Originally, the SASSI conference was known as SISSI (with the word "Interdisciplinary" used instead of "Academic"). The following historical overview was written by SISSI co-founder Will Wright:
In the fall of 1990 Dr. Steve Kaplan and I decided to try to hold an interdisciplinary conference in the spring of 1991. We thought Colorado was a place people like to visit and that we should take advantage of that somehow. Although our University was in Pueblo (then University of Southern Colorado, now Colorado State University-Pueblo), we thought the conference should be held in Colorado Springs, about 45 miles north, because flying into Colorado Springs was much easier. We thought the conference should be interdisciplinary because he was a professor of English and I was a professor of Sociology. We decided that the organizing idea of the conference should be Imagery, which seemed vague, abstract, and interdisciplinary, and that each annual event should have a more specific topic – The Image of (Something). We called ourselves, as an organizing structure, The Society for the Interdisciplinary Study of Social Imagery (SISSI), and then we picked the topic of the first SISSI conference, The Image of Crime.
We found a great hotel, the Antlers in downtown Colorado Springs, and we reserved a set of meeting rooms and guest rooms. Then we made up and mailed out a Call for Papers, wondering if anyone would come. We decided to hold the conference in mid-March because we thought the weather would be good but that skiing would still be possible, so that people might come to the conference so that they could then go skiing. We asked a friend, the well-known criminologist Travis Hershi, if he would give a Keynote address, and he agreed. We figured out a registration fee, I think around $60, and a Proceedings fee (around $20), since we planned to produce a Proceedings, and we planned a two day conference. We accepted about 60-70 proposals, from around the country, and most people actually came, participated in sessions, and told us they had a good time. We could pay our bills with the money from the fees, and so it seemed to be a success, much to our surprise.
We began to plan a second conference but this time we would plan for three days and send out far more Calls for Papers. The topic for the second year would be The Image of War, and this time we had about 150 participants, another success. After that we had our routine. We had a mailing list for the Calls of about 2000 universities and about seven departments at each university. We always arranged the conference at the Antlers Hotel, always for three days, and always in the middle of March. And our attendance ranged, depending on the topics, from about 120 to about 180.
The Conference in this form lasted twenty-five years. Some of the topics included The Image of Nature, The Image of Technology, The Image of Violence, The Image of the Frontier, The Image of the Road, The Image of America, The Image of the American West, The image of the Outsider. Some of the Keynote Speakers included Vine Deloria, Jr. (Custer Died for Your Sins, God Is Red), Stanley Aronowitz (False Promises, Science as Power), Fredric Jameson (The Political Unconscious, Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism), John Nichols (The Milagro Beanfield War, The Magic Journey), Patricia Limerickm (The Legacy of Conquest, Something in the Soil), and Carl Pletsch (Young Nietzsche, Beyond Preservation). Throughout the conferences the presentations were generally stimulating and the sessions were generally lively. It was a rewarding effort and experience, and Steve and I are thrilled that it will now be continued in a slightly different form at the University of Northern Colorado.
Department of Sociology
Over the years, the SISSI conference became a favorite for our faculty and graduate students here in the School of Communication at the University of Northern Colorado. Upon professor Wright's retirement, we felt a great loss when there was no SISSI conference in the spring of 2016. We contacted Will and asked if he would be willing to pass the torch to us, and he thoughtfully turned over the reins. We tried to keep intact as much of the original conference feel and structure as possible, e.g. keeping "The Image of (Something)" theme. Upon reflection, we rebranded the association as SASSI as a way to honor the long-standing title while simultaneously making it our own.
While honoring the past, in some ways it was like starting over. Our inaugural theme in 2017 - The Image of Rebirth - reflected that regeneration. The two-year hiatus since the 2015 conference, coupled with a new name and new locale (in a town on the edge of the plains with no commercial airport and no nearby skiing) disrupted the established momentum of SISSI. Unfortunately, we were never able to regain that momentum. Those issues, coupled with the impact of institutional budget cuts, the proliferation of for-profit conference mills, and reduced professional development funds nationwide, made the conference prohibitively expensive. Therefore, the SASSI advisory board decided that 2020 would be our final year.
We thank the SISSI founders for allowing us to carry on the examinations and discussions of social imagery for a handful of years, and thank all of those who supported us during our time hosting in Greeley.
SASSI Executive Director