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CAAS 2023: WEST BY NORTHEAST, 22-24 September 2023

“West by Northeast” is an interdisciplinary conference, hosted by Mount Saint Vincent University and the Canadian Association for American Studies. It will take place in online (virtually) on 22-24 September 2023.

In his 1893 address in front of the American Historical Association during the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Frederick Jackson Turner asserted, “Up to our own day American history has been in a large degree the history of the colonization of the Great West.”[1] Arguably, this colonization of the West began on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean and evolved into a primary signifier of American identity, an identity grounded in manifest destiny and realized through westward expansion. Throughout the intervening decades, and spanning works by D. H. Lawrence, Perry Miller, Henry Nash Smith, Richard Slotkin, Annette Kolodny, the New Western Historians, and beyond, the American West has enjoyed a privileged place in the emergence, consolidation, and problematization of American Studies scholarship.

In the twenty-first century, the field’s transnational, international, and imperial turns have mostly “fac[ed] west from California’s shores,”[2] while maintaining discursive and associative ties to the nation’s heartlands, hinterlands, fall lines, and frontiers. In 2023, 130 years after Turner first presented his “Frontier Thesis,” and as the transnational turn itself undergoes reassessment and critique,[3] the Canadian Association for American Studies sees an opportunity to (re)evaluate the present state of the field, and more particularly the role that the American West, broadly and imaginatively construed, has played and may continue to play in the shaping of disciplinary concerns, the revising of disciplinary practices, and the emergence or reinforcement of disciplinary lacunae and limitations. Like the title of the Hitchcock film echoed in the theme of this conference, “West by Northeast” is a navigational impossibility; it is “a fantasy.”[4] Consequently, the location of our meeting in an eastern Canadian city may function as a generative space for conceiving of the West’s place in American Studies in creative, experimental, and unorthodox ways. 

What, if anything, does the American West continue to offer to the development of American studies scholarship? How does its enjambment with settler-colonial studies, decolonizing literatures and methodologies, ecocriticism and environmental studies, Indigenous studies, Latinx studies, and/or Black studies enable and/or inform the emergence of new critiques, paradigms, epistemologies, and aesthetics? Is America really “a story of the West, after all,”[5] or to what degree has the West’s privileged place within American studies scholarship functioned to occlude and suppress other potentialities? 

We invite proposals for papers and other presentations that consider the pervasive mythologies, ideologies, fantasies, violences, promises, and opportunities signified by the western spaces and landscapes of the United States. We welcome approaches to this theme from all disciplines, fields, and historical periods. Papers on other topics relevant to American Studies will also be considered. 

Topics and themes might include (but are not limited to):

  • Transverse motion across the nation (i.e., east to west and/or west to east)
  • The constructed “West”
  • The “Weird West” and its various manifestations
  • The mythic west as a function of manifest destiny and settler colonialism
  • Indigeneity through the lens of the west
  • Black, Latinx, and Indigenous encounters, intersections, and solidarities
  • Neoliberalism as a function of the settler colonial imperative 

To participate, submit abstracts of 250-300 words using this Google Form( by 20 January 2023. Please include a brief bio and 3-5 keywords that describe the content of your presentation. Panel submissions, roundtables, and other presentation formats will be considered, but an abstract, bio, and keywords are required for each conference participant. Questions about the conference, or about submitting a proposal, can be sent to the conference co-organizers, Bernadette Russo ( and Jenna Hunnef ( 

[1] Frederick Jackson Turner, “The Significance of the Frontier in American History 1893,” American Historical Association in Chicago (1893)

[2] Walt Whitman, “Facing West from California’s Shores” (1860)

[3] Cf. Jeffrey Herlihy-Mera, After American Studies: Rethinking the Legacies of Transnational Exceptionalism (Routledge 2017)

[4] Alfred Hitchcock, interview with Peter Bogdanovich (1963)

[5] F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (1925)

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