The BAAS Visiting Fellowship allowed me to dedicate valuable time to my new project on the transatlantic interest in the life and culture of the South, says Christian O’Connell, recipient of the 2015 BAAS Visiting Fellowship to UCL’s Institute of the Americas.
Between January and March of this year, I was able to spend two days per week at UCL’s Institute of the Americas. The BAAS/UCL-IA Visiting Fellowship allowed me to begin work on a new research project that explores the manner in which the American South has been represented on British television over the last half decade. It focuses on a number of documentaries, such as Trevor McDonald’s ‘The Mighty Mississippi’ (2012), TV chef Rick Stein’s ‘Tasting the Blues’ (2012), the comedian Hugh
Laurie’s ‘Down By the River’ (2011), and the series ‘Stephen Fry in America’ (2009), which I believe are all indicative of the current popular transatlantic interest in the life and culture of the South. They reproduce and maintain myths and stereotypes of the region that scholars of the South have been working hard to dispel. Importantly, they also demonstrate that the South is maintained and experienced as a construct through heritage tourism within an international context, not just within internal American discourses of heritage and identity.
The fellowship was therefore a great way to dedicate time to a new project, something which is not easy immediately following a PhD. Quite early on I gave a paper on my initial findings and early thoughts, which gave me a good basis from which to continue the project. The Institute has a very vibrant academic community, and while there I was able to get to know and draw on the experience of excellent scholars like Jonathan Bell and Iwan Morgan, as well as all the academics that regularly attend the Institute of Historical Research’s seminars. Being in London also offers a number of possibilities given the amount of resources available through the various university libraries but also the British Library, Senate House and the Institute of Historical Research. Being in London also allowed me to attend numerous events, such as the talks by Jeanne Theoharis and Tim Stanley. Overall, it was a great experience which I would recommend to all early career scholars who need some time and space to devote to a new or existing project.
Christian O’Connell is a Senior Lecturer in American History at the University of Gloucestershire. Primarily a cultural historian, his research examines the transatlantic diffusion of African American culture in Europe. His first book Blues, How Do You Do? Paul Oliver and the Transatlantic Story of the Blues will be published by the University of Michigan Press in August 2015. He has also been recently awarded the Fulbright-Elon Scholar Award, for which he will be teaching and researching at Elon University in North Carolina between January and May 2016.