated it to the “Annual Conference” in 2011), and the program was much smaller than it is today. That 2007 meeting received 467 proposal submissions, from which 228 sessions were accepted, and among the registrations were 1,397 presenters, with 3,151 attendees overall.

Boston has traditionally been a very popular location for the AAS annual meetings, and prior to 2007 it was included in a regular rotation of host cities. In the years following 2007, however, we took Boston out of consideration because AAS conferences had expanded to a size where no existing Boston hotel could accommodate our space needs. Eventually, we were forced to re-evaluate our traditional one-hotel model and become open to the idea of using convention center space along with existing hotels. The success of this combination at our Hawaii conference in 2011 convinced us that it would work in the future (which it did at the 2016 Seattle conference) and once again made Boston a possibility.

We are excited for our return to Boston, and based on the number of proposal submissions, members of the Asian Studies community are also eager to reconnect with their colleagues there next spring. We received a record-setting 1,246 proposals for the 2020 Annual Conference—almost 300 submissions over our previous high mark! While the interest was great to see, this also meant the Program Committee members had their work cut out for them this summer.

The Program Committee consists of 10 volunteers, who are selected by each of the AAS Area Councils. Overseen by the committee chair, Dr. Joan Judge (York University), proposal reviews are assigned to sub-committee members according to geographic area. Committee members reviewed the 2020 proposals over the course of four weeks before meeting in person to discuss their selections. 

On Saturday, September 14, 2019, the Program Committee met at the Westin Detroit Airport, just a few miles away from the AAS Secretariat in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I attended in my role as AAS Conference Manager, as did Executive Director Hilary Finchum-Sung. Committee members discussed important agenda items before getting down to the hard work of making the final decisions regarding which sessions would be placed on the formal program at the AAS 2020 conference next spring. When the 8-hour meeting came to an end, the total number of sessions that will take place at AAS 2020 stood at a whopping 441—twice the size of the 2007 Boston meeting!

The Program Committee also undertook the complex task of scheduling these 400+ sessions, taking into account multiple factors, such as session topics and disciplines, as well as personal scheduling conflicts noted by applicants. While a conference program of this size means it’s impossible to avoid some degree of overlap in scheduling—every one of our 11 session slots must include approximately 44 panels, of which, for example, 13 or so will be China panels, and it’s inevitable that they will intersect in some ways—the Program Committee members do their best to minimize such issues.

A big thank you to all of the Program Committee members, as well as the sub-committee that reviewed the digital technology proposal submissions: Erica Fox Brindley, Pennsylvania State University (China and Inner Asia); Timothy C. Cheek, University of British Columbia (China and Inner Asia); Sara Friedman, Indiana University (China and Inner Asia); Timothy S. George, University of Rhode Island (Japan); Brian A. Hatcher (Vice-Chair), Tufts University (Inter-Area/Border Crossing); Miyako Inoue, Stanford University (Japan); Joan Judge (Chair), York University (Inter-Area/Border Crossing); Joshua Pilzer, University of Toronto (Korea); Ronit Ricci, Hebrew University of Jerusalem (South Asia/Southeast Asia); and Ramya Sreenivasan, University of Pennsylvania (South Asia/Southeast Asia). Digital technology sub-committee: Hilde De Weerdt, Leiden University; Song Chen, Bucknell University; Paula Curtis, Yale University; and Debashree Mukherjee, Columbia University.

The searchable online program will be available as soon as all of the accepted proposals and scheduling data have been migrated into the online program. We expect this to be completed by late October.