The hard work of the Executive Committee has resulted in huge gains for American Studies as a discipline this year, says Sue Currell in the Chair’s Annual Report, presented at the 2015 BAAS conference. These gains reflect the original goals of the first committee 60 years ago but they also create a new legacy for the future.
Welcome to the 60th Anniversary AGM for the British Association for American Studies. I’d like to begin by thanking Northumbria University for hosting us and in particular Joe Street for all of the work he’s put in to getting us here. And thank you BAAS members for attending this meeting and taking part in forming the future direction of the Association.
This year, I could say ‘once again’, the BAAS executive committee has lived up to the founding goals of the Association 60 years ago to support the study of the US
in the UK, to publish research papers, to communicate our research knowledge and to hold conferences. To me it’s quite remarkable that we – and former BAAS committees – have continued to do this in such a consistent way over such a long period and in such a shifting educational and economic landscape. As Chair it’s been important for me to return to those founding goals to think about what we do and where we are going, not so that we keep things the same but so that we harness that original ambition as a way to implement changes and enable a future generation of scholars to continue working in this fascinating field. The hard work of the executive committee has resulted in huge gains for American studies as discipline this year, gains that reflect the original goals of the first committee 60 years ago but which create a new legacy for the future.
I want to draw attention to a few of these gains here. Last June, on your behalf, I signed a new partnership agreement with Cambridge University Press establishing and confirming our joint ownership of the Journal of American Studies. As the original contract had been signed in 1966 it clearly needed updating — no one back then could have foreseen the changes in the publishing industry, technology or academia. This new agreement puts into writing much of what we were already doing as set out in the founding mission (when it was then known as the ‘Bulletin’). The new contract establishes procedures and responsibilities on both sides and enables us to look forward to a stable and productive future in which mutual support is guaranteed. To push this through effectively as volunteer trustees of BAAS, the officers in particular have had to take crash courses in publishing law, charities law, business law and to investigate BAAS’s history as well as plan for the future, including second guessing the shape of academic publishing. I can proudly say that we’ve done our very best for you.
Much of this work will remain invisible but what will be clear to see for a long time into the future is that we now have a great new working relationship with Cambridge University Press as well as the editors of the Journal of American Studies. The overhaul of our contracts and processes took place just as Scott Lucas’s term as editor ended and as we advertised for and appointed the new editors. I would like to thank Scott for all of his great work on JAS and welcome the new joint editors – Celeste-Marie Bernier and Bevan Sewell — and the new associate editors — Sinead Moynihan and Nick Witham – and to say how much we look forward to our productive new partnership with you all.
There are other very important benefits of the new relationship that will impact on our future activities: when the original agreement was signed there was no provision made for any royalty payment to BAAS. Way back then I think that our founders saw publishing papers as a costly venture and not a profit-making one, they were glad to have the costs met by a high quality academic publisher. The publishing environment did change and of course the new agreement had to take this into account and include an annual profit-share royalty agreement.
This has meant that we have been able to make other changes to our activities and procedures. We needed a new logo that would print well on the journal cover, we needed to create new editors contracts and refocus some of our committee priorities – all of which are reflected in changes that we’ve made to the standing orders and leading to some of the constitution amendments. We are continuing with the process of investigating all of our contracts and charitable activities and this has led to some involving legal conversations with a variety of experts. On your behalf I joined BAAS as a member of the Foundation for Science and Technology, a society that offers support and legal advice to academic associations like ours so that we get the correct legal information into the future. As the Treasurer’s report will explain, the new agreement has also been a catalyst for changing our financial structures and operations.
Making sure that we get it right has sometimes taken a lot of time and necessitated developing new areas of expertise but the benefits are huge and will be long-lasting. We have been able to extend the support we give to the other aspects of the BAAS founders mission. Not that they would have known what a website was, but we have been able to fund the website overhaul that you will hear about later, to create a new website assistant post, we have been able to support more conferences and symposia and we have created a new Journal of American Studies postgraduate travel award. It’s also meant we have kept subscription fees low and yet also offer access to the Journal of American Studies online which will be accessible via the new members space on the website as part of the membership fee. Having some additional income also opens up the real possibility of increasing the number of symposia, research and travel grants and fellowships and support for scholars in the future.
Much of this I didn’t know I would be doing when I started my term 2 years ago. My mission statement did focus on the need to extend our communications and in that area I feel we have made clear progress. Much of this is down to the great work by our webmaster Katie McGettigan, who revamped our communications and email newsletter – which now goes out every Sunday evening. I think we should applaud Katie for that alone. But Katie has also been working diligently behind the scenes on the website overhaul. I also want to highlight how extremely pleased I am with the relaunch of the BAAS postgraduate journal U.S. Studies Online – the editors Ben and Michelle have changed the landscape of our community to create a site that offers a more informal forum for new scholarship in the field as well as gathering up all the news of interest to members, as well as giving invaluable early careers support and information. I’m incredibly optimistic about the future of BAAS when I look at their activities. I also want to thank Kal Ashraf for going paperless with American Studies in Britain (ASIB) last year which saved us print costs when we most desperately needed to. A particular thanks for his last ASIB in December 2014 (Issue 110) with the wonderful 60th Anniversary cover.
Other activities that we’ve continued to support include the BAAS Postgraduate conference which was a huge success in Sussex last November with the apt theme of Protest: Resistance and Dissent in America. Thanks to Cara
Rodway’s organization BAAS also ran a Schools Politics conference in Reading in early March with over 80 students and teachers in attendance. We wouldn’t have been able to do any of this work without your membership fee and all of the many hours the executive committee have volunteered for.
The AGM is a chance for us to celebrate and sing ourselves as well:
- Our former Chair, Prof. Martin Halliwell was elected as the Chair of the English Association.
- Simon Newman at Glasgow University was awarded a Leverhulme Trust Research Project Grant of £300,000 for a study of ‘Runaway Slaves in Britain: Bondage, Freedom and Race in the Eighteenth Century.’
- Katie McGettigan was awarded a Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellowship at Nottingham for work titled ‘Transatlantic Nationalism: The Invention of American Literature in Britain, 1820-1860.’
- Michael Cullinane at Northumbria University has been awarded an AHRC Early Career Fellowship for the project ‘Memorial Communities and Presidential Legacy: Remembering Theodore Roosevelt.’
- Zoe Colley at Dundee University was awarded an AHRC Early Career Fellowship for the project ‘Universities of the Revolution: Black Nationalism and the Prison from the Nation of Islam to the Black Panther Party.’
- Nick Witham was awarded a Fulbright American Studies Scholarship for a visit to NYU this summer and an AHRC International Placement Scheme Fellowship to go to the Library of Congress, both furthering research on ‘Popular American History Writing during the Cold War.’
- The University of Liverpool appointed Professor Janet Beer as its next Vice-Chancellor. Professor Beer, formerly VC at Oxford Brookes University, is the university’s first female Vice-Chancellor and one of only three in the elite Russell Group.
- Professor Clive Webb was promoted to Head the School of History, Art History and Philosophy at the University of Sussex.
- Sue Wedlake has taken early retirement after 22 yrs at the Embassy
- Carole Holden (British Library) has also taken early retirement.
- December 2014, former ASIB editor Kal Ashraf (Sheffield) passed his PhD, entitled “Beyond Authentication: African American Speech Representation (AASR) in Brown, Chesnutt and Hurston.”
- Dr. Martin Padget, Aberystwyth University was awarded a fellowship in the Tanner Center for the Humanities at the University of Utah for 2015-16.
- A new American studies group formed to add to the array of our specialist focus groups: Scholars of American Visual Arts and Text (SAVAnT).
- Clodagh Harrington of De Montfort University became the new American Politics Group Chair.
- Jo Gill was awarded a Leverhulme Fellowship for research on Modern American Poetry and the Architectural Imagination. £42,000 over c. 16 months, starting 1st Sept 2015.
- Apologies for anyone I’ve missed out – I’m sure there will be more so send me the details to add to this if you like.
On the 10th October 2014 the closure of the American Studies Resource Centre was announced. ASRC was founded in 1987 to provide an educational and information service to students, teachers and the general public in the UK on all aspects of American culture, a mission that quickly expanded to include the HE sector as well. The ASRC has provided an excellent service to the American studies community over the years, running schools conferences, providing speakers for events and coordinating and collating information. Many thanks go to Ian Ralston and Bella Adams as the most recent directors of the centre. The BAAS executive will be discussing ways to continue with aspects of the ASRC’s mission.
- IAAS Treasurer and Membership Secretary and former Treasurer to the EAAS Tony Emmerson died on on 9th December 2014 after a short illness.
- Rupert Wilkinson, Professor Emeritus of American History (Sussex University) died just before Christmas 2014.
John Whitley, Emeritus Reader in American Studies, has written a personal appreciation of Professor Rupert Wilkinson (1936-2014).
On the 25th of May 2014, then education minister Michael Gove announced the removal of American texts from the GCSE curriculum. The new list of requirements pertaining to literature ‘from the British Isles’ is more restrictive. The exam boards – and indeed individual schools – are free to add any extra books they see fit, but the new rules left them very little room for any twentieth-century writing from outside of Britain. After discussion with my literature colleagues I added a list of nineteenth-century American texts to the website (under ‘Schools’) for further consultation. Additions to this list would be welcome. But there is far more to be done and BAAS continues to expand its work with schools to try and support a greater knowledge and understanding of American culture, literature, film, politics and history among the next generation of students. Our goal is also to increase interest that will lead to more students seeing the value of an American studies degree and wanting to study the subject further.
On behalf of BAAS this year I have attended meetings of the Learned Societies and Subject Associations Network at the British Academy; UKCASA; the Arts and Humanities Alliance at the Royal Historical Society in University College London. At these meetings I have taken part in discussions about the REF 2014, REF 2020, Open Access, UG and PG issues in HE. I have tried to keep on top of all the policy changes and transitions and to have our voice included in the discussions. Certain changes in HE have made it increasingly hard to get a clear picture of the effect of HE policy on the American Studies community nationally. Not only are privatized departments increasingly in competition with each other, but even within the humanities in a single institution literature and history have often become separate and competing budgetary units. Rather than summarize this now I am planning this year to conduct a survey on the problems and effects of national policy and aim to use the website as a space to convey my thoughts on this further.
BAAS and this conference have also received generous support for its activities from the US Embassy in London throughout the year, so I also want to thank the embassy for the support they’ve given and for inviting me to so many of their cultural activities.
- On 3 July 2014 a small BAAS delegation attended the Independence Day celebrations at the Ambassador’s mansion, an excellent event.
- 17 Sept, 2014 I attended a welcome event to meet the new Cultural Affairs Officer Anneliese Reinmeyer and the new Minister Counselor for Public Affairs (the “Public Affairs Officer,” or PAO Eric Johnson).
- On 22 Sept, 2014. I attended a U.S. Embassy Screening of ‘The Roosevelts’ and a talk by Ken Burns in conversation with Stanley Tucci,
- 24 Sept, 2014, I attended a dinner in honor of Ken Burns, documentary film director and producer hosted by the Ambassador Matthew Barzun and Mrs Barzun. A very memorable and sparkling evening.
Thanks also must go to Professor Phil Davies at the Eccles centre for American studies in the British Library. BAAS supported the Eccles Centre’s Congress to Campus UK programme, the latest episode of which took place in November 2014, the conferences on 10th and 11th November in London attracted a total audience approaching 500: for invitations to their programme of events throughout the year and for funding an array of awards to American studies scholars, which will also be presented at the banquet also to Phil personally for funding an extra travel award this year in honour of Elizabeth Atkins and her late husband Elisha Atkins.
None of our activities would be possible without the dedicated work and support of the BAAS executive committee who I’d like to publicly thank for the extra work they have each taken on this year.
- A special thanks to Theresa Saxon for being willing to step into the role of Treasurer at the 11th hour for a one-year stint to cover Sylvia’s unexpired term.
- Further thanks to Jo Gill and Cara Rodway, both coopted onto the exec for the year – Jo for taking on the secretarial duties until January while Jenny Terry was on research leave in the US and Cara for being our schools representative and working on the development sub-committee. I am hugely grateful for the indispensable work both of them have committed to us.
- I want to thank Zalfa Feghali for stepping in to chair the Development sub-committee at a time when I was hugely overburdened.
- and finally a massive thank you to Professor Bridget Bennett, the BAAS Vice-Chair and Chair of Publications sub-committee, whose term ends today. The work you’ve done for BAAS is incalculable and you have been a huge rock to me through unnavigated territory. I have enjoyed working with you and learning from you these past 2 years. On behalf of all the members I wish you a well-deserved break from exec committee work but also a million thanks from all those future BAAS members who will never realize how much they owe you.
I want to end by looking forward to Belfast next year, when my term will end and you will elect a new Chair, where we will have a reception in the Belfast City Hall, where the author Richard Ford will be our plenary, where we will banquet on the Titanic! I look forward to seeing you all there of course and at that point looking backwards with you to last year’s fantastic conference here in Newcastle.
Sue Currell is the current Chair of the British Association for American Studies and a Reader in American Literature at Sussex University. Her academic studies focus on the cultural history of early 20th century America and she has published on the history of eugenics in America, the culture of the Great Depression and America in the 1920s. She is currently working on a history of a radical arts magazine, New Masses, which was produced in New York between 1926-48. .