Review: HOTCUS Work-in-Progress Meeting 2019, University of Oxford, 17 October 2019.
At the second annual work-in-progress session, two developing articles were discussed: Liam O’Brien’s (University of Cork) paper, ‘Winning Back the Peace: The George H.W. Bush Administration and the Creation of Operation Southern Watch, 1992’ and Dr. Meghan Hunt’s (University of Edinburgh) piece, ‘”He was shot because America would not give up on racism”: Martin Luther King Jr. and the African American civil rights movement in British schools.’ Like last year’s event, papers were circulated before the session so attendees had time to read and develop comments for each paper. The goal of this session was to foster a supportive environment and to provide feedback which would aid the authors in the publication of their articles: this goal was met. There was an element of ‘article by committee’ which is often helpful to postgraduates and early career researchers who perhaps do not have substantial experience of publishing their work. The work-in-progress seminar allows for a degree of democratization of academic publishing: feedback from senior academics and postgraduate students was welcomed equally.
One of the many advantages of this format is the opportunity to learn the inspiration behind each piece. O’Brien stated the literature on no-fly zones is underdeveloped and it often takes a political science perspective; he wanted to take an historian’s approach. Attendees agreed that this field requires historical research and that O’Brien should stake his claim. Moreover, HOTCUS committee members agreed that literature on the George H.W. Bush administration presents Bush as cautious and ‘long-thinking,’ and O’Brien’s piece refutes this claim, an important contribution to a current and developing field. Hunt explained the inspiration behind her article: she had seen the detachment of American race history from British race history in her own classrooms. Hunt described asking her students if the American civil rights movement has importance in the United Kingdom: most students said it did not. Hunt’s inspiration comes from a desire to improve British education to foster conversation around Britain’s black history and contemporary race issues. Moreover, it was fascinating to learn about the minutia of historical research: O’Brien described the discovery of crucial materials at the Kew British archives and Hunt discussed issues in writing a collaborative article, an important point which inspired a discussion on the lack of collaborative humanities research or celebration of when it is embarked upon. The committee discussed how collaborative work is celebrated much more in the sciences and moreover, humanities researchers are rarely encouraged to partake in collaborative projects.
Another common theme of the two papers was the issue of connecting historical scholarship to the present. O’Brien’s piece is timely given President Trump’s recent actions in Syria and Hunt’s piece exposed the continuing issues in the UK in confronting the legacies of Empire and racism. O’Brien stated his desire to avoid the issue of ‘lessons learned’ that often comes out of current historical scholarship. Historians often face the issue of emphasizing current issues in order to highlight the importance of their work, and O’Brien expressed concern that this would detract from the focus on international relations in 1992. Hunt’s piece, however, is difficult to sever from current issues; the committee expressed the importance of continuing to discuss race in modern day Britain. Furthermore, Hunt was asked to include in her article, actions for academics to take which would help close this education gap. For instance, professors could urge their students to make connections between the well-known Montgomery Bus Boycott and the more obscure Bristol Bus Boycott.
Additionally, unlike a traditional conference-style approach, this format allows ample time for questions and suggestions from attendees. Most HOTCUS committee members have experience publishing their work and were able to share this expertise. Both scholars were urged to publish their articles soon in order to cement themselves in the field. Possible publications for O’Brien’s article included The International History Review and Diplomatic History while Hunt was urged to submit to The Conversation and The Guardian Education blogs in order to reach a wider audience beyond academia, especially for Black History Month, to keep the material current.
The value of the work-in-progress session was summarized by O’Brien who said, ‘I found the session to be a really positive experience. It was great to hear different perspectives on my article, and the session has renewed my enthusiasm to get it finished and hopefully published.’ It can be intimidating to share work that is in its developmental stages but O’Brien’s comments illustrate the importance in such sessions to help researchers in their mission to publish. Emma Day, who chaired the session, expressed the value of such a session: ‘these conversations were particularly useful for addressing questions that we as historians all grapple with, including how a journal article differs from a book or thesis chapter; which perspectives do our sources give voice to; how our research can make the biggest contribution to a particular field; and potential publication routes for our scholarship.’ Senior academics, early career researchers, and postgraduate students saw the need for these sessions and the success of the past two sessions bodes well for future discussions of works in progress.