60 Seconds With Ben Offiler

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. 

Our first interviews will be with the U.S. Studies Online Editorial team so you can get to know a little more about us.

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Where are you right now?

I’m currently on the train home after a day of teaching in Sheffield.

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

Good question, Editors! Perhaps back to Obama’s inauguration in 2009, which seemed like an exciting time coming after the Bush years, and when words like “drones” and “NSA data mining” were just a twinkle in the President’s eye. Alternatively, I think being witness to the March on Washington in 1963 would be pretty special. Or the late 1980s South California punk rock scene just after Bad Religion released Suffer.

Who would you invite to your fantasy dinner party?

Robert Komer, Julius C. Holmes and Mohammad Reza Pahlavi (the last Shah of Iran) because they were such prominent figures in my thesis and given their political views it would be interesting to get them in the same room. I don’t know how much fun they’d be though so I’d also ask the comedian Tig Notaro and late-80s pop sensation Taylor Dane (Youtube them). Also, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Terry Pratchett and Margaret Atwood. And Jason Bateman, Judy Greer, Jessica Walter and Will Arnett, but mainly to recreate scenes from Arrested Development for the rest of us.

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

As a fantasy geek I’d probably say Lord of the Rings, as it is one of those books (don’t worry, I know it’s actually a trilogy) I can re-read every few years and still enjoy. Plus, it’s pretty long so should keep me occupied for a while.

What has been your most memorable career moment so far?

I’ve been very fortunate to have lots of positive experiences so far in academia, but two stand out. The first is when I found out I had AHRC funding for my PhD and that it wasn’t some crazy pipedream. The second is when I passed my viva, as it was a really enjoyable experience and validation for all those late nights and weekends spent working on the thesis over the last few years.

What advice would you give to early career academics?

I was speaking to a friend today who commented that both during and after the PhD it’s very easy to focus on the negative aspects of academia, all the parts that you find difficult or that others seem so much better at, while forgetting about the things at which you excel. So, I guess my advice would be to accentuate the positive.

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

Well, June is going to be a big month for me as I’m getting married and then heading to the U.S. on honeymoon. Yes, I will be spending some time in Washington, DC. No, I won’t be going to the archives.

How did you come to your current area of research?

I had already decided to do my PhD on US-Iranian relations during the Cold War at the beginning of 2009 but it was when I started closely following the disputed Iranian presidential election that summer that I really got passionate about Iranian politics and history. Seeing ordinary Iranians coalesce around the opposition Green Movement in the face of state-sanctioned brutality and repression was equal parts heart-breaking and inspiring. My next project will explore the influence of the philanthropic Near East Foundation on US relations with the Middle East and ideas of development and modernization, with Iran featuring prominently. Inderjeet Parmar’s Foundations of the American Century was a major reason behind the project, which looks at both American and local voices in transnational dialogues about the politicisation of aid, education and vaccination programmes.

What profession other than academia would you like to attempt?

I’d quite like to give academia a proper go first. But outside of academia I would like to try working for some kind of human rights advocacy group. I’ve heard that’s where the real money is.

What book is currently on your bedside table?

I’ve just started reading Strange Times, My Dear, a collection of Iranian short stories and poetry edited by Nahid Mozaffari and Ahmad Karimi Hakkak.

Be honest; how long has it been there?

Well, it was a Christmas present from my brother but I’ve only just got round to it because I’m a pretty slow reader.

What’s in your fridge right now?

I’m going to have to do this from memory. Not a huge amount of fresh stuff though because we’ve not done the shopping. Milk (semi-skimmed, Cravendale – that’s right, seven-days fresh), Bertolli, ketchup, lazy garlic, natural yoghurt (I’ll need to check that when I get in…), Branston pickle, olives, oyster sauce, harissa, mustard, and probably some questionable veg.

About Ben Offiler

Ben completed his PhD at the University of Nottingham and is currently Lecturer in History at Sheffield Hallam University. His current research examines the role of philanthropic NGOs in US foreign relations, focusing on the Near East Foundation's education and disease control programmes in Iran during the Cold War. His first book - US Foreign Policy and the Modernization of Iran: Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and the Shah - was published in 2015 by Palgrave Macmillan.
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