BAAS Executive Committee Candidates’s Statements 2022

Below you can read the candidate’s statements for election to the BAAS Executive Committee at the 2022 AGM. The statements are set out by role, starting with the Chair.

Chair

Dr Lydia Plath, Associate Professor, History Department, University of Warwick

  • Proposed by: Dr Cara Roday, Eccles Centre, British Library
  • Seconded by: Dr Rachel Williams, University of Hull 

I am an Associate Professor at the University of Warwick where I teach about race and racism in the History Department and also work institutionally for anti-racist change as a facilitator on the Tackling Racial Inequality at Warwick Staff Development Programme. I have been a member of BAAS for well over a decade, and co-organised the Annual Conference in Canterbury in 2017. I joined the Executive Committee three years ago as the Vice Chair and Chair of the Development and Education Sub-Committee, where I have worked to enhance BAAS’s provision around pedagogical practice and the career development of our members. Teaching-focused sessions are now a staple of the BAAS conference, and the Teaching American Studies Network has almost 100 members. To make our financial support for our networks and other member initiatives more transparent, I spearheaded the formation of the BAAS Development Fund and developed the BAAS Funding Guide. A significant focus of my work has been around inclusivity: collating the Future of the Inclusive Conference Guidance, and most recently, leading a group to devise a BAAS Code of Conduct.

I am running to be Chair of BAAS because for me, American Studies is about possibility. American Studies encourages us to extend the boundaries of what it means to be a scholar and to connect our teaching and our research; our scholarship and our students; our work with the wider public, in order to help make change possible in the world. American Studies also allows us to push boundaries as researchers: the boundaries of what counts as a “text” or a topic worth studying; the boundaries of “America” as a concept and the borders that seek to contain it; and the boundaries of methodology, theory, and approach. American Studies also encourages us to blur the boundaries between teaching and research. I am proud to be employed on a teaching-focused contract at Warwick, which has enabled me to think about pedagogical scholarship as well as the traditional scholarship of my discipline. Our teaching has long been “research-led”, but through my leadership of the Teaching American Studies Network in the past few years, I’ve had many conversations with BAAS members who describe their research as “teaching-inspired”.

As Chair, I am keen to continue the work I have been doing in the past three years at BAAS as well as to support initiatives that will enable us to confront the challenges we face in our sector. We know that American Studies programmes are dwindling, that our early career colleagues are struggling with precarious employment, and that international conferences are becoming environmentally and financially unsustainable. BAAS cannot fix these problems alone. But we can be a model of good practice around inclusion and anti-racism, we can work in solidarity with our sister organisations around precarity and the value of the humanities, and we can create sustainable and inclusive spaces (both in person and online) to share our ideas – whether they be about research, teaching, or anything else that we think is important to our scholarly lives. Together, I hope we can make BAAS an organisation that embraces possibility.

Co-Treasurer

Dr Catherine Armstrong, Reader in Modern History, Loughborough University

  • Proposed by: Dr Lydia Plath, University of Warwick
  • Seconded by: Dr Rachel Williams, University of Hull 

 I am an American historian with a wide chronological expertise. I wrote my PhD undertaken at Warwick University, which became my first monograph published with Ashgate, on the travel literature written in the seventeenth century by visitors to and settlers in Virginia and New England, and followed this up with a second Ashgate monograph exploring textual and visual representations of landscape along the eastern seaboard during the later colonial era. For my next book, published with CUP in 2020, I moved into a more modern era, reflecting an interest in perceptions of slavery in a global context the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This interest emerged from modules taught at Manchester Metropolitan University and Loughborough University on slavery across time and place – this is a case of teaching-led research. I also have teaching experience (module design, lecturing, seminar delivery and assessment) on introductory American history survey modules (for example MMU’s ‘From Columbus to Civil War’), on Native American history, and on the cultural history of the Jim Crow era.

I would be honoured to be part of BAAS at such a crucial time for the discipline of American studies, which is gaining so much public traction because of #BLM, but which has seen student recruitment numbers in UK universities fall in recent years. The Association seems to be moving in exactly the right directions and I would like to be part of this: emphasising career development of scholars moving through the pipeline; foregrounding teaching innovation; and engaging with EDI considerations, in how and what we teach and research, and in diversifying the voices heard in BAAS itself. As a former EDI Lead for my School at Loughborough, I am very excited to help develop strategies to enable BAAS as an organisation to achieve its EDI goals, but which also will upskill members so that they can be beacons of good EDI practice in their own institutions. Another way of doing this is by continuing BAAS’s work partnering with organisations which speak to historians from certain minoritized groups. Examples might include the Association of Black Women Historians. Association of Black Women Historians – Black Women Making History (abwh.org)

The role of Treasurer is an important one and speaks to my strengths of efficient administration combined with strategic leadership. I am also keen to participate in BAAS’s Development and Education subcommittee as it chimes well with my current role at Loughborough as my School’s Director of People & Culture.  In the post-pandemic era, staff development and wellbeing are very important, knitted together intimately with EDI issues in the academy, and closely relating to matters of student experience (including postgraduates) and teaching.

Postgraduate Representative 

Emma Hall, PhD Student, University of Warwick

  • Proposed by: Dr Lydia Plath, University of Warwick
  • Seconded by: Dr Emily Brady, University of Leeds 

I completed my BA, in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, and my MA, in US Foreign Policy, at the University of Warwick, where I am also about to start the fourth year of my PhD in the Department of Politics and International Studies. My research focuses on the role the US education system and state curricula have in perpetuating sentiments of American exceptionalism in US national identity, but my research also focuses on presidential rhetoric in domestic and foreign policy. I have been a Graduate Teaching Assistant throughout my PhD, teaching Politics of the USA, and US Foreign Policy during this time.

My vision for BAAS is for an organisation that is more visible in departments across the disciplines that it seeks to represent. One of the core things that we champion about American Studies is how interdisciplinary it is as an area of research, bringing together researchers in American media, history, literature, film, culture, and politics. However, BAAS has higher visibility with MA and PhD researchers in some of these areas over others. I would like to see a BAAS that talks across its celebrated disciplines more loudly! This, I also hope, would help to reduce the misconception in some disciplines (speaking from a politics and economics position) that American Studies is not accessible for them.

In the Postgraduate role, there are some practical things I would focus on that could help postgraduate members. Keeping the PhD opportunities page on the BAAS website up to date, and putting in place a strategy so these updates are sustainable, would be a key thing. This would help MA students who are seeking PhD scholarships, and PhD students who are looking for research or teaching roles alongside their degree, or for an ECA role post-PhD. BAAS has such a wide reach across the UK that if all our members are able to post information about opportunities from their institutions, and this is as easy as filling out a default form with the link, institution and the role title, this could become an accessible hub for PGs to find information on grants, research and teaching positions. Twitter is important for networking and finding information on jobs, but it is difficult as PG to know who the right people are to follow for these, and not everyone wants to be, or can be, on social media. With regard to wider events that the PG rep is involved in, an ECR event looking at application writing and grant writing – be this at the postgraduate symposium (like the PhD Viva session last year) or a separate event – would be really helpful to PGs. Often, what makes a ‘good application’ feels like a trade secret, with examples being dependent on who you know, and whether you feel comfortable asking. A session with BAAS, perhaps also encouraging PGs to apply to the small grants programme, could encourage those without the strong networks gain confidence in application writing, while expanding the voices that are involved in BAAS in the future.

Ordinary Member

Dr Sarah Thelen, Centre for the Integration of Research, Teaching, and Learning, University College Cork 

  • Proposed by: Dr Lydia Plath, University of Warwick
  • Seconded by: Dr Nick Witham, University College London

I received my PhD from American University in Washington, D.C. and have taught 20th Century US history at University College Cork, Trinity College Dublin, and University College Dublin since moving to Ireland in 2010. As an Americanist in Ireland, I have benefited greatly from the American Studies community created by BAAS and the Irish Association of American Studies (IAAS) and would welcome the opportunity to further strengthen the connections between BAAS and American Studies scholars in Ireland. My research explores the intersections of patriotism, national identity, and domestic debates over war with my current work focusing on Nixon administration efforts to rally domestic support for the Vietnam War. I’m particularly interested in the ways protest is used to validate – and invalidate – claims to citizenship and national belonging highlighted, in this case, in the denigration of the anti-war movement and their celebration of the (presumably pro-war) Silent Majority. In addition to teaching in the School of History at UCC, I am a Lecturer in Teaching and Learning Enhancement (Digital Education) in the University’s Teaching and Learning unit (CIRTL, the Centre for the Integration of Research, Teaching, and Learning). In this role, I work with staff from across the discipline to use digital education tools and approaches to improve their teaching, support student learning, and to enhance the accessibility and inclusivity of their modules. This interdisciplinary experience underscores both the shared foundations of excellent teaching and scholarship (regardless of specialisation) and the need for thoughtful and substantive support to ensure maximum diversity and inclusion in Higher Education. BAAS has an excellent record in this regard with meaningful initiatives intended to expand access to research support (particularly the decision to allow research funds to be used for hiring local research assistants in lieu of travel to archives, libraries, etc.). If elected I would explore ways to further expand this support to help individuals carve out time from their professional and personal commitments for developing and publishing their work – for example: allowing funds to be spent on childcare or eldercare, supporting unpaid leave, or hiring a research assistant. While all members of BAAS would benefit from this flexibility, it would be particularly useful for those not employed in full-time academic roles, with caring responsibilities, or from disadvantaged and marginalised groups in need of additional support. Additionally, I would relish the opportunity to continue exploring innovative ways for sharing the results of this research beyond books, articles, and conference presentations such as websites, digital exhibits, remote and blended collaborations, or best practice toolkits and workshops for both teaching and scholarship.