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British Association for American Studies

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60 Seconds With Joe Street

The U.S. Studies Online 60 Seconds interview feature offers a short and informal introduction to a postgraduate, academic or non-academic specialist working in the American and Canadian Studies field or a related American and Canadian Studies association. 

Last month you spent 60 seconds with the U. S. Studies Online Editorial team. This month we have invited the Executive Committee of the British Association for American Studies, our parent organisation, to tell us a little bit more about themselves, their interests, the way they made it into academia and, crucially, their top advice for new academics.

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Where are you right now?

Geographically: in my office; Imaginatively: thinking about the Dirty Harry movies (my current project)

If you could time-travel to observe one moment in the history of America, where would you go?

The February 1, 1960 sit-in in Greensboro, North Carolina. One of the great moments in world history

Who would you invite to your fantasy dinner party?

Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael), Sir Patrick Stewart, Guy and Candie Carawan, Myles Horton, the radical intellectual Stuart Hall, my Mum, Grandma, wife and daughter.

You’re stranded on a desert island, but luckily you pre-empted it. Which book do you take with you?

Crikey, that’s a tough one. Catch-22 had an indelible impact on the 17-year-old me, so I guess I’d say that. Although if I could smuggle in the collected works of Philip Roth or Alan Moore, I’d be a very happy castaway.

What has been your most memorable career moment so far?

After I gave my first paper at the Southern Historical Association when I was writing up my PhD thesis, two people came up and said some very, very kind things about it: the SNCC activist Cleveland Sellers and the great historian John Dittmer. I felt about ten feet tall at that moment.

What advice would you give to early career academics?

Be patient and follow your interests. Don’t get wound up by churning out the publications. Find topics that interest and stimulate you, and pursue them until they bore you; then find something else. Enjoy the fact that you get to read about and pontificate on subjects that interest you! Most importantly, don’t overwork yourself: keep weekends (and if possible evenings) free for fun and games. It is vitally important to have a life away from work.

What is the most exciting thing you have planned in the next six months?

I am finally about to write the history of the Black Panther Party that I’ve been promising people for about ten years. I don’t know how exciting this is to other people, but I’m very much looking forward to getting it all down on paper.

How did you come to your current area of research?

I currently have a number of areas, which all derived from different sources: the Dirty Harry research came from teaching ‘America in the 1960s’ and my students’ complaints that nothing decent had been written on the subject. I’m not sure I’ve filled that gap, but I’ve given it a good try. The BPP thing came from my parents’ politics and their collection of radical literature. It was also fuelled by Robert Cook’s Special Subject on the Civil Rights Movement, which I studied in the days before the internet. I also dabble in the Northern Soul scene, which emerged from my interest in soul music.

What profession other than academia would you like to attempt?

I’d be utterly useless at everything else! But it would be nice to be a film critic.

What book is currently on your bedside table?

There are currently a few: Randall Sullivan’s quite astonishing biography of Michael Jackson, Untouchable; Dave Eggers’s The Circle; Peniel Joseph’s biography of Kwame Ture (Stokely); and Gruff Rhys’s American Interior, which traces the musician’s tour of the US which itself traced the nineteenth-century wanderings of Rhys’s ancestor John Evans up the Missouri River. On his tour, Rhys was accompanied by a felt puppet of Evans. It’s a magical book.

Be honest; how long has it been there?

Ha! I’ve been going at Sullivan for about a month, Eggers for three days (when Jacko’s family got too weird), Joseph for about a month or so; Rhys two weeks (I’m savouring it).

What’s in your fridge right now?

We did a big shop on the weekend, so it’s full, particularly with yoghurt, hummus, fresh veg, some pickles, meat, eggs, lots of cheese and a sausage roll.