The Popular Culture Association was founded by scholars who believed the American Studies Association was too committed to the then existing canon of literary writers such as Melville, Hawthorne, and Whitman. They believed that the American Studies Association had lost its holistic approach to cultural studies; there was little room, as they saw it, for the study of material culture, popular music, movies, and comics.
To remedy this situation, Professors Ray Browne (Bowling Green State University) and Russell Nye (Michigan State University) started an organization that would be open to more subjects and forms of cultural studies. The Association’s first meeting was in East Lansing, Michigan at Michigan State University in 1971. Aiding the efforts of Browne and Nye were early pioneers such as Jane Bakerman, Carl Bode, Pat Browne, John G. Cawelti, George N. Dove, Marshall W. Fishwick, M. Thomas Inge, Susan Koppelman, Peter C. Rollins, Fred E. H. Schroeder, Emily Toth, Tom Towers, Daniel Walden, and many others.
In 1979, the American Culture Association became a partner in the study of Popular Culture and the two organizations have held joint conferences since that time. Under the tutelage of Ray Browne, the organization grew. The national conference has over 2,000 participants. Moreover, the organization has seven regional organizations: Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, South, Midwest, Far West, Southwest/Texas, and Oceanic. The regional organizations range in size from 200 to 1,000 participants. Popular Culture is also closely affiliated with four international popular culture organizations in Australia/New Zealand, East Asia, Canada, and Europe. PCA/ACA also maintains and international organization that meets in the summer of odd numbered years.
The PCA/ACA has also established two journals (The Journal of Popular Culture and the Journal of American Culture) to foster the intellectual discussion of the field. Recognizing excellence is another goal of the PCA/ACA. The organization has established a series of awards to honor the highest quality of scholarship.
Supporting the study of popular and American culture is an important mission for the organization. To that end, the PCA/ACA has established the PCA/ACA Endowment. Drawing from the interest it receives, the PCA/ACA Endowment has been able to support graduate students, international scholars, collections, and collection research.
In 2003, the organization went through a major change in leadership when Ray and Pat Browne stepped down as the leaders of the PCA/ACA after many years of building and nurturing the organization. Michael Schoenecke became the Executive Director and along with Presidents Lynn Bartholome and John Bratzel (PCA) and David Sokol and Ken Dvorak (ACA) the organization struck out on its own. Gary Hoppenstand took over the Journal of Popular Culture, and Kathy Merlock Jackson became editor of the Journal of American Culture. New bylaws were written for both the PCA and the Endowment, and subsequently, the PCA and ACA merged their boards to streamline decision making and avoid duplication.
In 2009, Ray Browne passed away. He was the pioneer of the field and his hard work, encouragement, intellect, and leadership ability will be missed. For a biography of Browne, please click here.
In the future, the PCA/ACA plans to continue to nurture the study of popular and American culture, to support new and established scholars in both their research and teaching, to support the publication of its two journals, and to internationalize the organization.
For more history concerning the organization, three books are particularly useful: Ray B. Browne, Against Academia (Popular Press, 1989), Pioneers in Popular Culture Studies, ed. by Ray B. Browne and Michael T. Marsden, (Popular Press, 1999), and Mission Underway, The History of the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association and the Popular Culture Movement 1967-2001, ed. by Ray B. Browne (Popular Press, 2002).
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