American Studies in Britain

American Studies in Britain

American Studies is taught at some British universities and incorporated in several school subjects, such as history, politics and literature. [cite book
last = The Eccles Centre for American Studies
first =
coauthors =
title = American Studies in the United Kingdom
publisher = British Library
date = 2005
id = ISBN 0-7123-4442-X
and H: “American Studies in Britain,” American Quarterly (Summer,1966): 251-269. American history, for example, is listed as a component and cited in several examples, of Key Stage 3 History:
] While the United States of America is the focus of most study, American Studies can also include the study of all the Americas, including South America and Canada. The methods of study are interdisciplinary, and students and researchers come from many fields, including anthropology, cultural studies history, literature, film studies, gender studies and economics. Because of Britain’s long association with the Americas, there is also a history of comment and analysis of the geography, culture and peoples of America, from Sir Walter Raleigh and Charles Dickens to Rudyard Kipling and Alistair Cooke. [cite web
last = Palmer
first = Niall
title = American Studies
accessdate = 2006-12-06

American Studies in Britain is closely related to the discipline in America, and many degree programmes also involve a period of study in the U.S. or Canada, ranging in time from a month to an academic year. However, an ‘outsider’s’ view of a foreign culture, a variety of intellectual trends, such as the Birmingham school of cultural studies, and institutional arrangements often lead to a different approach to that pursued in the U.S. [Giles, P, "Virtual Americas: The Internationalization of American Studies and the Ideology of Exchange," "American Quarterly" 50:3 (1998): 523-547] . The support of the U.S. Embassy and other official U.S. bodies and awards also shows that American Studies has also been used to promote closer ties and greater understanding between the two countries. [Lawson-Peebles, R, "Dean Acheson and the Potato Head Blues, or British Academic Attitudes to America and its Literature,", Gutman, H. "As Others Read Us: International Perspectives on American Literature," University of Massachusetts Press, 2001, pp. 30-1. ISBN 0 8702 3629 6 and Laville, H., "The Importance of Being (In) Earnest", in "The US Government, Citizen Groups And the Cold War: The State-Private Network," Routledge, 2006. ] .

History of American Studies in Britain

Because of Britain involvement in North America, American Studies has a long history as an activity in British Higher Education. This history has given American Studies in Britain a different flavour to that pursued in the U.S. The earliest accounts of the British colonisation and exploration of North America may be considered as the first contributions to this field, which now incorporates the output of the work of many university departments, scholarly journals and independent scholars. Many libraries, museums and archives in the United Kingdom also support such work. [ accessed 2006-12-06]

The British Association for American Studies

American Studies as an academic discipline is generally considered to have begun in the U.S. in the late 1930s, at a time when little research or study was undertaken in Britain. During World War II, the British government encouraged the study of America and the American government began to see the need to support American Studies abroad during the Cold War, in the belief that “the more people knew about the United States, the more they would come to admire its political and economic values, and its foreign policy”. [D. Reynolds, "From World War to Cold War: Churchill, Roosevelt, and the International History of the 1940s", Oxford University Press, 2006, 3 and Ch. 10; R. Pells, "Not Like Us: How Europeans have Loved, Hated, and Transformed American Culture since World War II", New York: Basic Books, 1997, 94.] In the early 1950s, the Rockefeller Foundation and the United States Education Commission (USEC) organised a series of Anglo-American conferences, which became known as the ‘Fulbright Conferences’ after the Fulbright Act of 1946. The British Association for American Studies (BAAS) was founded at the fourth conference in 1955; many of its members were influenced by the experiences of exchange programmes with the United States, such as the Commonwealth Fellowships, and contacts with Rhodes Scholars, and realised that much American culture and literature was unknown or misunderstood. The impetus to form the Association came from the Cultural Attaché at the U.S. Embassy in London, Dick Taylor, who wrote to the members of the eventual founding committee that he knew of “concrete interest” from an unnamed American foundation that wished to support the founding of an American Studies association. Taylor also proposed the founding of a centre for American Studies at Ditchley Park, with an American school and conference centre along the lines of the British School in Athens. The fledging Association was unable to support this venture and, concerned with their independence from the U.S. State Department, unsuccessfully sought funding from the Rockefeller Foundation. Taylor’s successor at the Embassy, Myron Koenig, offered a $20,000 grant to survey British library resources and $100,000 to establish the society. Membership fees provided a small income, and although BAAS accepted the grant for the library survey, they were able to decline the larger sum in the interests of intellectual and political independence. In 1956, the society received funding from the Rockefeller Foundation. BAAS has continued to provide a focus for American Studies in Britain, organising a series of conferences and administrating various awards and funds for research. [A. Fisher “Double Vision, Double Analysis”, in H. Laville and H. Wilford, ‘’The US Government, Citizen Groups and the Cold War. The State-Private Network,’’ London & New York: Routledge, 2006, 145-50.]

Political Influence

American Studies has always been influenced to some degree by contemporary politics. For example, the Special relationship has contributed to a long tradition of scholarly exchange and support from U.S. organisations, such as the United States Department of State for the study of America in Britain. During World War II, The British Government also sought "counter the Hollywood image of America as a land of violence and corruption by a vigorous campaign to develop American studies". As noted above, the development of the British university system and interest in the U.S. as a result of the Cold War and increasingly dominant U.S. popular culture lead to the development of several American Studies courses at institutions including the universities of Keele and East Anglia. [Reynolds, D., "From World War to Cold War: Churchill, Roosevelt, and the International History of the 1940s", Oxford University Press, 2006, p. 3 and Ch. 10.] More recently, in 2004 the Guardian columnist, Polly Toynbee suggested in an article revealingly called "A degree in bullying and self-interest? No thanks" that the Iraq war and the so-called "War on Terror" had led to a positive resistance to American Studies [Toynbee, P, [,3604,1290021,00.html "A degree in bullying and self-interest? No thanks"] , Guardian, 25 August 2004 (Accessed 2006-12-06)] . Others, such as Shelley Fisher Fishkin argued that American Studies needs more transnational perspectives and that the U.S.'s engagement with the world demands more, not less, study. [Fisher Fishkin, S., "Crossroads of Cultures: The Transnational Turn in American Studies—Presidential Address to the American Studies Association, November 12, 2004," "American Quarterly", 57:1 (2005): 17-57]

Expansion, Contraction and Consolidation

University growth allowed the expansion of American Studies in Britain during the 1960s and 1970s. By the 1980s, the European Association for American Studies estimated that there were at least two thousand Americanists employed in Britain and the Continent. Most major British universities could boast a historian of the U.S. or a literature specialist. American Studies also began to extend its range, incorporating Film Studies and the newer fields of Cultural and Gender Studies. Americanists also became to seek the 'meaning of America' outside of the traditional areas of political institutions and dominant social class, but in marginalized groups. During the 1980s, as Pells comments, the canon became 'contemporary, ethnic, and feminist'. The decade also witnessed a tranche of retirements from the profession, which, because of financial constraints on universities, were not replaced. Several key figures, such as Marcus Cunliffe, left Britain for American university posts. By the early 1990s, some American Studies departments were closed.

The end of the Cold War in the late 1980s marked a revival in interest in the remaining superpower, and student numbers rose, along with numbers of professors. [Pells, "Not Like Us", 123-29. Guardian article] Most notable was the Rothermere Centre at Oxford (established 2001.) This revival was generally maintained until the controversial election of Bush in 2000, then 9/11, the subsequent "War on Terror" and the invasion of Iraq which put together encouraged a critical attitude to the United States in the public sphere which eventually had a negative effect on recruitment and caused a number of programmes to close (for instance at Reading) or amalgamate with English, History or other Departments (see above reference to Polly Toynbee.)

Key Figures and works

Historians and named chairs

*1922, Harmsworth Chair in American history, University of Oxford, intended for visiting American scholars.
*1930, Commonwealth Professorship in American history, University of London.
*Harold Laski, historian and political scientist, published "The American Democracy" in 1948, which lamented Europe's 'absurd and willful ignorance of American institutions and culture' [R. Pells, "Not Like Us", 95.]
*D. W. Brogan, "The American Character", 1944.
*Peter J. Parish [ [ Peter J. Parish] Obituary in "American Studies in Britain"]
*Esmond Wright. [ [ Esmond Wright] Obituary in "American Studies in Britain"]

Literary critics

*Marcus Cunliffe, "The Literature of the United States" (1954).
*Professor Dennis Welland (1919-2002). Following a 12-month Rockefeller scholarship to the University of Minnesota, he began one of the first American Studies courses at the University of Nottingham in 1953. He helped to found the British Association of American Studies and acted as its first treasurer, secretary and chair (1980-83). Welland was the founder editor of the Journal of American Studies (1976). His publications include "Arthur Miller" (1961), "Twain in England" (1978) and "The Life and Times of Mark Twain" (1991). [Obituary, "Guardian", 26 September 2002.]
*Malcolm Bradbury, who suggested that America offered an escape from the 'constraining, class-oriented, provincial embrace' of Britain. [Pells, "Not Like Us", 117.]
*Eric Knowle William Mottram (1924-1995) (Professor of English and American Literature, Kings College, London). [Poetry Wars, Salt Publishing, 2006, p. 223]


* [ Geoffrey Gorer] , "The American People" (1948).

Journalists and writers

Thomas Paine, William Cobbett, Charles Dickens, Anthony Trollope, Rudyard Kipling, Alistair Cooke and Christopher Hitchens, have written about the political and cultural differences between Britain and America.


*Sheldon Meyer (1926-2006), Oxford University Press (New York). Meyer published influential American studies works such as C. Vann Woodward, "The Strange Career of Jim Crow" (on segregation in the South), Robert Toll, "Blacking Up" (a study of blackface minstrelsy), Nathan Huggin's study of the Harlem Renaissance, Edmund Wilson, "Patriotic Gore" (American Civil War literature), James McPherson, "Battle Cry of Freedom", 1988 (Civil War). He c0-edited, with C. Vann Woodward, the 'Oxford History of the United States'. Meyer also commissioned works on American jazz. [Obituary, "The Times", 17 November 2006]

U.S. Institutional Support

The Fulbright Program, which began in 1948, has been the backbone of many scholarly exchanges between Britain and the United States [Fisher,"Double Vision".]

chools and Movements

As a heterdox discipline, American Studies incorporates many fields, from literature to international relations. Various schools, such as that of the Myth and Symbol approach have strongly influenced research. Although these approaches can be seen in [American Studies] in the U.S. and elsewhere, there have been distinctive British contributions.

Birmingham School

The Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies was a research centre at the University of Birmingham. It was founded in 1964 by Richard Hoggart, its first director. Its object of study was the then new field of Cultural Studies and it soon became known as the Birmingham School. Although no clear method emerged, the influence of Marxism and other theories, such as post-structuralism informed a politically engaged, sophisticated analysis of contemporary society. Its members included Jorge Larrain, the Chilean sociologist and cultural historian, author of Identity and Modernity in Latin America. The School has influenced many Area Studies scholars, including American Studies specialists. [Wolff, Janet, "Symposia; Sociology and Border Disciplines: Cultural Studies and the Sociology of Culture", "Contemporary Sociology"28: 5 (1999)]

Interdisciplinary Approaches

Traditionally focused on history, politics and literature, American Studies are now informed by Film theory, Gender studies and Cultural anthropology as well as many other disciplinesFact|date=February 2007.

American Studies at GCSE and A-Level

O-levels and A-levels (AS/A2) in American studies have not been offered since the introduction of GCSEs and the UK National Curriculum, but American Studies is a component of history and politics AS and A2 curricula. [How well is American Studies doing in Britain today?, Retrieved 2006 12 06]

American Studies Programmes at UK Universities and Higher Education Institutions

A list of institutions can be found at the [ Eccles Centre for American Studies] website. Currently (2008) 37 institutions offer an American Studies degree.

American Studies Societies and Centres in the UK

* [ British Association for American Studies]
* [ Eccles Centre for American Studies] at the British Library
* [ Centre for American Studies] at University of Leicester
**"Voted in the "Top 2" by The Times, The Guardian and The Independent in 2008, the Centre for American Studies at Leicester is firmly established as one of the UK's most important providers of American Studies degrees."
* [ School of American & Canadian Studies] at University of Nottingham
**"The School of American and Canadian Studies – which includes the Institute of Film and Television Studies – is the only Five Star Research School in its subject area and is the largest undergraduate and postgraduate centre for American Studies in the country. It has a thriving programme at all levels, and a teaching and research culture of the highest quality."
* [ American Studies Centre] at Liverpool John Moores University
* [ Institute for the Study of the Americas] at the School of Advanced Studies, University of London
**"The Institute for the Study of the Americas promotes, coordinates and provides a focus for research and postgraduate teaching on the Americas – Canada, the US, Latin America and the Caribbean – in the University of London" [ [ The Institute for the Study of the Americas ] ]
* [ Rothermere American Institute, University of Oxford]
**"The Rothermere American Institute, which was opened on 25 May 2001 by former US President Bill Clinton, is an international centre of excellence Fact|date=February 2007 dedicated to the interdisciplinary and comparative study of the United States. Bringing together scholars, intellectuals, policy-makers and public figures from around the world, the Rothermere American Institute will promote a greater public and academic understanding of the history, culture and politics of the United States. The newly built institute also hosts the finest library of Americana to be found outside the USA." [ [ Rothermere American Insitute, Oxford ] ]
* [ The Department of American Studies at King's College London]
**"The Department of American Studies at King's College London offers versatile and diverse academic programmes for the study of the cultures, societies and arts of the United States and the Americas at both undergraduate and graduate levels. It is the only Department of its kind at the University of London and one of the leading centres in its field in the country. Established as an independent Department in 2000, American Studies in fact draws upon a long tradition of the teaching of American culture and literature at King's, a tradition that goes back to the early-sixties when the College appointed the very first full-time lecturer in American Literature in the country." []
* The Institute for the Study of the Americas arranges a series of [ events and conferences] in London

Hard to Find Sources for American Studies in the UK

Although many collections of materials can be located through the online or automated catalogues of archives and libraries, many resources are not listed in this fashion and may be difficult to locate. ["A Guide to the manuscripts relating to America in Great Britain and Ireland," London: Published for the British Association for American Studies by Meckler BooksMansell Publishing, 1979. This volume lists many of the institutional holdings of American materials. Not all of these institutions have automated catalogues.]

Microform Collections

*Early American Imprints is held by several libraries, including the British Library, the National Library of Scotland and the University of Cambridge Library. Its contents are now listed through [ COPAC] .

*A large body of BAAS material has been selected and microfilmed in the series [ British Records relating to America] , sponsored by BAAS and published by [ Microform Ltd]

Manuscript Collections

*The British Library's Department of Manuscripts holds many collections related to the early history of America and the American Revolution, as does the National Archives (UK)
*Records of the British Association for American Studies at Birmingham University Information Services. A [ handlist] is available online.

Newspaper Collections

Many American newspapers are available in the United Kingdom, either in their original format or in microform. American newspapers often contain reports of events in Britain and details of the state of trans-atlantic relations. A database can be found on the [ BAAS newspaper database] .

A digital collection of Historical American Newspapers is held by the British Library, which complements the extensive paper and microform collections; important collections are also held by the National Library of Scotland.

Digital Collections

United States Congressional Serial Set is part of Readex's Archive of Americana. It is held at the British Library. The University of Sussex holds the full set of the Archive of Americana.

See also

*Advanced Level (UK)
*American Studies
*Area Studies
*Cultural Studies

External links

* [ American Studies Today] .
* [ American Studies in Britain] The newsletter of the British Association for American Studies .
* [ American Studies Electronic Resources at the British Library] .
* [ Intute: Arts and Humanities] American Studies resources.
* [ Resources for American Studies - the journal of the BAAS Library and Resources Sub-Committee] .
*Toynbee, P, [,3604,1290021,00.html "A degree in bullying and self-interest? No thanks"] , Guardian, 25 August 2004 (Accessed 2006-12-06).



*"American History in Schools", [ "BAAS Newsletter", 81, Winter, 1999]
*P. Thompson, "Cassell's Dictionary of American History", Cassell, 2000.

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