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.
Where are you right now?
On the sofa of the flat I share with my partner in London, looking out at the lovely sunny Sunday evening.
If you could time-travel to observe one moment in the history of America, where would you go?
Do I get to participate or just observe? If it’s the former, Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne first met at a picnic where they got drunk on champagne and romped about the Berkshire Hills in Massachusetts, and I’d like to have attended that. If I can only watch, I’d go back to Alexander Hamilton’s duel with Aaron Burr. Team Hamilton, obvs.
Who would you invite to your fantasy dinner party?
Melville and Hawthorne, to find out what really happened between those two, amongst other things. Cher. Morrissey. Empress Elizabeth of Austria. Che Guevara. Mary Shelley. I have no idea what I’d serve, but I make a really good sticky toffee pudding.
You’re stranded on a desert island, but luckily you pre-empted it. Which book do you take with you?
You might be sensing a theme here, but it probably would be Moby-Dick. I just don’t get bored of reading it. Or The Story of the Treasure Seekers by E. Nesbit, which is my ultimate comfort read.
What has been your most memorable career moment so far?
Passing my viva was pretty fantastic! It was such a relief to get through the examination and to hear that the examiners enjoyed reading my work. Despite having dreaded it, I actually enjoyed the viva too, though with all the stress of it I’m not sure how much I can actually recall… In terms of memorable, going to the Rare Book School at the University of Virginia and seeing what was probably William Faulkner’s copy of the Lakeside Press Moby-Dick stands out too.
What advice would you give to early career academics?
Make sure you allow yourself time for things outside of your work: hobbies, friends, even watching television. Sometimes these feel like wasting time, but it’s important to give yourself space for these things because it helps you think in the long run. Also – apply for every grant or prize going, even if you think you haven’t got a chance, and try not to be too disheartened if you don’t get them. The few moments of success do make up for the piles of rejections.
What is the most exciting thing you have planned in the next six months?
I’m starting my first job in September, so that’s very exciting. I’m going to take up a Leverhulme ECR Fellowship at Nottingham University, researching the publication and distribution of American Literature in Britain in the nineteenth century. I’m really looking forward to starting a new project, and beginning my career post-PhD.
How did you come to your current area of research?
So when I did my undergrad degree, Oxford had a ban on writing about American texts on your finals period papers – though you were allowed to write about any other literature in English. I thought both this, and the fact I hadn’t read any nineteenth-century American literature pretty ridiculous. So I read lots of Hawthorne and Whitman and told my tutor I wanted to write on this for my Special Topic paper, and she told me I had to read Moby-Dick. I was ready to hate it (500 pages? On whaling?), and ended up obsessed with it.
On the other side of my interests, I took a class in Bibliography and Book History during my Master’s, which got me started on the materiality of books. It suddenly seemed to illogical to me that I’d spend so much time thinking about texts, and so little time thinking about books as things. I’ve made up for that since.
What profession other than academia would you like to attempt?
Do I have to be qualified to do it or can I take some time to retrain? At school, I wanted to be a forensic scientist for a while, but probably mostly because of Quincy M.D. rather than any knowledge of what it actually entailed. My other option would be running an antiquarian bookshop-slash-café, where I could sell volumes of forgotten lore and cakes. Clearly, I should really hope academia works out because these other options don’t seem very well thought through.
What book is currently on your bedside table?
The Morgesons by Elizabeth Stoddard, which I’m reading for the BrANCA reading group this coming Friday. Nothing like leaving it to the last minute. Also, S by JJ Abrams and Doug Dorst – a very material text.
Be honest; how long has it been there?
The Morgesons – only a couple of weeks, and I’m almost through. S – much longer. It was a Christmas present – sorry, person who gave it to me. This is now some impetus to get started with it.
What’s in your fridge right now?
Quite a lot, actually! Asparagus. Quorn sausages. A papaya. Wine.