Probably no other place outside the US itself would have allowed me to compare and contrast narratives of ‘freedom’ as they have employed from the Cold War to the War on Terror, says Andrew Hammond, Eccles Centre UK Fellow in North American Studies 2015.
Andrew Hammond (University of Warwick). I took up my Eccles Centre Visiting Fellowship during July and August 2015. I used my time there to work on my forthcoming book Struggles for Freedom: Afghanistan and US Foreign Policy Since 1979 (EUP, 2016]. Alternatively called America’s ‘foundational ethic’, ‘ultimate codeword’, and ‘most resonant, deeply held value’, my book is the first in-depth systematic analysis of the role that the concept
‘freedom’ has played in US foreign policy. It does so by comparing and contrasting narratives of ‘freedom’ employed during the Cold War and the War on Terror amongst a number of other interventions into some of the most momentous events and historiographical debates of modern times, it argues that freedom plays a fundamentally important role in the cultural production of American national identity.
As expected, I found the Eccles Centre and the British Library extremely conducive in the aforementioned endeavour. After a busy year teaching, the opportunity to immerse myself in the collections – whether primary or secondary – and to concentrate on this project was a boon indeed. While I had already undertaken a lot of archival research in the US, as well as conducting oral history interviews, my time at the Eccles Centre allowed me to carefully execute my arguments by drawing upon the depth and breadth of the British Library’s holdings. Whether through consulting Records and Proceedings of the Congress, word searchable content of leading publications such as the New York Times, or through utilising the huge range of secondary material on intelligence, Afghanistan, and US foreign and security policy, no other place in the country – and probably no other place outside the US itself – would have allowed me to erect such robust intellectual scaffolding around my argument.
I found the staff at the Eccles Centre unfailingly helpful – whether in terms of administration, organising the public talks that were a condition of the fellowship, or advice and tips on using the collections. I also had the pleasure of meeting other scholars at the inaugural event of the Eccles Centre network – a BBQ in lovely British sunshine on the balcony! – which I hope goes from strength to strength. While there was the space necessary to get down to some serious intellectual labour, one also got the sense that not too far away there was a genuine community of scholars working away on similar subject matter always ready to meet up for a quick coffee or a beer after a long day in the library. Whilst located in an international capital city, I also found the sense of physical distance from one’s erstwhile daytime commitments very helpful in terms of getting into the right frame of mind to write (I also managed to complete a book chapter on former CIA chief Bill Casey while there). All in all I am extremely grateful for the opportunity and hope that other scholars will benefit as I have done from the chance to spend a period of time at the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library.
Andrew Hammond is an Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the National 9/11 Museum and a Visiting Scholar at NYU. He previously lectured at the University of Warwick where he completed his ESRC funded 1+3 PhD (national competition). In 2011 he was a British Research Council Fellow at the Library of Congress. During his Visiting Postdoctoral Fellowship at the British Library, he continued to work on his forthcoming book, Struggles for Freedom: Afghansitan and US Foreign Policy Since 1979, which will be published by Edinburgh University Press in 2016.