Thinking with/in Portsmouth, NH

This entry is from one of our newer members, Queenie Sukhadia who recently attended her first NEPCA Conference.

As a first-time participant in the Northeast Popular Culture Association’s annual conference, I arrived in Portsmouth unsure of what to expect. ‘Popular culture’ promises timely, engaging, exciting content, but I’ve learned, over time, that the tone of academic conferences can vary greatly, no matter how seductive their structuring themes might be, and one almost always emerges more stimulated if walking in with no preconceptions save a willingness to be surprised.

To sum up my experience of NEPCA’s conference in one sentence: I could have walked in without the above intentional openness, with my expectations at an all-time high, and I would not have been disappointed. The papers being presented at the conference this year were cutting-edge, insightful and inspiring, and I left Portsmouth more energized than I was when I arrived. The scholarship being showcased ran the gamut from exploring vanished celebrity to reading fan activity through the lens of performance theory and thinking through how the TV show Breaking Bad compels its audiences to consider the complexity of border crossings. The aspect of the conference that had the maximum impact on me, however, was the manner in which NEPCA engaged its host city, Portsmouth, NH—not as passive backdrop, but as contributor to the lively intellectual exchange taking place here.

A picture of Tom Kaufhold standing at a podium with a screen next to him with his presentation title: "Beyond Ephemera: How a Movement's Identity Transcends Its Artifacts"            NEPCA invited us conference participants to interact with Portsmouth in this rich way via the keynote address, delivered by Tom Kaufhold, founder of the Seacoast NH LGBT History Project. Tom walked us through his journey of preserving the seacoast’s LGBT history, which was sparked by a routine cleaning out of his desk and culminated in talks, curatorial projects, movies hosted at the local library and the memorialization of individuals who were victims of homophobic violence. Something that stuck with me long after Tom’s address had closed to thundering applause was his democratized understanding of history. For Tom, history is comprised of ‘stuff’, history is local, everyone contributes to the creation of history and history is never over—in fact, it is being created anew with every tick of the clock. In Tom’s world, history is the quotidian, and it is this simple yet powerful framing that I would like to take away from the keynote address and sit with longer.

As might be evident in my brief but enthusiastic encapsulation of my experience at NEPCA 2019, I found the conference to be an invigorating space—one I definitely intend to return to again.

Queenie Sukhadia is an English PhD student at the Graduate Center, CUNY, studying human rights law and literature. She also holds a BA from Dartmouth College and an MA from Georgetown University. You can connect with her on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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