The Best of 2016, and What’s next in 2017

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2016 in review

2016 has been an eventful year for USSO, marked by much excitement and many firsts. Aside from the redesign of our newsletter and a few tweaks of our website, we’ve said our thanks and goodbyes to our previous editors, and have welcomed a new editorial team, who were introduced to the wider AM/CAN community — alongside new members of the BAAS Executive Committee — in a revival of our ‘60 Seconds With’ feature. 2016 also saw the appointment of our first European Relations Assistant Editor, Katharina Donn. Her work has been invaluable to the development of our international presence, which includes interviews with Lonneke Geerlings, Dr. David Bosold of the  John-F.-Kennedy-Institute Berlin, and Prof. Leif Johan Eliasson, the author of America’s Perceptions of Europe (2010). We are very much looking forward to publishing more work from outside British borders, and considering the wider impact and approaches to American Studies, as evidenced by our recent CFP, ‘Critique, Outreach, Practice – American Studies in 2016.’

Another first was the launch of the USSO Keynote competition. Echoing our aims to provide a platform for the work and professional development of Postgraduates and Early Career Researchers, we devised this competition to give the opportunity for a Postgraduate or ECR to take centre-stage – literally – at the BAAS Postgraduate Conference. We saw exceptional entries from across the UK and the US. The judging panel found it both an enjoyable but difficult task, signalling the high quality of the entries. We’d like to thank to all of those who submitted, it was fantastic to not only read them, but to also get an invaluable insight into the quality of the research that is happening at the moment in both the Postgraduate and ECR communities. Congratulations once again to Hannah Murray, who gave her winning keynote, ‘”Blackface like me: The borders of belonging and desires for blackness in America”’ at the University of Leeds.

2016 was also a celebration of interdisciplinary research, with posts including work examining, ‘Sports Metaphors in Twenty-First Century Presidential Primary Debates’ (Simon van Oort, University of Oxford), ‘Night: Another Frontier in Wilderness Studies’ (Sarah Cullen, Trinity College, Dublin), and, ‘Post-Postmodernism and the Contemporary Case for Richard Yates‘ (Michael Docherty, University of Kent). We also dedicated a part of 2016 to an Awards and Grants series, which saw a number of articles written by previous award winners. This includes articles written by recipients of the Eccles Centre European Postgraduate Award, BAAS Postgraduate Travel Award, and the Gerald Ford Presidential Foundation Award. The series was kindly introduced by Dr Nick Witham, who gave a valuable insight into the ‘Four Key Principles’ for applying for research funding.

Last year also saw the publishing of USSO’s first ever digital appendix in Darren Reid’s reassessment of Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing (1989). We hope to continue experimenting with digital capabilities throughout the New Year, publishing more about exciting recent projects such as Northumbria University’s MOOC, ‘The American South’, and the launch of the Quill Project, a Digital Humanities enterprise that aims to become one of the definitive sources for scholarly study of the origins of the text of the Constitution of the United States.

Speaking of 2017, we’re excited for the research and series that we have lined up. We have a selection of guest editors who are putting together their own special series related to their specialism. We are also planning to develop and build on relationships with organisers, including reintroducing our ‘Meet the Organiser/Curator‘ feature. We’re also collaborating with Adam Matthew Digital, who is sponsoring a special series focusing on their treasure trove of collections.

Before we let you continue your New Years celebrations, we would like to thank the Centro Interuniversitario di Storia e Politica Euro-Americana  (CISPEA) postgraduate group  for their hard work producing excellent weekly roundups of the Primaries for 2016’s Presidential Election. Finally, we would like to thank BAAS for their continued invaluable support and advice.

And, of course, we’d like to thank you – the readers and researchers who have contributed to USSO over the past year, and since its beginning. It’s a cliche, but we honestly wouldn’t be here without you. We look forward to hearing more about your research, experiences as researchers, and the projects you’re working on in 2017.

With thanks, and Happy New Year!

Jade Tullett and Todd Carter, Co-editors.


Editor’s Picks of 2016

To mark the New Year the editors have chosen their favourite research posts and reviews of 2016.

Todd’s Top Picks

Primaries as Sports and Spectacle: Sports Metaphors in Twenty-First Century Presidential Primary Debates by Simon van Oort

Simon was one of the first scholars whom I approached to contribute a post about their research. I’m delighted to include his work here in a compendium of my ‘top’ or favourite posts of the year.

His fascinating and lucidly-written article addresses a common (if underappreciated) facet of modern political discourse in America: the sports metaphor. It not only reveals a lot about the way in which political debate – in this case the presidential primaries from 2010 to 2016 – has come to be framed in the twenty-first century, but also makes a persuasive case that the use of the language of sports metaphors is only likely to increase as the political landscape in the United States become more and more polarised.

Conference Review: Quill Project Launch and Digital History Conference, Pembroke College, Oxford, by Grace Mallon

At great risk of being labelled ‘biased’ in my choices (both of which originate at the University of Oxford), without doubt the most intriguing review I read that was featured in US Studies Online this year was Grace’s blow-by-blow account of the Quill Project launch, at Pembroke College.

Led by Dr Nicholas Cole, the Quill Project is designed to fundamentally change the way in which scholars study and teach the history of the 1787 Constitutional Convention. It has the potential to transform digital access to the records of the Convention itself, and the fun doesn’t stop there: Quill was specifically designed to be a ‘generalized’ study tool – encouraging its use with any number of formally negotiated legal documents and texts of this nature. It’s going to be a truly groundbreaking apparatus for legal and constitutional historians.

A fascinating breakthrough! My thanks to Grace for sharing it with us!

Jade’s Top Picks

Black Films Matter: Reassessing Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing in Post-Ferguson America by Darren Reid

Declaring Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing (1989) as, ‘nothing less than a street ballet’, Darren Reid takes an interesting and insightful approach to examining the position of the film within today’s America. Particularly provoking is Reid’s observation that Lee’s camera in the film simultaneously acts as ‘a mirror and a window.’ Whereby, the audience sees – perhaps for the first time – their own prejudices, whilst also framing the ‘world’ Lee films as something detached, yet recognisable. Additionally, Reid uncovers the core issue at the centre of the film – power. He uses this to draw a parallel, through hip-hop, to the problems of power imbalance and inequality that still permeate racial relations in America. Reid’s innovative approach is not limited to the body of his piece. His article features USSO’s first ever ‘digital appendix’, which brings to life both his text and his voice. If you have not yet read or watch the digitalised version, I highly recommend taking some time out to sit down and do so.

Conference Review: ‘Images of America: Reality and Stereotypes’, Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association Symposium, Schloss Leopoldskron, by Amy Bride

Amy Bride’s review is a succinct and engaging account of the Salzburg Global Seminar’s 2016 Symposium, ‘Images of America: Reality and Stereotypes’. Outlining the symposium’s aim to assess how relationships with America are mediated and ‘moulded’ by ‘the common images of America’, Bride takes the reader on a perceptive thematic journey of the event. This is framed using the global reach of the symposium, widening its intentions to the fostering of cross-institutional, international contacts, with the overall diversity of attendees celebrated as one of its defining features. Bride uses this thread to provide a valuable unpacking of the overarching theme of the papers, which includes examining Russia’s perception and use of American images to impose a view of its own superiority, and the ‘suspension of belief’ America needs in order to maintain a positive view of its self-image. Reflecting diversity as the main thread of the papers and the symposium as a whole, Bride concludes that there are many, ‘images of Americas’, and I urge you give time to both its effects and analysis.

Christina’s Top Picks

Booker Prize Americanism by Pat Massey

Books nominated for the UK Booker Prize usually pull enough of a crowd to put them on the bestseller list. But Pat Massey’s article ‘Booker Prize Americanism’ offers a unique take on the significant ‘crop of American novels’ in the 2016 shortlist. Massey recalls the 2014 controversy ensuing from the Booker’s decision to consider North American authors eligible for Britain’s most coveted literary prize. But his thoughts wander beyond this publicity to spin a more compelling case for the original contribution of North American nominations for this year’s shortlist. Whilst particular entries including Anne Tyler’s A Spool of Blue Thread, among others, rely on familiar formulas – including the “American domestic” tradition – Massey also illuminates new original genres and molds of form in American fiction which are changing the face of the contemporary novel in English. Especially since Paul Beatty went onto to become the first American Booker Prize winner with The Sellout, Massey’s article is certainly a must-read.

Book Review: Critical Insights: David Foster Wallace edited by Philip Coleman, by Iain Williams

Iain Williams’ review of Philip Coleman’s edited collection Critical Insights: David Foster Wallace is incisive and concisely written. Acknowledging the wide range of contemporary scholarship on Wallace’s fiction and writings, and recognising the limitations of a new collection which returns to a widely-studied North American author, Williams develops a clear argument for the originality of the collection. Williams draws attention to how contributors, including Clare Hayes-Brady and Jorge Araya, broach neglected thematic questions relating to race and gender, whilst also citing Aine Mahon’s essay as a ‘model example of how Wallace Studies should proceed’. For USSO readers who are unfamiliar with Wallace’s writing and fiction, Williams’ insightful review captures the scope and trajectory of his writing career. However, for Wallace scholars, Williams clearly signals critical themes for current Wallace scholarship whilst also providing decisive opinion on how to advance and develop these wide-ranging debates.

Katharina’s Top Picks

Emily Dickinson and the Nineteenth-Century Women Poets: The Poetics and Politics of Reticence by Eve Grubin

Eve’s post is one of these quietly brilliant moments in literature studies, when a touch of skepticism about established scholarly opinion re-vitalizes the experience of reading 19th century poetry – she takes Emily Dickinson from the clichéd female fragility to empowerment.  Eve writes that ‘Dickinson chose reticence from a place of strength rather than from one of submission’, which made me reconsider the relation between vulnerability, precariousness and power – an interconnection that is all too easily stomped down by strong-man-in-charge politics then and now. Eve shows how intimacy creates nonconformity. The ethical and political impact of that recognition charges poetry with new significance, within and beyond Dickinson’s own resistance to patriarchal power. I’d very much like to stage a time-travelling reading event where Dickinson takes on our favorite American president-elect’s tweets, and see who comes out laughing in the end.

Book Review: Literature and the Law of Nations, 1580-1680 by Christopher N. Warren, by Olga Ackroyd

I enjoyed reading Olga’s review for its border-crossing courage: it challenges the boundaries of American Studies, and brings together two disciplines that are not the most natural bedfellows, literature and law. As she comments, ‘To a more cautious critic, Warren’s attempt to equalize international legal theory with the theory of literary genre might seem far-fetched’, and Olga is not shy to point out some areas where Warren’s analysis of early modern texts becomes, as she puts it, ‘just a touch too modern for comfort.’ But I am glad that Olga is happy to take the plunge. For anybody who has ever sensed the paradox that reality might be found in fiction, this exploration of how literature provided a hypothetical stage for legal problems in an era before such stark disciplinary divisions sounds like a fascinating read.

Rachael’s Top Picks

Beyoncé’s ‘Lemonade’: A Complex and Intersectional Exploration of Racial and Gendered Identity, by Juliet Williams

The first of the June blog series, which marked African American Music Appreciation Month, Juliet Williams’ article interrogated identity in Beyoncé’s 2016 album, Lemonade.  Williams explores the shift the album represents from postfeminism – usually and problematically circumscribed by middle-class whiteness – towards far more current intersectional feminist discourse.  She argues compellingly for an understanding of the album as an important cultural text which should be valued for, among other things, its political and personal constructs of race and gender.  In this, she explores the visual and lyrical content of the album, considering how it focuses on past, present and future. Williams moves beyond the media frenzy which surrounded the album, engaging closely with the ways in which it seeks ‘to highlight the “double bind” of racist and sexist oppression experienced by women of colour throughout America’s history.’ Acknowledging Lemonade is not without fault, she provides a nuanced and detailed exploration of one of the most significant and contentious cultural products of 2016.

Conference Review: ‘Radical America: Revolutionary, Dissident and Extremist Magazines’ by Dan King

Dan King’s review of the second Network of American Periodical Studies Symposium was a particular favourite of mine, given my interest in periodical studies.  I had been lucky enough to attend and review the first NAPS symposium but things conspired to prevent my attendance at this one.  King’s excellent review of the event was therefore gratefully received.  Held at the University of Sussex, the symposium coincided with the unveiling of a critical resource for scholars of radical print culture, the New Masses archive (https://blogs.sussex.ac.uk/newmasses/about-the-project/).  King draws attention to the value of this, and indeed any, archive which preserves these ephemeral objects.  He discusses the ways in which this informed the day, providing a starting point for discussion of radical American periodicals.  One of the core points of discussion, King comments, was the relationship between independent publishing and the radical and he traces this strand throughout the day.  His close attention not only to individual papers but also the surrounding discussion and academic context make this review essential reading for anyone interested in the growing field of periodical studies.

Ruth’s Top Picks

Booker Prize Americanism by Pat Massey

One of the most interesting parts of this job is having the opportunity to learn about different aspects of American history and culture beyond my own field of study, and to be introduced to new ideas. Pat Massey’s essay on the increasing trend toward ‘Americanness’ in books recently shortlisted for the Man Booker prize was one such novel idea – Massey had proposed it to me while in the midst of writing another post for USSO. We were both quickly caught up with enthusiasm for the piece, eager to get it published to coincide with the date the shortlist would be announced. With brilliant prose, sharp wit and acute insight into literary cultures on both sides of the Atlantic, Massey here captures something very special about the substance of ‘Americanness’ – what it means, how it is performed, and the ways in which it can be co-opted and transformed. And, although Massey’s hot favourites didn’t come out on top – he had predicted the win would go to one of the non-American authors, David Szalay or Madeleine Thien (Paul Beatty was the one to scoop the coveted prize in the end) – this was a piece I thoroughly enjoyed working on.

Book Review: The Gospel According to David Foster Wallace: Boredom and Addiction in an Age of Distraction by Adam S. Miller , by Iain Williams

Writing on the man and the legend David Foster Wallace is nothing if not challenging. Choosing a post about him for one of our 2016 picks speaks to the timelessness of his work and the enduring appeal of his mystery and complexity. But with the volume of material that’s been written on Wallace, it’s difficult to stand out from the crowd – yet that’s what Iain Williams achieves in this piece and the reason it deserves a spot amongst our favourite posts of the year.  Describing the book as ‘solid if unspectacular’, Williams is critical of Miller’s tendency to over-simplify, a temptation that Williams himself does not succumb to. In beautiful prose, he demonstrates a great depth of knowledge and understanding of Wallace’s broader canon. This is a concise and punchy review – a model, one might even venture to say, for how reviews should be written – that implores us in its closing paragraph, quite earnestly, to wonder, if this book is indeed the ‘gospel according to Wallace’, then why not just read Wallace?

 

 

 

 

 

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