British Association for American Studies


60 Seconds With Christian O’Connell

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?

I’m at the beautiful Francis Close Hall Campus, at University of Gloucestershire in Cheltenham.

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

I would go back to Greenwood, Mississippi on August 16th 1938 to see the legendary blues musician Robert Johnson’s final performance and find out how he really died (and maybe try to prevent it!).

Who would you invite to your fantasy dinner party?

Frederick Douglass, John Steinbeck, Big Bill Broonzy, Howard Zinn, Bob Dylan, Angela Davis, Umberto Eco and the Asylum Street Spankers.

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

Since I will have lots of time, John Dos Passos’ USA.

What has been your most memorable career moment so far?

Getting the BAAS/UCL-IA Early Career Visiting Fellowship for 2015.

What advice would you give to early career academics?

Don’t discount yourself from anything, apply to every job that you would like to do, no matter how competitive if may be, apply for all available research funding (you don’t ask, you don’t get!), and go to as many conferences as possible!

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

I’m getting married in July! *Editor’s note: Congratulations Christian! FYI, this interview was conducted earlier this summer…

How did you come to your current area of research?

From when I was 13 and I heard Howlin’ Wolf’s Smokestack Lightnin’ on an old Budweiser advert.

What profession other than academia would you like to attempt?

Professional musician.

What book is currently on your bedside table?

John Fante’s The Wine of Youth.

Be honest; how long has it been there?

A couple of months

What’s in your fridge right now?

Milk, pancetta, fresh lasagna sheets and passata.

About the Author

Primarily a cultural historian, I teach on modules which examine African American as well as American cultural history. I am particularly interested in the role and development of African American culture in the US, but also abroad, especially in the transatlantic exchange. I completed my PhD in 2012, which examined the emergence of transatlantic scholarship on African American blues music through the work of Paul Oliver. This research is the subject of a book entitled "Blues, How Do You Do? Paul Oliver and the Transatlantic Story of the Blues" which will be published by the University of Michigan Press in 2014. Presently, I am working on research projects which consider the transatlantic representations of the American South on British television, and the reception of African American music in Italy during Fascism. I am also running an online course on the blues through the University of Exeter. In my spare time, I like playing music and play guitar in a band called James Carr & The Comrades (www.jamescarrandthecomrades.com).

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