60 Seconds With Bridget Bennett

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 U. S. Studies Online Editorial team. This month we have invited the Executive Committee of the British Association for American Studies, our parent organisation, to tell us a little bit more about themselves, their interests, the way they made it into academia and, crucially, their top advice for new academics.

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Where are you right now?

In my office, in a Victorian building in the University of Leeds, distracting myself from exam marking.

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

A trip to one moment wouldn’t suffice I’m afraid: it’s too difficult to narrow this down.

Who would you invite to your fantasy dinner party?

I don’t generally fantasise about dinner parties but, boringly enough, it would be the people I eat dinner with as often as I can – my family – in a fabulous location, however and with someone else footing the bill.  If Oscar Wilde wanted to come along for a bit that would be OK too.

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

Easy: Moby Dick.

What has been your most memorable career moment so far?

There are two.  At the very start of my DPhil viva the examiners told me that I had passed.  They had to tell me three times before I believed them, so it has firmly stuck in my mind.  The second took place some months later, when having decisively realised that I really did not want to be an academic I wandered into to British Library one evening after work to read a book.  I suddenly realised it was too late: I had accidentally become one.

What advice would you give to early career academics?

Read everything; go to all you can regardless of whether or not it will further your pet project; ask questions and listen to the questions others ask and wonder what motivated them; listen to the answers.

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

Working on my book.  Finding time to do intensive research is difficult.  Doing it is very precious.

How did you come to your current area of research?

A combination of chance, enthusiasm and serious intellectual engagement.

What profession other than academia would you like to attempt?

As a child I wanted to be a long distance lorry driver.  As a young adult I wanted to be a human rights lawyer.  I was a pretty good waitress for years while studying: surprisingly useful experience for later life.  I can imagine many possible lives beyond the one I currently lead.

What book is currently on your bedside table?

Book?  Singular?  Seriously?

Be honest; how long has it been there?

The one at the bottom of the pile has been there for some time.  At the top of the pile is a Kindle with Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries on it, which I am reading very, very, slowly.  Next to that is a hardback of Andrea Wulf’s The Founding Gardeners which I am just finishing.  There’s also a volume of Alistair Campbell’s memoirs which has been there a while but does get read in chunks.

What’s in your fridge right now?

Probably too much.  I have just been on a big shopping trip to the great Yasir Halim in Haringey, North London, so the fridge is heaving with all kinds of Turkish and Greek delights.  They won’t last.  Especially with Oscar Wilde coming around for dinner.

About Bridget Bennett

Bridget Bennett is a Professor of American Literature and Culture at the University of Leeds and a member of the BAAS executive committee. Her most recent major work is a monograph titled Transatlantic Spiritualism and Nineteenth-Century American Literature (2007) and she is currently working on a monograph titled Danger at Home. Professor Bennett's varied research interests are reflected in her main publications: Ripples of Dissent (1996); The Damnation of Harold Frederic (1997); Grub Street to the Ivory Tower (1998); Special Relationships: Anglo-American Affinities and Antagonisms, 1854-1936, (2002) and Twelve Months in an English Prison (2003, two volumes). In the past she has been awarded a Leverhulme Trust Fellowship and several AHRC awards, including the AHRC's Connected Communities Programme for a project titled "Imagining the Place of Home".
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