British Association for American Studies


Black History Month Roundup: U.S. Studies Online Special Series

 Throughout October 2014 U.S. Studies Online has published a series of posts by U.K. and U.S.-based academics of all levels in honour of the UK’s Black History Month. We featured posts from Ferguson to Civil War African American soldiers. This is a round-up of the series all in one place. 

“A Northern city with Southern characteristics”: Ferguson and the History of Race Relations in the St. Louis Region by Assistant Professor of Historical Studies Bryan Jack (Southern Illinois University Edwardsville)


In the first post of the series Bryan Jack, a leading expert in urban history, tracks the history of residential segregation in the St. Louis region and how this can illuminate the ongoing problems in America’s race relations. Jack’s post reveals how urban history can shine a stark light on the events of August 9, 2014, in Ferguson, Missouri when Darren Wilson, a white police officer, shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager.

“In 1970, Ferguson was 99% white and 1% black; in 2010, Ferguson was 29% white and 67% black. However, the town leadership and police do not reflect this shift—only three of the community’s fifty-three police officers are black.”

Re-Imagining the Blues: A Transatlantic Approach to African-American Culture by Senior Lecturer in American History Christian O’Connell (University of Gloucestershire)

Howlin' Wolf (left)

Christian O’Connell, author of Blues, How Do You Do? Paul Oliver and the Transatlantic Story of the Blues, explores the recent revisionist histories of the blues and transatlantic influence. He argues that one particular blues writer, Paul Oliver, is an underestimated figure in this discussion.

“[Paul Oliver’s] work demonstrates how the blues became a reified ideal constructed in opposition to the forces of modernity, represented by the commercial music industry and the growth of teenage oriented pop in the 1950s and 1960s.”

Book Review: Slavery in American Children’s Literature, 1790-2010 by Paula T. Connolly reviewed by PhD candidate Margot Blankier (Trinity College Dublin)


Margot Blankier, genre studies researcher, contributes a fascinating review of Paula T. Connolly’s most recent work, arguing Connolly creates a volume that is “a happy marriage of New Historicist perspectives and theory-based investigation.” Blankier notes how Connolly’s study is a sorely needed contribution to African American Studies scholarship because “the bulk of literary criticism on slavery in the United States and scholarship on race and children’s literature rarely intersect.”

The Legacy of African American Abolitionist Frederick Douglass in Britain by PhD candidate Hannah Rose Murray (University of Nottingham)


Hannah Rose Murray, nineteenth century enthusiast and recent PhD student, explores the little-known transatlantic impact of abolitionist Frederick Douglass’ visits to Britain in the years 1845-1895. Murray argues that Douglass’ cultivated a unique legacy in Britain as a “celebrated American” and became one of the “romanticized soldiers of antislavery”. Douglass’ increasing fame in Britain, Murray argues, lead to his legal freedom and to his subsequent successful career in America.

Not just Yo’ Mama but Rap’s Mama: The Dozens, African American Culture and the Origins of Battle Rap by PhD Candidate Alvin L. Smith (Royal Holloway, University of London)

Jelly Roll Morton

VIDEO: In this fascinating post U.S. Studies Online regular, Alvin L. Smith, tracks the history of battle rap to the 1920s verbal game The Dozens. Smith argues, echoing Elijah Wald, that The Dozens is “Rap’s Mama” and originated as a protective device against being victimized. The game, Smith notes, “teaches self-control”.


Fear and Motels in Las Vegas: Segregation and Celebrity on the Strip by PhD Candidate Rosemary Pearce (University of Nottingham)

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Rosemary Pearce, Civil Rights researcher, looks at the ways that three well-known black entertainers –Harry Belafonte, Lena Horne and Nat King Cole — challenged the segregation policies of big hotel casinos in 1950s Las Vegas, and asks how did celebrity impact segregation in the “Mississippi of the West”?



From Harlem to Texas: African American Art and the Murals of Aaron Douglas by Professor of Art Marianne Berger Woods (University of Texas of the Permian Basin)

Aaron Douglas, Aspiration, 1936.  Oil on canvas, Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco

Marianne Berger Woods, Professor of Art, tracks the legacy of 1930s black texan muralist Aaron Douglas. Woods argues Douglas paved the way for a greater appreciation of the black arts in the 1930s and is regarded by many as the “father” of the Harlem Renaissance, and yet he is still relatively unknown to fellow black Texans. In this post she looks at why Aaron Douglas has not been recognised by Texan public institutions and the ongoing impact this has on his legacy eighty years later.

“An Eagle On His Button”: How Martial Portraiture Affirmed African American Citizenship in the Civil War by MRes Candidate James Brookes (University of Nottingham)


In a skilled examination of the martial portraiture of the nineteenth century, Civil War researcher James Brookes untangles the visual legacy of martial portraiture in African American civil rights. Brookes explores how military war service was vital for establishing the citizenship of African Americans, and in particular how the professional garb of the soldier revealed new attitudes to America’s black population. Brookes asserts that Civil War martial portraits of African American soldiers presented “African American masculinity as a controllable force” for perhaps the first time in U.S. history.

Best Of the Web: Black History Month Must-Reads A round-up of articles from the U.S. Studies Online editorial team

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“What If Black America Were a Country?” As it reaches the end of the UK’s Black History Month the U.S. Studies Online editorial team weighed in on the best of Black History Month on the web.




“There wouldn’t be an America if it wasn’t for black people”: Programme Review of the University of Nottingham’s Black History Month Events by MRes Candidate Hannah Jeffery (University of Nottingham)


VIDEO: At the University of Nottingham, the month of October has been punctuated by a series of events, lectures and screenings relating to Black History Month. Postgraduate Hannah Jeffery has reviewed the programme of events in the first ever Programme Review for U.S. Studies Online. Join Jeffery as she evaluates Nottingham’s sold-out event series that included talks from Dr. Stephen Tuck, Professor Peter Ling, award-winning author Margaret Wrinkle and Pulitzer-prize winning scholar Professor Annette Gordon-Reed.

The last post in the series, Jeffery’s programme review turns our attention back to Black History Month as a practice and responsibility of research institutions and professional organisations. Jeffery’s post is a fitting tribute to the work of universities, departments and individual academics involved in public engagement programmes that we hope to draw more attention to at U.S. Studies Online.

Thank you to all the researchers who contributed to this diverse and exciting series. We are very pleased with the quality and quantity of posts we generated and we hope our readers have enjoyed it as much as we have.

This special series was put together by the U.S. Studies Online editorial team and all entries were either submitted by our readership, greatly aided by the BAAS mailing list, or sought out by co-editors Michelle Green and Dr. Ben Offiler.

If you want to propose a special blog series or discuss a programme review contact the editors at USSO@BAAS.ac.uk

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U.S. Studies Online has entered into the National UK Blog Awards. The Public Vote opens on 10th November. Check back on this date if you would like to cast your vote. Thank you!