UFOs, Aliens, and the Academy:
An Interdisciplinary Conference

May 27, 2017
Trent University, Peterborough, Canada

About

Only a few decades ago, it would seem inconceivable to host an academic conference focusing on the theme of UFOs and extraterrestrials. Scholars have been slow to engage with this topic, despite the fundamental questions posed by its sudden rise and pervasiveness since the summer of 1947 (and even earlier), as an enduring cultural phenomenon. Even today, serious research in this area often remains taboo, and scholars frequently dismiss discussions about UFOs and ETs, saying they belong to the realm of the ‘irrational’ and the pseudoscientific. The result has been a shortage of scholarly literature in contrast to the vast amount of source material ready to be analysed. While easily dismissed as kitsch, fringe, and lowbrow, UFOs and extraterrestrials in fact play a significant role in our world. This one-day conference is committed to the task of treating UFOs and extraterrestrials as a serious object of study.

This conference is made possible through the generous support of the Frost Centre for Canadian Studies & Indigenous Studies, the Department of Cultural Studies, the Department of Theory, Culture, and Politics, the School for the Study of Canada, the Symons Trust Fund, and the T.E.W. Nind Endowment Fund, all at Trent University.

Program

Speakers

Keynote Speaker:
Susan Lepselter
Associate Professor, Anthropology, Indiana University Bloomington
Parandis Tajbakhsh
Astronomy sessional lecturer at Humber College & York University
An overview of the history of extraterrestrial life debate – A curious case of interaction between science vs. religion
Merrill Greene
PhD student, Religious Studies, McMaster University
Close Encounters of a Spiritual Kind: Parallels in Abduction and Demonic Possession Narratives

Jason Charbonneau
Writer, Foley Artist, Film Producer
From Ufology to Mythology: The Case of the Mystery Airships of the US Southwest 1896-1897

Noah Morritt
PhD candidate, Folklore Studies, Memorial University
“Not a Trace… Not a Clue… Not a Bit of Anything”: Legend, Memory, and the Search for Meaning at Canada’s Roswell
Hugh Spencer
Museum Professional
Civic Pride From Space: Celebrating UFOs in Our Community Identities
Laura Thursby
PhD candidate, Cultural Studies, Trent University
Roswell, New Mexico: An American Epistemological Crisis
Jordan Babando
PhD candidate, Sociology, Queen’s University
Exo Considerations for Nationalism: Extraterrestrials, Exoplanetary Law, and Constructions of the Alien Other

Ian Kalman
Postdoctoral Fellow, Political Science, Western University
UFOs in Mohawk Country

Benjamin Miller and Guillaume Lacombe-Kishibe
Faculty of Law, University of Toronto
Star wars: Close Encounters of The Hobbesian Kind

Leslie Sheldon
Professor, English, University of Ottawa
‘“In Your Face from Outer Space”: The Negative Depiction of Extra-Terrestrial Invaders in Literature and Film’

Michael Grasso
M.A. candidate, Museum Studies, Harvard Extension School
“UFOs Are Real, UFOs Are Here!”: Ufological Documentaries, the 1970s Media Landscape, and Generational Nostalgia

David Hollands
PhD candidate, Cultural Studies, Trent University
The Alien, the Cinema, and Home Video Technologies: An Uncanny Relationship

Sidney Shapiro
PhD candidate, Human Studies, Laurentian University
Technological Advancement and the Extraterrestrial Advantage

Rimmy Riarh
PhD candidate, Political Science, York University
ET and UFO: A Conceptual Approach

Joshua Schuster
Associate Professor, English, University of Western Ontario
Exopoetics: Expanding SETI Through Poetics

Call for Papers

Only a few decades ago, it would seem inconceivable to host an academic conference focusing on the theme of UFOs and extraterrestrials. Scholars have been slow to engage with this topic, despite the fundamental questions posed by its sudden rise and pervasiveness since the summer of 1947 (and even earlier), as an enduring cultural phenomenon. Even today, serious research in this area often remains taboo, and scholars frequently dismiss discussions about UFOs and ETs, saying they belong to the realm of the ‘irrational’ and the pseudoscientific. The result has been a shortage of scholarly literature in contrast to the vast amount of source material ready to be analysed. While easily dismissed as kitsch, fringe, and lowbrow, UFOs and extraterrestrials in fact play a significant role in our world.
This one-day conference will comprise a full day of speakers, followed by a film screening and keynote address. We are looking for papers that explore the significance of UFOs and ETs. Questions of particular interest include: Despite the lack of direct evidence of the existence of ETs, how do we explain the ongoing appeal of this research for both scientists and the lay public? How can we account for the fact that there is often very real and physical evidence accompanying these contact narratives? What might these stories reveal about their tellers and the historical situation in which they find themselves? Why have stories about ETs and UFOs latched so strongly onto conspiratorial imaginings? (How) do alien contact narratives fit into the wider genre of science fiction? What is the relationship between ‘fact’ (or those allegedly ‘true’ stories of alien contact) and fiction? What might be the ramifications of contact with otherworldly or multidimensional beings? How would we recognize their communication? How should we situate and contextualize discussions of UFOs and ETs? For instance, the UFO phenomenon has largely been seen as an American one – but what about stories outside of the US? Moreover, discussions are often situated in the context of the Cold War – but what about earlier sightings? And what has happened to UFOs and ETs in the Post-Cold War context? Where are we now?
This conference is committed to the task of treating UFOs and extraterrestrials as a serious object of study. We are seeking a variety of interdisciplinary perspectives on this topic (historical, anthropological, sociological, psychological, religious, literary, scientific, etc.), and we are looking for engagement with the questions posed above, as well as the themes listed below.
Possible themes include (but are not limited to):
– astrobiology
– the implications of contact – ethical, political, religious, government/military planning
– history of UFOs/ufology in North America, especially in Canada
– UFOs and the Cold War/post-Cold War
– UFOs and science/technology
– ‘Airship’ sightings before the Cold War
– ufology and the occult
– the alien in mythology and folklore
– exopolitics and world politics
– communication and contact
– apocalypticism and ETs
– theorizing ET conspiracy theories
– the ET in Fin-de-millennium culture
– the convergence of popular culture, science fiction, and ‘real’ stories of alien contact
– the cultural, political, social, historical contexts of beliefs in ETs
– alien religions/communities of UFO/ET believers
– alien contact narratives, especially in relation to the body, race, gender
 Submissions:
Please send in the body of your email (no attachments) the following:
-the title of your paper
-a 250 word abstract
-your full name and institutional affiliation (if applicable)
-a 50 word biographical note
Please email submissions to: matthewhayes2@trentu.ca
There will be a nominal registration fee for conference participants, to be determined closer to the date. The conference room will be equipped with a computer, wifi, and the standard AV equipment.
Deadline for abstracts: December 15, 2016
Decision announcement: by January 27, 2017
Conference Organizers:
Matthew Hayes, Canadian Studies, Trent University
Laura Thursby, Cultural Studies, Trent University

Poster

ufoconferenceposter

Travel

Peterborough is located approximately an hour and a half east of Toronto. The conference will be taking place in Bagnani Hall at Traill College, Trent University’s downtown campus.

Bagnani Hall, Traill College
310 London Street
Peterborough, Ontario
K9H 7P4

Peterborough is served most easily by GO Transit if coming from the GTA, and Greyhound if coming from Ottawa.

Accommodation:
Holiday Inn
Peterborough Inn
Best Western
Super 8

Attend

All are welcome to attend the conference, whether presenting a paper or not! Registration is entirely free, and refreshments will be provided. The conference will begin at 9am (sharp!) and go till about 5:30pm.