Sophie Roberts and Megan Hunt report on the HOTCUS Annual Postgraduate Conference ‘Winning minds and hearts: constructing national identity in US history’ that took place on the 9th September 2016 at Northumbria University. The conference was supported by the BAAS Small Conference Support Grant.
This HOTCUS postgraduate conference focused on the construction of national identity throughout US history. The first half of the day took a conventional conference format, with themed panels of two or three twenty-minute papers. These panels fostered diverse discussions about different manifestations of national identity, including American norms in the 1950s and 1960s, ideas of Americanism during the Vietnam War era, and the manifestation of American identity in the face of annihilation narratives. This part of the day thus facilitated a wide-ranging and varied discussion of American identity as an ever-adaptive construct.
The second part of the day consisted of developmental roundtables, which delivered practical and applicable advice to postgraduate and early career researchers as they continued on their PhD journey and beyond. Dr Peter O’Connor (Northumbria University), Dr Simon Cooper (Newcastle College) and Dr Emily Trafford (University of Manchester) spoke on topics pertinent to postgraduates: namely VIVA preparation, seminar teaching, and applying for fixed-term teaching posts, respectively. In a second, more advanced, session, Dr Molly Geidel (University of Manchester) gave advice on approaching American university presses, while Dr Randall Stephens (Northumbria University) spoke about writing op-eds for non-academic audiences. Finally, Dr Mike Cullinane (Northumbria University) advised early career researchers interested in applying for the AHRC ECR Fellowship Scheme. This facet of the day thus enabled attendees to gain practical advice from experienced scholars, something which complemented the intellectual knowledge gained from the traditional panels of the first half of the day.
Finally, Professor Simon Hall (Leeds University) who has published widely on manifestations of American national identity, particularly with relation to unrest in the 1960s era, gave a keynote address entitled “Leonard Matlovich: Military Heroism and the Making of a Gay Rights Icon.” This paper helped tie together many themes discussed throughout the day, as Prof. Hall reflected on the oftentimes-ambiguous nature of patriotism as a facet of national identity. As such, it proved a fitting way to end a lively and thought-provoking conference.
Generous support from BAAS meant that we were able to offer travel bursaries to assist postgraduate attendance, as well as supporting travel for our ECR speakers Dr Molly Geidel and Dr Emily Trafford. We were able to acknowledge this support and include the BAAS logo on all CFPs, programmes and other forms of publicity. Individual sessions are currently under review for USSO, where we hope to inspire further conversation on many of the day’s themes. We were also able to publicise the Journal of American Studies and the upcoming BAAS PG event at the University of Leeds, the CFP for which was distributed within conference packs.
Sophie Roberts and Megan Hunt are PhD students at Northumbria University.