Celebrating fifty years

Celebrate with us!

During the 2021 National Conference, we’ll be celebrating fifty years of the Popular Culture Association. If you have any pictures or artifacts from PCA years past, we’d love to include them in our celebration. Kindly send these to [email protected]


Fifty years ago

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 Russel Nye (Michigan State University) created an organization in 1970 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 Carl Bode, Pat Browne, John G. Cawelti, Marshall W. Fishwick,  Susan Koppelman, Peter C. Rollins, Emily Toth, and  others.


The first joint conference

In 1979, the American Culture Association became a partner in the study of Popular Culture and the two organizations have held joint conferences ever since. Under the tutelage of Ray Browne, the organization grew. The national conference now has well 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. 

Read the program from the first annual meeting from 1971.


Establishing leading journals in the field

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.


Moving towards the future

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 next generation of the organization charted a new direction. Gary Hoppenstand took over the editorship of 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. Lynn Bartholome became the first president of the joint association; John Bratzel was its first executive director.

In 2009, Ray Browne passed away. Pat, Ray’s partner in life and work, died in 2013.  Both were pioneers of the field and their hard work, encouragement, intellect, and leadership ability is sorely missed. They left an impressive body of work and a legacy for future generations to build on.

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.


Essential Reading

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).