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Editorial: A Brief Recent History of the Mid-Atlantic Popular & American Culture Association (MAPACA) and its Digital Journal of Popular Culture Scholarship

Jordan McClain, Ph.D. and Colin Helb, Ph.D. (Drexel University and Elizabethtown College)

In 2011, the MAPACA board tasked us with evaluating how to make MAPACA a 21st-century academic organization. This required planning for short-term success (i.e., producing a good conference and being able to pay the hotel bill), strategically thinking about long-term growth, and creating organizational stability that would allow for these outcomes year after year. This became an exciting chance for MAPACA to reinvent itself, while retaining what makes it special.

Before mapping MAPACA’s future, it was important for us to understand and respect where the organization had been since the first conference in 1990. But the sparse records of the organization’s history were spread across various sites, many of which were stored by MAPACA leadership on personal faculty websites—untouched for years or deleted long ago. Using old links and the Internet Archive’s “Wayback Machine”, our team reassembled much of the disjointed history. Similarly, we sought input from MAPACA’s past board members, drawing on their stories to preserve institutional memory.

We then rewrote the organization’s constitution to reflect its evolution: We gave more specific names to board positions; we wrote job descriptions for each role so people would have a better sense of who would do what; we created a board of advisors, who pair with senior board members to add much-needed people power and a training mechanism; we changed presidential terms to two years instead of one, so there was more time to learn the job and do the job well; we organized other board positions into a three-year cycle to balance the president’s term and to prevent whole-board turnovers.

We reimagined how the organization could improve its internal and external communications. This is why we now have protocols for social media, an electronic newsletter (custom-designed and integrated into our ideal website, built by Antonio Savorelli), archived discussions among the board and area chairs, CFP promotion strategies, and more.

Under the direction of Mark John Isola, our team created an award (Divine Impact Award) series to recognize great practitioners whose work impacts popular culture and to connect the organization’s research to the regional communities where the conference is held. In our first attempt, to celebrate the 2014 conference in Baltimore and MAPACA’s 25th anniversary, we aimed for our “moonshot” and got it: director John Waters came and spoke at MAPACA. A culturally significant producer, he is widely renowned yet geographically tied to the Mid-Atlantic region and that year’s conference location. Similarly, with the appearance of Terry Gross from Fresh Air at the 2015 conference, MAPACA once again recognized a celebrated creator whose cultural output reflected the interdisciplinary curiosity of the organization. And in 2016, Randy “Now” Ellis, though not as widely known, testified to the regional culture of New Jersey like few others could do. For the 2017 conference, we are excited to give this award to restaurateur, author, philanthropist, and Iron Chef Jose Garces. Including these speakers in the conference helps us bridge an unproductive gap between research and practice related to popular culture.

As part of MAPACA’s transformation, we also took a close look at the organization’s work in publications. At that point, Gary Earl Ross had successfully edited MAPACA’s print journal, The Mid-Atlantic Almanack, for many years. The natural next step was to harness MAPACA’s do-it-yourself spirit that drove “The Almanack” and create an open-access popular/American culture research journal, which we called Response: The Digital Journal of Popular Culture Scholarship. Jason Davids Scott became Response’s first editor, overseeing its construction and identity. Today, Franny Zawadzki and Leigha McReynolds have taken the baton and are ready to do for Response what we did for MAPACA years ago: reinvent, but retain what makes it great. During Jason’s tenure—while Colin was president—the question was, “what is the future of MAPACA’s research publication?” During Franny and Leigha’s term—now that Jordan is president—the question will be, “how can we improve on this foundation and innovate further?”

This is an exciting time for popular culture research, as other scholarly organizations have also embraced the democratic potential of the Internet to establish new publications. We have watched with delight as Response’s growth has been paralleled by Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy (SWPCA), The Popular Culture Studies Journal (MPCAACA), and several new ones published by Intellect, like the Journal of European Popular Culture. Meanwhile, the PCA/ACA’s leading publication, Journal of Popular Culture, celebrated its 50-year anniversary, further signaling the importance of the work done at the MAPACA conference and in Response. As we continue working to improve Response, it’s similarly delightful to imagine where the publication could be just a few years from now.

Jordan M. McClain, Ph.D. (Drexel University) President, MAPACA (2017-2018)

Colin Helb, Ph.D. (Elizabethtown College) Immediate Past President, MAPACA (2015-2016)

May 2017

Acknowledgements: The work described above was successful because of early guidance and contributions by other MAPACA board members, such as Tracey Bowen, Marilyn Stern, Diana Vecchio, Pam Detrixhe, and Mary Behrman.

Volume 1, Issue 2

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