The Best of 2014, and What’s Next for U.S. Studies Online in 2015

stylish-happy-new-year-2015-fb-cover-and-bannerAs we enter a new year, here at U.S. Studies Online we thought it would be the perfect opportunity to reflect on what a fantastic 2014 we had and look ahead to some of the exciting projects we have in the pipeline for 2015. In keeping with the tradition of festive toasts given by inebriated relatives after the Turkey has been sliced but before anyone has had chance to tuck in, this post will be just a little rambling, contain a few mixed metaphors, and be more sentimental than the adopted child of Love, Actually and the end of A Christmas Carol (Christmas, Actually. Quick! Does anyone know Richard Curtis’s phone number?).

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Since our relaunch at the BAAS Annual Conference in Birmingham back in April we have been working hard to bring together a wide range of research, professional development posts, special featured series, interviews, and book and event reviews.

100PostsGraphicWe are extremely proud of the consistently high quality content that our wonderful contributors have produced and are delighted to celebrate the end of our first calendar year as editors of U.S. Studies Online with this, our 100th post!

The fact that we have been able to publish 100 posts in such a short space of time is testament to the vibrancy and collegiality of the American Studies community, both in the UK and abroad.

It is thanks to the wonderful support we have received from this community that U.S. Studies Online has been shortlisted as finalists in the 2015 Blog Awards in the Arts and Culture and Education categories.

2014 in review

Our first mini special featured blog series on U.S. Foreign Policy and Soft Power was followed in October by a hugely successful series marking Black History Month, which featured posts on topics as diverse as celebrity and segregation in Las Vegas to the origins of battle rap. In November we turned toward issues of professional development, posting a two-part series on Module Design. December saw the beginning of our longest individual series to date, American Studies in Europe, a special collection of interviews with postgraduates, early career researchers and scholars from across the continent. We even ventured into the glamorous world of vlogging for the first time to showcase the series.

Beyond these special blog series we have featured a diverse selection of research posts, covering areas such as the art of homage in television ‘remakes’, Richard Ford’s Bascombe trilogy, American history in board games, and the representation of Big Pharma in the film Dallas Buyers Club, to name but a few. Two of our most popular posts were Sue Currell’s insightful, and invaluable, pieces on the Do’s and Don’ts of Academic Job Applications and Interviews. Elsewhere, we have been getting to know the wonderful American Studies community, spending 60 Seconds With the U.S. Studies Online editors, the BAAS Executive Committee, and our fantastic contributors.

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What’s next?

In 2015, we are looking to expand on the great success we have had so far. We are working in collaboration with the Society for the History of Women in the Americas (SHAW), the Society for the Study of American Women Writers (SSAWW), and Historians of the Twentieth Century United States (HOTCUS) to produce three separate special featured blog series. We will also be marking significant dates throughout the year with specially commissioned posts on topics such as the 70th anniversary of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s death and the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War. In June we will be publishing a series for African-American Music Appreciation Month and in November a series to coincide with Native American Heritage Month. Of course, we will also be publishing all the professional development advice, research posts, and book and event reviews that are fit to print.

We will also be continuing our latest monthly twitter venture, #Bookhour, a real-time, online book group between scholars and the public, with an hour-long discussion of Redeployment by Phil Klay (National Book Award Winner 2014). You can see the current #Bookhour schedule and vote for future inclusions here.

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I can just hear the music starting to play us off stage now, so we’ll end our 100th post with a quick thank you to everybody who has made U.S. Studies Online such a success over the last eight months. In particular, Sue Currell has been phenomenally supportive, as has everybody at BAAS. Dr Philip McGowan of IAAS, Chris Gilson of the LSE USApp, Dr Cara Rodway of the Eccles Centre, Dr Nick Witham of the Journal of American Studies, Professor Ian Bell of HOTCUS, Dr J. Michelle Coghlan of BrANCA, and Dr Rachel Ritchie of SHAW were all kind enough to write incredibly generous statements of support for U.S. Studies Online’s 2015 UK Blog Awards campaign (loosely termed).

As mentioned already, but it bears repeating, all of our contributors have been fantastic to work with and we look forward to working with many more postgraduates, early-career researchers, and academics in the American Studies community in the coming year. Ben and Michelle would also like to say a huge thank you to our assistant editors Emma and Jade who have done amazing work this year and have been a pleasure to work with. A special thank you goes to Collin Lieberg, who stepped down as assistant editor in late 2014, for all his hard work in the early stages of getting U.S. Studies Online: Forum for New Writing on its feet.

So, before we get escorted off the stage by an embarrassed-looking Ellen DeGeneres, we would like to wish everyone a happy New Year and all the best for 2015! And if you have any suggestions or would like to contribute to U.S. Studies Online then please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Happy new year!

Michelle and Ben (co-editors)

Jade and Emma (assistant editors)


Editor’s Picks of 2014

To see 2014 off in style the editors have weighed in on their favourite posts throughout the year. They have each chosen their favourite research post and review post. 

Ben’s favourite postsusso-ben-148x150

Research post: The Cold War and the Origins of US Democracy Promotion by Robert Pee

Our first research post following U.S. Studies Online‘s relaunch as a blog in April was this piece by Robert Pee looking at the role of democracy promotion in American foreign relations during the Cold War. The post itself was based roughly on the paper that Robert presented at the BAAS Annual Conference at the University of Birmingham. Aside from also being the first of a mini-series looking at Soft Power in U.S. foreign policy, it explored issues of national security, global strategy, power, diplomacy and democracy promotion that intersect with much of my own research. Published at a time when the United States is still grappling with how to promote its version of democracy in countries like Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, it reveals the historic antecedents of Washington’s twenty-first century adventures in the Middle East and the foreshadowing of George W. Bush’s rhetoric of democracy promotion.

Review: Conference review: American Imperialism and National Identity by Iain Williams

This was a conference that I really wanted to attend but wasn’t able to (I had a good excuse as I was getting married that day). Iain’s entertaining review neatly captured the range of papers on display, perfectly demonstrating the vitality and diversity of research looking at the intersecting issues of imperialism and identity in American culture, history and foreign policy. As Iain’s review concluded, “the study of U.S. imperialism and hegemony will continue to produce exciting and thought-provoking research.”

Michelle’s favourite posts1045153_10152992181010125_1337691805_n

Research post: Historians at Play: American History in Modern Board Games by Alex Bryne

For my favourite research post I have scrolled through our archives to find Alex Bryne’s encyclopaedic review of “American History in Modern Board Games”. We had only been active one month when Alex responded to our call for a post on historical representation in board games on our under the spotlight webpage, and he did not disappoint. In this post he displays an expert knowledge of historical board games that is both informative and analytical, and has created an accessible and thought-provoking post for novices and players alike, as well as scholars and the public. Whatever period you work in, there is something for you in this review. Alex touches upon games that explore early America and imperialism, to Slavery and the Underground Railroad, and the tensions of the Cold War.

This post stuck with me because it explored an obscure area of American culture and American leisure. What also made it exceptional was the motivation: this was a scholar writing on their outside interests, with the passion of a hobbyist (Alex works on the Monroe Doctrine, and has accumulated his knowledge of board games first and foremost as a player and collector). Following Alex’s post we wanted to encourage more posts on marginal, devalued or unknown cultural products and forms, which resulted in Hannah Murray’s Early America on the Small Screen post, and our recent list of must-hear podcasts for students and scholars of American Studies. All of which I hope to see more of in 2015.

Review: “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 Hannah Jeffery

My favourite review has to be Hannah Jeffery’s post on Nottingham’s Black History Month lecture series, published at the end of our Black History special blog series. Hannah’s review is one of our most original posts so far, branching out from books reviews and conference reviews to an entire programme of events. The idea originated from my discussions with Professor Zoe Trodd, Dr. Bevan Sewell, Katie Hamilton and Timo Schrader (the Events and Publicity team for the department of American and Canadian Studies at the University of Nottingham 2014-2015) and I was very pleased when Hannah came forward to take on the challenge. Throughout a period of four weeks she attended the sold-out talks held across the city of Nottingham –from the University grounds to the New Art Exchange, Waterstones and the Afro-Caribbean National Artistic Centre- and condensed the content with exceptional clarity. Hannah’s review – insightful, clear, bold – epitomises much of what I personally hope to see more of on U.S. Studies Online in the future.

Emma’s favourite postsemma

Research Post: Father of the Year: Bill Clinton’s Paternal Redemption by Katie Barnett

Katie’s research article was one of the first that I had passed along to me to read and ‘edit’ which involved very little input and effort on my part! Exploring Clinton’s enduring, and often contradictory, public persona and construction as father, Katie considers ‘how Clinton’s public persona has persistently been constructed around fatherhood, before, during, and after his presidency.’ This incredibly insightful and succinct research post situates Clinton’s position as ‘national father’ within wider contexts, such as the 1990s ‘crisis of masculinity’ within the U.S., offering an engaging examination of Clinton’s utilisation of ‘fatherhood’ as a tool for not only his 1992 election campaign and subsequent re-election, but also as an attempt to ‘rehabilitate’ his public image after the Lewinsky scandal. The article stands-out to me because of Katie’s informative and innovative approach as well as its accessibility, in terms of written style, enabling those interested in American Studies more generally to engage with this research.

Review: “Be broad, be bold and be aware”: Review of the 2014 HOTCUS Postgraduate and Early Career Researcher Workshop by Tom Bishop

Tom’s synopsis of the 2014 HOTCUS Postgraduate and Early Career Workshop is an incredibly useful resource, not only for American historians but for postgraduates seeking advice in areas of professional development. Tom provides succinct summaries of the workshop panels and includes invaluable advice offered by senior academics, such as tips for job interviews, applying for jobs in America and publishing in American history, for those unable to attend such an insightful training symposium.

Jade’s favourite postsjadehead-180x150

Research Post: Re-imagining the Blues: A Transatlantic Approach to African-American Culture by Christian O’Connell

Enticed by the similarities between the wording of Christian’s title and that of my own thesis, I couldn’t help but give in to my subjectivities and choose ‘Re-imagining the Blues: A Transatlantic Approach to African-American Culture’ as one of my top picks. Christian’s introduction to – and description of – his research is focused, succinct, and inviting. He opens with a Budweiser advert featuring Howlin’ Wolf’s ‘Smokestack Lightnin’ – how can anyone refuse to read on? Christian’s piece gives an account of the Blues from a transatlantic standpoint, offering a refreshing trans-historical and cultural perspective as a result. Significantly, Christian sets out to de-mythologise the Blues as a romanticism of the ‘bluesmen’, erasing national borders and exploring its resonance beyond the American South. Trust me, it’s a great read. Am I being biased? Absolutely. But it’s the start to the New Year so I’m allowing myself the privilege.

Review: Protestantism and the Superpowers: Mission, Spirituality, and Prayer in the USA and USSR workshop review by Mark Hurst

Mark’s conference review introduced me to a new outlook on the complicated relationship between the USA and USSR. Mark succinctly explains how the workshop took the Cold War beyond the well-versed political, towards the unchartered theological, provoking a deeper, alternative understanding of the era. At the crux of this was the question of the centrality of religion to the Cold War. As Mark States, intrinsic to it is the careful use of terminology and definitions, with theological distinctions crucial to making informed analysis. Before reading his review, I’m ashamed to say that I knew nothing in-depth about the workshop, topic or speakers, Mark soon changed all of that. He sparked an interest beyond the propaganda into what just did go on between the USA and the USSR.


 Top Ten Most Viewed Posts of 2014

1) The War Memorial in Visual Culture – Triumphalism and Repression in The West Wing and The X-Files by Greg Frame 

2) Patricia Highsmith’s ‘Authentic’ American and the Performative Subject in ‘The Talented Mr Ripley’ (1955) by Antonia Mackay

3) Academic Job Applications “Do’s” and “Don’ts” by Sue Currell 

4) Academics speak out: How institutions and academic associations can ease the “oversupply” and low morale of PGRs and ECRs by the group Hortensii 

5) Why High School Teachers should teach History through and beyond Narrative by Alvin L. Smith

6) Historians at Play: American History in Modern Board Games by Alex Bryne

7) “An Eagle On His Button”: How Martial Portraiture Affirmed African American Citizenship in the Civil War by James Brookes

8) “A Northern city with Southern characteristics”: Ferguson and the History of Race Relations in the St. Louis Region by Bryan Jack

9) Academic Job Interview “Do’s and Don’ts” by Sue Currell

10) Review of Protestantism and the Superpowers: Mission, Spirituality, and Prayer in the USA and USSR by Mark Hurst

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For queries and submissions, contact the editors at usso@baas.ac.uk
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