British Association for American Studies


60 Seconds With Mara Sankey

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 Executive Committee of the British Association for American Studies, our parent organisation, and before that the lovely (ahem) U. S. Studies Online Editorial team. For the remainder of the summer we have invited our first contributors to tell us a little bit more about themselves, the moment they decided “this is the path for me,” and what keeps them going all these years –or months– later. 


Where are you right now?

In a post-graduate study space at UCL.

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

I would be interested to feel the atmosphere in the US in the late 1960s/early-mid 1970s with the escalation and exit from Vietnam and Watergate. Alternatively, 1986/7 as the Iran-Contra scandal was breaking in full; it’s an event closely linked to my thesis and I would love to see if people were as shocked by it as I feel I would have been. Failing those, the day Prohibition ended for somewhat obvious reasons.

Who would you invite to your fantasy dinner party?

That’s a long list but I’ll try and give the short version. Terry Pratchett, Mary Shelly and J.R.R Tolkien would make up the literary section; from politics, Hilary Clinton, Lyndon B. Johnson, Harry Barnes Jr. and Salvador Allende.

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

I’m a huge Tolkien fan so I would probably go with the Lord of the Rings trilogy. That or Peter F. Hamilton’s Night’s Dawn trilogy, I’m torn.

What has been your most memorable career moment so far?

My research trip to the US. I grew up in the States so while most of the places weren’t new to me, it was both strange and exciting to be living back in the US after such a long time away. I also loved my time in the archives, no matter how frustrating it was at times.

What advice would you give to early career academics?

I’m not sure I’m a place to give advice to people in the early career stage since I’m still finishing my PhD, but, to PhD’s out there, I would say go to as many seminars and events as you can and try to keep your notes/work/etc as ordered and well labelled as you can. There is nothing worse than returning to a stack of archive notes and suddenly realising you have no idea where half of them come from.

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

I’m into writing up at the moment and that’s occupying most of my time so I don’t really have anything planned for the next 6 months. I have a weekend in Brighton coming up which will be fun though.

How did you come to your current area of research?

Almost by accident, I developed a love of Latin American-US relations and an interest in civil society and non-state actors while writing a long essay in my undergraduate degree. I knew I wanted to work on US involvement in Latin America and, during my Master’s, I started reading about transitology and US democracy promotion which led me to where I am now.

What profession other than academia would you like to attempt?

I’ve always loved baking and I could see myself attempting to start a bakery. Other than that, I feel if I weren’t making a go in academia, I would be destined for the Foreign Office.

What book is currently on your bedside table?

Scott Mainwaring and Aníbal Pérez-Liñán’s Democracies and Dictatorships in Latin America

Be honest; how long has it been there?

Since I picked it up at a conference in April, so about a month

What’s in your fridge right now?

I’m honestly not sure. The things I know for certain are milk, a couple of packets of vegetables and some left-over chicken I made a couple of days ago. Beyond that I would have to go home and check.

About the Author

Mara Sankey is a final year PhD student at University College London. Her thesis, provisionally entitled "Promoting Democracy? The Role of Non-State Actors in inter-American Relations 1980 - 1993", will focus on the involvement of three US-based non-state actors in US policy towards Latin America under the governments of Reagan and George H. W. Bush. Her research interests include, the role of NGOs, political foundations and other non-state actors in US inter-American policy, authoritarian government and democratic transition in Latin America and the role of social movements and civil society in US and Latin American politics.