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Trump, Brexit, and a New Era for British Studies Scholars Part II: What do we do now?

By: Stephen Jackson

This is Part II of our series on the changing political climate in the United States and Britain. You can read Part I here. Over the past year historians on the blogosphere have been writing about teaching and researching in the current political climate.[1] Numerous academic institutions, including the North American Conference on British Studies (NACBS), have released statements regarding the Trump administration’s Executive Order (EO) on immigration. You can see the NACBS statement here. In light of these discussions, I sent out questions to the NACBS Council (and a few former Council members) regarding how the events of the past year, particularly Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, are affecting the field of British Studies.[2] Part II examines a question many of us are asking right now: what role do we have in this new political atmosphere? 

A recent AHA panel and subsequent blog post discussed the role of historians in public life. In particular, they responded to the argument of Stanley Fish, who said in a New York Times article that “the profession of history shouldn’t be making political pronouncements of any kind.”[3] I asked our respondents to address this question: how can and should historians engage in the contemporary political climate?

All of the respondents rejected Fish’s argument. Amy Harris put it most succinctly: “Is he for real!?!?”  But while Philippa Levine disagreed strongly with Fish’s argument, she was skeptical of the impact historians can have. “I think we’re kidding ourselves if we really think that statements and teach-ins and the rest will affect how Bannon and his thugs go about things. To me, it’s sheer hubris to imagine we have any effect there, and it’s this sort of attitude that lies at the base of a lot of anti-intellectual hostility in the current climate.” Despite this bleak assessment, she continued by noting that “what we can do, however, is to model civil exchange, historical accuracy, and honesty in our classes and our scholarship. We can be part of a larger protest voice. But I think we need to be very careful not to consider ourselves special or better qualified than others to lead, comment, and advise. A lack of humility is part of how we got where we are.” 

Simon Devereaux argued that historians can and should have an important role in public discourse, but have all too frequently abdicated this responsibility in recent years. In fact, he suggested, academics are in part to blame for the current anti-intellectual trends. “I’m with the late great Tony Judt in wondering how real the adherence of many of us academics to active and meaningful left-wing values really has been since the 1980s. Remember when most of us professed to believe that this was one of government’s main jobs: to restrain the excesses of capitalism, rather than facilitate them?” Moving forward, Deveraux suggested that scholars need to develop “our own capacity to express outrage in a productive fashion,” which must “build real bridges of common identity back towards people of whom we have, in practical terms, thought relatively little of for a long time now. Building that bridge will, I think, mean devising a common identity that is far larger than the one which ‘identity politics’ currently has to offer. Historians can do so much to advance that cause, by helping us to recover our lost legacies of radicalism. Will we do so? Or will we remain content inside our Ivory Towers, standing upon ever-shrinking islands of civility and security?”

Amy Harris and Jason Kelly contended that historians provide critical context and quality information for educators and the general public. Harris suggested that a pivotal role for historians is working with public school teachers. “They are on the frontlines of educating about the past in ways that make for better, less divisive citizens. They need the best we can give them and they need us to advocate along with them at the local and state level.” Jason Kelly argued simply that “we should do what we do best: provide context — show how every statement and every action exists within a historical context. One of the recurring themes that I have seen this past six months is a denial of history — a pretense that everything exists in the present. That is why politicians can say one thing on Tuesday and completely contradict themselves on Wednesday. This ahistorical stance allows them to pretend that the ‘dog whistle’ phrases they utter don’t actually have or racist or xenophobic connotations. We can do this in many forms, but the key is to reach beyond where we feel the most comfortable and engage with other communities.” 

Dane Kennedy suggests that historians should respond “in the same way any responsible citizen who respects facts and evidence and justice should respond: protest, resist, obstruct, critique, etc…” Though Amy Harris also questioned the extent to which historians could make a difference, she said that “we must continue to argue for history’s importance to society. We need to push back about the crucial necessity of history and the liberal arts more generally to create well-informed, thoughtful citizens able to live in a multi-cultural and tolerant society.” 

What do you think should be the primary role and responsibility of historians in the Age of Trump? Please let us know in the comments section below.

Stephen Jackson is an Assistant Professor of History at the University of Sioux Falls, and serves as the Media Director for the NACBS. If you’d like to contribute a blog post, contact him at Stephen.Jackson@usiouxfalls.edu


[1] For some examples of this, see: Tyler Anbinder on immigration; Denver Brunsman and John Donoghue or Mary Myung-Ok Lee on teaching; Sarah Fenton of the AHA on the limitations of expertise; Dane Kennedy, Philippa Levine, or Susan Pederson on Brexit; or Paul Kramer on the role of the historian.

[2] The responding scholars were: Simon Devereaux, University of Victoria; Amy Harris, Brigham Young University; Jason Kelly, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis; Dane Kennedy, The George Washington University; Philippa Levine, University of Texas at Austin; Sandra den Otter, Queen’s University.

[3] Stanley Fish, “Professors, Stop Opining About Trump,” New York Times, July 15, 2016. 

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Trump, Brexit, and a New Era for British Studies Scholars Part I: Research and Teaching

By: Stephen Jackson

This is Part I of a two part series on the changing political climate in the United States and Britain. Over the past year historians on the blogosphere have been writing about teaching and researching in the current political climate.[1] Numerous academic institutions, including the North American Conference on British Studies (NACBS), have released statements regarding the Trump administration’s Executive Order (EO) on immigration. You can see the NACBS statement here. In light of these discussions, I sent out questions to the NACBS Council (and a few former Executive Council members) regarding how the events of the past year, particularly Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, are affecting the field of British Studies.[2] Part I will examine critical issues related to research and teaching.

Several of the participating scholars expressed a newfound sense of urgency in their own scholarship and work. Philippa Levine thinks that there will be major repercussions for British Studies since “some of the biggest (though by no means the only) upheavals of 2016 were in the Anglo-American sphere so it’s hard not to see Brexit and Trump especially as formative for our analyses going forward. I foresee that their looming presence will force a rethinking of earlier events and ideas, not in a teleological way but in posing questions about why we didn’t see this coming. 

On a more basic level, other respondents like Jason Kelly worry that “this political climate has let loose a storm of anti-intellectualism. The role of the expert, the importance of knowledge, the necessity of logic, and the quest for truth seem to have been thrown out the window- at least in public discourse.” Amy Harris echoed this sentiment, suggesting that “the need for historical consciousness and application of historical tools has been made stark by recent events. If my research and teaching contribute in the smallest way to have others be more considerate of how the past, present, and future impinge on one another, I’ll count that as a win.”

Each interviewee noted that restrictive immigration policies such as the recent EO will, in all likelihood, negatively affect scholarship moving forward. They raised concerns about fellowship opportunities, visiting speakers, funding prospects, long-term international research, and scholarly collaboration. “The ability to move freely undergirds the best impulses in education and research. I’m afraid this will have a chilling effect on all we do,” said Amy Harris.

Simon Devereaux, the Canadian-based president of the Pacific Coast Conference on British Studies (PCCBS), noted that the forthcoming PCCBS conference scheduled for March 2017 in British Columbia is undersubscribed and likely to lose money. He wondered “how much of that is down to US-based historians of Britain who feel nervous about leaving their country, or even just passing through a major international airport in the USA, right at this moment, or simply too demoralized to contemplate ‘normal’ life for the moment. After all, what is the ‘new normal’ going to become over the next few weeks, months, and (God forbid) years?”

There is also a great deal of uncertainty regarding the fate of these restrictive policies, and an increasing likelihood that the policies will simply be re-written in the near future. Jason Kelly decried the uncertainty this is producing, which “in addition to restricting the movement of international scholars, could potentially lead to a backlash in which U.S.-based scholars and conferences are boycotted.”

The EO and the new political climate have also raised a number of questions regarding teaching. Only one respondent, Dane Kennedy, had a student directly affected by the ban. Kennedy, Jason Kelly, and Philippa Levine all reported that their universities had written statements in opposition to the ban, though Levine noted that the response at her institution was not as strong as she might have liked. Simon Devereaux comes from a Canadian university that, in his words, is a great place to teach British history but “not so much a center for multi-cultural politics.”

Five of the six respondents will be making changes to their courses in light of contemporary political events. Philippa Levine will be spending a week of her Twentieth-Century British history class on Brexit, especially with an eye towards emphasizing historical parallels to our contemporary world. Dane Kennedy has already introduced new assignments that have students examine the historical roots of contemporary political problems. Amy Harris is incorporating additional historical documents that echo contemporary debates. 

Jason Kelly and Sandra den Otter noted changes to their overall pedagogical approach. “More than ever, I’m emphasizing the value of nuance in analysis and argumentation. I’m also focusing on the ways that we establish facts: looking at the relationship between facts, interpretations, and opinions,” said Kelly. Sandra den Otter suggested that she wants to avoid focusing on partisan politics, but rather to “use these two events [Trump’s election and Brexit] in non-partisan ways to talk about the nation, identities, difference, and race with the aim of cultivating critical and nuanced perspectives and understanding historical contingency.” 

Simon Devereaux will not be making substantive alterations to his courses. He is “astonished at how flat many of my ‘Trump remarks’ often fall in classroom situations.” Ultimately, the problem might be that “people actually like him [Trump]: or at least endorse his proposition that the established way of doing things isn’t working, and thus attributing to him an authority, and even a capability(?) of which he is utterly undeserving. They conflate the message with the messenger.”

Have recent political events influenced your teaching and research in any ways? Please share your thoughts, ideas, and experiences in the comments section below.

Stephen Jackson is an Assistant Professor of History at the University of Sioux Falls, and serves as the Media Director for the NACBS. If interested in writing a blog post, contact him at Stephen.Jackson@usiouxfalls.edu


[1] For some examples of this, see: Tyler Anbinder on immigration; Denver Brunsman and John Donoghue or Mary Myung-Ok Lee on teaching; Sarah Fenton of the AHA on the limitations of expertise; Dane Kennedy, Philippa Levine, or Susan Pederson on Brexit; or Paul Kramer on the role of the historian.

[2] The responding scholars were: Simon Devereaux, University of Victoria; Amy Harris, Brigham Young University; Jason Kelly, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis; Dane Kennedy, The George Washington University; Philippa Levine, University of Texas at Austin; Sandra den Otter, Queen’s University.

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February
28
2017

Photos Now Online--NACBS Annual Conference 2016

Posted by rdaily under 2016, conference, photographs | Tags: annual conference, photos | 0 Comments


A trove of images from the Washington meeting, taken by photographer Sancha McBurnie, is available for perusal on Flickr: 
https://www.flickr.com/gp/152251154@N02/4B5j5F. Enjoy!

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February
25
2017

Prize Pages Updated for 2017 Competitions

Posted by rdaily | Tags: deadlines, prize, update | 0 Comments

Committee members, deadlines and requirements for NACBS 2017 prize competitions are now current.

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February
20
2017

MACBS Annual Conference

Posted by rdaily under MACBS | Tags: conference | 0 Comments

The 2017 MACBS conference will be held at the University of Maryland in College Park on the weekend of April 1-2.  George Robb, a past president of MACBS, will deliver the plenary address, on "The British Assault on American Neutrality during World War I."   We will also feature a plenary panel on "British History After Brexit," featuring Dane Kennedy, Alison Games, Dinyar Patel, and Zara Anishanslin.
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February
20
2017

CFP: Rewriting British Political History

Posted by rdaily under CFP | Tags: Brexit, IHR | 0 Comments

‘Brexit’ and associated events in 2016 in Britain, including the construction of a new government under a second woman prime minister, strains within the Labour Party, and renewed calls for Scottish independence, have reminded us of the centrality of political institutions in history. Events have been dominated by elections and referenda, foreign diplomacy and negotiation, constitutional procedure and judicial review. In recent years, meanwhile, the definition of politics used by historians has expanded, influenced by new work in social history on culture, personal identity, language, ethnicity, race and gender among many other categories. The opportunity of revisiting the history of politics and writing it more broadly, linking insights from other historical genres and approaches to a more conventional focus on political institutions now presents itself. What might a new British political history look like? What should it include? And are there any limits to the definition of ‘politics’ used by historians of Britain?

This conference, organised by the Institute of Historical Research with the support of the North American Conference on British Studies, and to be held at the IHR in Senate House, London, on Thursday and Friday June 29-30 2017, will consider how we should write the political history of Britain under the influence of new approaches and in light of recent events.

Prospective speakers are invited to submit panel proposals on any period of British history – medieval, early modern, and modern – which examine a common political theme, subject or period.

The 300 word proposals must include:

- Three papers with a nominated chair
- The title of the panel session
- Synopses of the individual papers
- Speakers’ names and affiliations
 
Please submit your proposals to ihr.events@sas.ac.uk by 1 April 2017

http://events.history.ac.uk/event/show/15521 
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Guy Ortolano, winner of the NACBS’ 2016 Walter D. Love Prize, on his project “The Typicalities of the English? Walt Rostow, the Stages of Economic Growth, and Modern British History,” Modern Intellectual History, 12, 3 (November 2015).


How did you become interested in this topic?

I’m interested in why anybody outside of Britain should study British history.  For a generation now, imperial history has offered a compelling answer to that question, but how else might we persuade deans and departments of the value of our field?  When I read my colleague Barbara Weinstein’s AHA Presidential Address, “Developing Inequality,” I became interested in the role that British history played in modernization theory during the 1950s and 1960s.  This outdated theory can’t say why anybody should Britain today, but it does point to why some people studied Britain in the not-too-distant past: because it purportedly blazed the trail to modernity that other nations must follow.  Walt Rostow’s blockbuster polemic, The Stages of Economic Growth (1960), is often cited as the classic statement of this position, but when I read it I found that, not only did Rostow not make that claim, he repeatedly disavowed it.  Britain, for Rostow, was not exemplary but peculiar.  So I set out to understand, first, what role Britain actually played in Stages; second, how we had come to associate the book with something else entirely; and third, what is the significance, for historians wanting to make a case for studying – and staffing – British history, of the fact that this canonical text disavowed the applicability of the British case.  I conclude that Rostow’s use of Britain offers a model after all: not because he (or we) could assert that all nations follow Britain’s path, but because he (and we) could use the British case to think about world historical development without recourse to that Anglocentric claim.

Did you encounter any unexpected problems or difficulties with your sources? 

The main difficulty was the refusal of Stages to yield the answers I wanted.  I was trying to write about how British history structured this influential scheme of world historical development, only to find repeated disavowals of that position instead – until, walking home one day having failed yet again to produce an NACBS paper, I realized, oh, right: that’s the article.

Does your project engage other disciplines? If so, which ones, and how? 

The article aims to engage US historians, by drawing a distinction between American exceptionalism and American egocentrism: Rostow indulged the former but not the latter, since he could not conceive of world historical development without seriously engaging Britain.  And it addresses intellectual historians, especially historians of Marxism, by analyzing modernization theory as a historically specific (namely, Cold War) effort to replace “class” with “nation” as history’s primary actor.  I am grateful to Nils Gilman for helping me to see that.

Do you have any advice for graduate students and early career professionals as they begin research projects or embark upon the writing process? 

Begin conference papers not with a date, but an idea; organize articles not around facts we don’t know, but problems we can’t explain; remember that topics don’t make arguments, authors do.  I co-edit the journal Twentieth Century British History, along with Helen McCarthy and Adrian Bingham, and we often ask authors a version of this question: How do your specific findings change the way we think about some more general concern?  Even though we all know it’s coming, most of us still need pushing to answer that one.

What did you find to be the most challenging part of the project?

Responding to the readers’ reports.  For months I moaned about the impossibility and irrelevance of their demands.  Little by little, though, I worked to address their criticisms, until finally realizing how much their generosity had improved an embarrassingly thin submission.  Much credit goes to the editors of Modern Intellectual History, especially Charlie Capper, for seeing something worth encouraging in something pretty raw.

What are you working on next? Will you be pursuing related research questions or turning to something completely different? 

I’m finishing a book on urban planning and the welfare state, Thatcher’s Progress.  It asks why Margaret Thatcher’s government, before privatizing a single nationalized industry, set out to dismantle Britain’s pioneering new towns program; it argues that Thatcher recognized what historians have not, that the new towns constituted the spatial dimension of the welfare state.  Structurally, the book follows Thatcher on a driving tour around Milton Keynes on the morning of September 25, 1979.  Her hosts wanted to persuade her to continue the new towns program, and the book pauses at each stop to examine what happened – in successive chapters – to transport, planning, architecture, community, consulting, and housing in late-twentieth century Britain.

Guy Ortolano is an Associate Professor of History at NYU.

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February
6
2017

NACBS STATEMENT ON EXECUTIVE ORDER, SIGNED JANUARY 27, 2017

Posted by rdaily | Tags: social justice | 0 Comments

The North American Conference on British Studies, North America’s largest organization of scholars pursuing the study of Britain and the former British Empire, denounces President Trump’s executive order restricting travel of those from seven majority-Muslim countries and temporarily halting the admission of refugees.

With this statement, we join the large list of organizational members of the American Council of Learned Societies who have issued statements in recent days. We condemn this executive order for restricting freedom of movement, imperiling refugees, and furthering racism and religious bigotry. 

We in British studies are keenly aware of the historical record of global infractions of rights that have often accompanied the aggrandizement of national and imperial interests. We also hold precious the historical precedents of safe freedom of passage, the sanctity of the rule of law and the conventions and protocols of a whole range of international agreements negotiated over the course of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. The present limitations of rights and freedoms imposed upon students, faculty and researchers are impediments to all scholarly communities and to the free exchange of ideas upon which our work as scholars and educators depends. Attacks on persons or groups, based upon their religious affiliation, sexual orientation or racial, gender or ethnic identities, are abhorrent to all who advocate debate, dialogue and lives of ethical purpose. 

As British studies scholars, we stand fast with our colleagues and students in this hemisphere and in the United Kingdom, Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East. We also pledge to uphold and sustain the pursuit and protection of the rights threatened by this executive order, both in our organizational life and in the institutions and communities in which we work.

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CFP: 2017 Southern Conference on British Studies Annual Meeting-Dallas, TX, November 10-11.

Deadline for submission: April 1, 2017

The Southern Conference on British Studies solicits proposals for its 2017 meeting in Dallas, Texas, November 10-11. The SCBS will meet in conjunction with the Southern Historical Association.

The SCBS construes British Studies widely and invites participation by scholars in all areas of British history and culture, including the Empire or Commonwealth and the British Isles. We welcome both individual and panel submissions on any topic in British Studies, but especially on the theme of Utopias: Sacred and Secular. We invite papers that address this theme from a wide variety of perspectives, exploring religious, intellectual, imperial, political, social, and other dream worlds, as well as dystopias and other challenges to sacred and secular and visions of perfection.

Individual proposals should be no more than 250 words in length and include a short biographical statement. Panel proposals should be limited to 750 words and include a rationale for the panel as well as a brief description of each paper and participant. Proposals should be sent to Dr. Michael de Nie at: mdenie@westga.edu.

The SCBS Charles Perry Graduate Student Prize ($250) will be awarded to the best paper presented at the conference by a graduate student. Entries must be received by October 27, 2017.

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February
6
2017

CFP: MWCBS Annual Conference, October 2017

Posted by rdaily | 0 Comments

The Midwest Conference on British Studies is proud to announce that its 64th Annual Meeting will be hosted by Webster University in St. Louis, MO, September 29-Oct 1, 2017. The keynote speaker will be Tammy Proctor of Utah State University, and the plenary address will be given by Jonathan Sawday from Saint Louis University.

The MWCBS seeks papers from scholars in all fields of British Studies, broadly defined to include those who study England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, and Britain's Empire and the Commonwealth from Roman Britain to the modern age. We welcome scholars from a broad spectrum of disciplines, including but not limited to history, literature, political science, gender studies, and art history.

We welcome proposals for panels (of three participants plus chair/commentator), roundtables (of four participants plus chair), poster sessions, and panels featuring the pre-circulation of papers among participants and audience members. We welcome proposals that:

* offer comparative analyses of different periods of British Studies, such as comparing medieval and early modern issues in context

* situate the arts, letters, and sciences in a British cultural context

* present new research on the political, social, cultural, and economic history of the British Isles

* examine representations of British and imperial/Commonwealth national identities, including the construction of identities shaped by race, class, ethnicity, sexuality, gender, and dis/ability  

* consider Anglo-American relations, past and present

* examine new trends in British Studies

* assess a major work or body of work by a scholar  

* explore new developments in digital humanities and/or research methodologies  

* present professional development sessions on collaborative or innovative learning techniques in the British Studies classroom or on topics of research, publication, or employment relevant to British Studies scholars

The MWCBS welcomes presentations by advanced graduate students and will award the Walter L. Arnstein Prize for the best graduate student paper(s) given at the conference. A limited number of graduate travel scholarships will also be available, and all graduate students are encouraged to apply. Further details will be available on the MWCBS website: http://mwcbs.edublogs.org/

Proposals must:

* Include a 200-word abstract for each paper and a brief, 1-page c.v. for each participant, including chairs and commentators.

* For full panels, also include a brief 200-word abstract for the panel as a whole.

* Please place the panel abstract, accompanying paper proposals, and vitas in one file and submit it as a single attachment. Also identify the panel’s contact person within the email.

All proposals should be submitted electronically by March 26, 2017, to the Program Committee Chair, Christine Haskill at christinehaskill@ferris.edu.

Program Committee: Carrie Euler, Central Michigan University; Christine Haskill, Chair, Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University; John Krenzke, Tidewater Community College; Chad Martin, University of Indianapolis; Linda E. Mitchell, University of Missouri-Kansas City; J. Sunita Peacock, Slippery Rock University; Lacey Sparks, University of Kentucky. Visit the MWCBS website at http://mwcbs.edublogs.org/ 

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