Today I drove back from the Communal Studies Association ‘s annual conference in upstate New York. One of the joys associated with this organization of scholars, librarians, curators of historic sites, and residents of contemporary communities lies in its commitment to meeting at the sites of intentional communities, past and present. So the fact that this year’s conference was held at the Oneida Community’s Mansion House, a mere five hours’ drive from my home, gave me triple incentive to attend: In addition to its appealing topic, “Women in Communities,” the conference was held nearby and at a site I had never before visited. I held my regular office hours on Friday, did some other business on campus, dropped off my dog, and drove out late in the afternoon. As the sun set while I was driving through the Berkshires, I realized that this trip also presented an opportunity leaf-looking. Having grown up in Texas, I take real pleasure in the changing seasons.
I missed hearing many papers at the conference because I seized the opportunity to tour the Mansion House on Saturday morning, first taking the regular tour and then glomming on to a too-big group to go “Behind the Scenes.” Perhaps the high point for me was seeing the image of Charles Fourier that is part of the group of framed images at the top of the main stair, facing the community’s cabinet of curiosities. The Fourier image was sent to the community by Victor Considerant, a French adherent of the group that promoted some of Fourier’s theories in Paris in the 1830s and 1840s and the leader of another that tried to set up a community in what is now Dallas, Texas, in the wake of the European revolutions of 1848. Since John Humphrey Noyes, the founder and patriarch of the Oneida Community, discussed U.S. communities that had been founded on ideas based on Fourier’s theories in his History of American Socialism (1870), I was delighted to see this evidence of interaction between Considerant and Oneida.
I also reconnected with folks in communal studies, as I haven’t been able to attend this conference for some years, and I had a chance to meet some members of the new generation who are continuing the work of the organization. Some of the members of this new generation share my interest in digital humanities, so I look forward to checking in with them now and again to do what I can to help foster digital projects in addition to all the other good work CSA members do preserving the sites, records, and stories of intentional communities.