Dr Nicole King, ‘Ain’t nobody gonna beat me at nuthin’: Reading Toni Cade Bambara and 20th-century Black Literary Childhood’

As part of the 2019/20 BAAS-funded seminar series, we were joined in Glasgow a few weeks ago by Dr Nicole King, Lecturer in the Department of English and Comparative Studies at Goldsmiths, University of London. Dr King’s first book, C.L.R James and Creolization: Circles of Influence, was published in 2001 and she has also published articles and book chapters on Attica Locke, Zadie Smith, Andrea Lee, Toni Morrison, Earl Lovelace and Ida B. Wells. She recently served as the historical consultant on the acclaimed West End production of Death of a Salesman and is currently writing a book on childhood in African American fiction for Edinburgh University Press.

Dr King began her talk, titled ‘Ain’t nobody gonna beat me at nuthin’: Reading Toni Cade Bambara and 20th-century Black Literary Childhood, with a question: ‘Has anybody heard of the Birmingham Children’s Crusade of 1963?’ Just one person in the audience had.

At the beginning of 1963, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and other civil rights organisations decided to target Birmingham for desegregation, in part because the city symbolised extreme resistance to integration. In the span of very little time, there were 60 bombings in the city. All went unsolved and no arrests were made. The police were also very open about how many KKK members there were on the force. Soon, the city had earned the nickname of ‘Bombingham’ and one neighbourhood in particular came to be known as ‘Dynamite Hill’. We know the name of Birmingham’s mayor, Bull Connor, and King noted that we can also probably picture the fire department using water cannons to disperse protesters and ‘police using batons to beat children, dogs to terrorise marchers.’ Apart from one audience member, what we certainly didn’t know was that this campaign on Birmingham included thousands of children activists. 

So in April 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. and others decided to target Birmingham for mass demonstrations. At this point he had only had one major victory, the bus boycotts with Rosa Parks. This was eight years prior, however, and so he enlisted the help of ‘one of the youngest and very charismatic characters of the SCLC, James Bevel, who starts working on the training of thousands of children in Birmingham for non-violent protest.’ This becomes the Children’s Crusade, in the first week of May 1963. 

On day one, around 500 children – ranging from high school age to under ten years old – started marching, illegally of course because Bull Connor has outlawed mass demonstrations. But the aim was to get arrested, and around 500 children were. On day two, about 2000 more children were arrested and, on day three, over 4000. They filled the jails and kept coming, then being held in outdoor areas having been transported using school buses. Wide press coverage showed water cannons and police dogs being used against protesters, police officers hitting children. The footage was seen across the country and around the world.

Kennedy got involved in the middle of the first week and by day ten a settlement was reached with the city. Birmingham would desegregate businesses and free all those imprisoned, as well as remove Bull Connor from office: a huge victory. On 11th June, Kennedy addressed the nation in a speech on desegregation. On 28th August, there was the March on Washington, a collective and extremely successful action. Little over two weeks later on 15th September, the very church at the centre of James Bevel’s organisation with Birmingham’s children was bombed by clan members. Four black girls were killed: Addie May Collins, Cynthia Wesley and Carole Robertson, all 14, and Carol Denise McNair who was 11. 

King ended the 1963 timeline here, with this act of racist violence and its child victims. She said that she was ‘familiar with the 1963 narrative that places Martin Luther King at its centre’, and ‘very aware of the SCLC and of that soaring rhetoric of the “I have a dream” speech’. She also noted the way in which ‘more radical voices and virtually all women’s voices were silenced at that March on Washington.’ ‘What I’m not familiar with,’ King continued, ‘what I had not been familiar with at all until I started doing my research, was the narrative that locates agency with children’. She quoted one of the children who participated in the crusade: ‘It’s funny to think about it, the police, the fire department and the KKK were beaten by us kids.’

Building on what sociologist David Oswell calls ‘the agency of children’, where children are rarely seen as actors in social change, King’s project involves looking for children in modern African American fiction. She asks two questions: ‘What is made possible when children and adolescent characters push against, question and even reject ideas of black subjectivity? How does modern African American fiction use children and childhood to reimagine racial liberation and the production of alternative ways of organising our society?’

King’s introductory chapter to the forthcoming book considers the civil rights era in particular. ‘When we ask questions about children’s agency’, she noted, ‘we are by implication acknowledging that it is vitally important to do so.’ Her research thinks through ‘children and young people’s capacities to make a difference, rather than just being constituted as difference’, allowing us in turn to consider the ‘ways in which children and young people have been and are actively involved in emergent, innovative and substantive forms of solidarity and coexistence.’ These capacities were recognised by W.E.B. Du Bois and Jesse Fawcett in their editorial leadership of Crisis, the NAACP’s magazine and literary organ, but King noted that African American literary criticism has been ‘less attentive to that agency despite […] the prevalence of children at the centre of modern African American narratives.’ 

And so Dr King’s project looks at childhood ‘as a key theatre for asking questions about African American existence’ and children as symbolic of what Chandra Mohanty has called ‘pedagogies of dissent’. King is looking at what becomes apparent when we read black children and how they voice dissent in her ‘somewhat narratological’ study. She uses the idea of an active palimpsest to theorise the how and why ‘of the child figure who is actively questioning, expressing ambivalence in some cases, or even refusing an identity that is already inscribed on their bodies.’

This talk focused on Gorilla, My Love, a collection of short stories by Toni Cade Bambara. Bambara was born in 1939 towards the end of the Harlem Renaissance. She was a prolific writer – of short stories and several novels – but also an activist who became a university professor and successful filmmaker. She was editor of The Black Woman: An Anthology, the first feminist collection focusing on African American women and a seminal text, featuring the likes of Audra Lorde, Alice Walker, and Paule Marshall. (Dr King added parenthetically that the text is available from more progressive, tax-paying retailers if you’d like to buy it.) 

Gorilla, My Love was Bambara’s first collection of short stories, published in 1972. Children, and particularly young black girls, are at the centre both as subjects and, often, narrators. King described Bambara’s girls as ‘feisty, self-assured, vulnerable, nuanced but never, ever tragic.’ She contrasts these with the protagonist in Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye (1970), Pecola Breedlove, whose trauma King identifies as ‘perhaps the most famous 20th century representation of African American girlhood.’ Claudia McTeer, however, Morrison’s narrator, is closer to Bambara’s protagonists. Gorilla, My Love begins ‘in this broader context of how children in modern African American literature are figured as beacons of political change, as Cassandras who warn of the recalcitrance of racist US political systems’ and ‘signifiers of postmodern identities, different ways of enacting girlhood.’ 

The Lesson is the tenth of the 15 stories in Gorilla, My Love. Though other stories had been published individually earlier, the collection itself and The Lesson specifically were published in 1972 by Random House, when Toni Morrison was editor. In fact, everything Bambara published with Random House was edited by Toni Morrison, who also edited a collection of Bambara’s essays, interviews and previously unpublished short stories, called Deep Sightings and Rescue Missions, the introduction to which makes clear, King notes, that it was a ‘labour of love’. 

The Lesson’s pedagogical purpose is immediately apparent. Miss Moore, a neighbourhood radical, takes a motley crew of Harlem-based children on an outing to F.A.O Schwartz, which King describes as ‘the biggest, most spectacular toy store on Fifth Avenue’, in order to teach them about money. The story is narrated by Sylvia but features her best friend, Sugar, and all of the children speak at least briefly. Miss Moore teaches the lesson – which is learned collectively albeit reluctantly – by having the group observe the toys and their hefty price tags. King suggests that the story is set sometime in the late 1960s, or possibly the early 70s, and the sight of one toy in particular, a fibreglass boat on sale for $1195, is thus all the more gobsmacking. Seeing the extravagant toy and its price tag, the children begin to think critically about the world and its inequalities. 

The children see a white lady wearing a fur coat on Fifth Avenue, on a hot summer’s day, on which Sylvia remarks simply ‘White folks crazy.’ King underlines the children’s awareness of the store staff, ‘staring at their black and brown bodies as if they don’t belong there’. When Miss Moore asks what the children thought of F.A.O. Schwartz, Rosie Giraffe ‘mumbles, “White folks crazy.”’ Sugar, the narrator’s best friend, observes ‘You know, Miss Moore, I don’t think all of us here put together eat in a year what that sailboat costs.’ And so the children do learn about money, King argues, but they also learn about their ‘agency in changing how the world sees them and how they themselves move in the world.’

Bambara is known for her humour and skill in rendering black vernacular speech, and King argues that the author’s ‘broader and more subtle’ pedagogical impact on the reader is also achieved through her ‘supreme, just supreme, respect for her child characters.’ Critic Elizabeth Muther claims that these ‘stories depend on narrative triangulations involving Bambara, her adult readers (who, of course, share with Bambara an awareness of the limitations of the child narrator/protagonist’s perspective), and the child herself—who defines the terms of her own experience through the comic forensics of her own self-representations.’ ‘Bambara’, writes Muther, ‘refuses utterly the potentiality for condescension in this narrative situation.’ King underscores this absence of condescension and emphasises the idea of narrative triangulation in Muther’s readings. The adult reader is highly significant, she argues, and Bambara’s narrative triangulations enable us to examine how children in modern African American fiction are ‘figured as beacons of political change’ who ‘sound an alarm about what is or is not working in American culture.’

Sylvia’s reaction to her best friend’s engagement with Miss Moore’s lesson is to stand on her feet to make her stop talking: ‘Miss Moore is besides herself and I am disgusted with Sugar’s treachery.’ Sylvia continues: 

So I stand on her foot one more time to see if she’ll shove me. She shuts up, and Miss Moore looks at me, sorrowfully I’m thinkin. And somethin weird is goin on, I can feel it in my chest.

Not yet at Sugar’s level of understanding, Sylvia is unable to articulate this feeling, and King argues that Sugar’s treachery in engaging with Miss Moore ‘is more aptly connected to the other treacheries that had been on display that day, large and small’. But the feeling in Sylvia’s chest and the ‘nascent oppositional voices’ in Bambara’s story are very much the feelings and voices of children. The story ends with Sylvia and Sugar racing each other to a shop to spend the remainder of a five-dollar bill given to them by Miss Moore for cab fare:

We start down the block and she gets ahead which is O.K. by me cause I’m going to the West End and then over to the Drive to think this day through. She can run if she want to and even run faster. But ain’t nobody gonna beat me at nuthin.

Sylvia does not truly see Miss Moore or Sugar’s behaviour as treacherous. ‘Rather,’ King stresses, ‘she recognises their strategies and political awareness, and is determined to devise some of her own, beginning with a conviction to think this day through, and a refusal to be beat or broken down or cowed by anybody.’ This final line and its bravado are double voiced. It serves to remind the reader that Sylvia is a child, but it is also ‘a refrain from the historical moment of the story’: the civil rights movement, the Black Power movement and the feminist movement, all of which Bambara was involved in.

And this final line, King concluded, is ‘either deliberately or inadvertently echoing an anthem sung by many people active in the civil rights movement, but particularly by the children and young people in the children’s crusade, and that was the freedom song: Ain’t Gonna Let No Body Turn Me ’Round.

We thoroughly enjoyed Dr King’s talk and hope that this was the first of many visits to Glasgow! We’re also very much looking forward to her book, and you can follow her on Twitter @DrNicoleKing to keep up with her research. 

Post by Chiara Howe, PGR American Studies

Dr Katie McGettigan: ‘The Transatlantic Materials of US Authorship in The Whale, or Moby Dick’

As part of the 2019/20 BAAS-funded seminar series, we were excited to be joined in Glasgow last semester by not one but two Americanist speakers: Dr J. Michelle Coghlan from the University of Manchester and Dr Katie McGettigan from Royal Holloway, University of London. This post is about the second talk of the evening, given by Dr McGettigan, Senior Lecturer in American Literature at Royal Holloway, University of London.

Dr McGettigan’s talk, ‘The Transatlantic Materials of US Authorship in The Whaleor Moby Dick’, is taken from her second monograph, tentatively titled The Transatlantic Materials of American Literature, 1830-1860. The London edition of Moby Dick (1851), the title and subtitle inverted as The Whale, or Moby Dick, is a curiously ornate object. Richard Bentley, Melville’s authorised London publisher, commissioned an extravagant binding for the book which he issued in three volumes. The material object of The Whale – with a white or cream spine, blue face, and three gold whales stamped on its binding – stands in stark contrast to the Harper Brothers’ single volume bound in standard cloth. 

Clarifying that this contrast is partly explained by ‘different print economies either side of the Atlantic’, McGettigan explained that US publishers sold a greater volume of cheaper books directly to readers, whereas the inverse was true in Britain where circulating libraries demanded the multi-volume format. But Bentley’s elaborate presentation was still unusual, even by his own binding standards which were smarter than most. Given that Melville’s last three books lost Bentley money and his print run was just 500, why such ornate presentation?

Dr McGettigan pointed out that Bentley actually used the wrong species of whale, since Moby Dick is a sperm whale.

McGettigan’s answer to this curious choice is that Bentley’s material text intervened in contemporary transatlantic copyright debates about the rights of foreign authors and, by extension, how notions of authorship – as an ‘imaginative and economic activity’ – were situated in US print culture. Melville came to represent disputes over the rights of US authors in Britain and Bentley’s binding, McGettigan suggests, was an ornate claim to these rights. She argued that this also generated a ‘literary extravagance’, which she considers to be Melville’s ‘stylistic signature’. She examines this literary history as an example of the ways in which British publishers and texts – as material objects – shaped US authorship and its place in national literary culture, a transatlantic exchange often ignored in histories of US literature.

From 1830 to 1860, Bentley published over 80 titles by 57 American authors, such as James Fennimore Cooper, Washington Irving, and Charles Fenno Hoffman. In June 1849, the Court of Exchequer ruled that ‘foreign authors could not claim copyright through prior publication’, a reversal of the status quo prior to the ruling, which was not final. Thus, British publishers were now reluctant to produce authorised editions of US books. Meanwhile, cheap railway libraries were encouraged to reprint US books – which they could do legally regardless of the author’s permission – ‘to which other British publishers claimed copyright’, and so some American writers found this source of income suddenly insecure. 

In November later that year, ‘The Literary World’, a pro-copyright periodical in New York edited by Melville’s friend, Everett Duyckink, hoped US authors would be persuaded to campaign for revisions to international copyright law. Melville felt this change in law immediately, since selling English copyright to books had provided a valuable income supplement. He travelled to London to sell White Jacket, which McGettigan noted was rejected repeatedly. Journals from the period reflect that the investment was perceived as too risky, and one anonymous Times article describes Melville ‘wearily hawking this book from Piccadilly to Whitechapel’. 

Eventually, Bentley offered Melville what would have been the disappointing sum of £200. In this way, McGettigan explained, Melville became ‘emblematic of the struggles of American authors to secure copyright in Britain’ while Bentley made a name for himself as the British ‘champion of American writers’. In May 1851 the Court of Exchequer ruled that foreign authors could in fact hold copyright by prior publication, announced in ‘The Literary World’ in June. In July 1851, Melville wrote to Bentley – having accepted his offer of £150 for The Whale – to argue that Britain would have to lead the way in the copyright debate: ‘If you desire an international copyright hoist your flag on your side of the water and the signal will be answered, but look for no flag on this side till then.’

McGettigan suggests that Bentley did respond to Melville’s suggestion to hoist the flag in Britain. The extravagant binding, she argues, is ‘a statement about the text’s copyright status’. It advertised ‘that particular book’s security against reprints’, as well as Bentley’s role as ‘a champion of US authors’ rights’, willing as he was to pay handsomely both for the lavish material object and the abstract rights of the book’s author. The Knickerbocker Magazine, a New York literary monthly, suggested that American literature – and culture – would continue to lag behind London until publishers followed Bentley’s lead. The Whale stood as a physical emblem of pro-copyright lobbyist arguments that British publishers were doing the work that should really have been undertaken by their American counterparts but would not be until international copyright law was in place. Bentley’s edition, explained McGettigan, also argued for a ‘US publishing industry centred on authorship rather than reprinting.’

Meredith McGill writes in American Literature and the Culture of Reprinting 1834-1853 that these international copyright debates were situated within wider arguments about the US literary industry’s emergence. McGettigan noted that Gill demonstrates that both British and American petitions to the latter’s government constructed a vision of US literary culture as ‘centred on native authorship.’ For America to assert both literary independence and nationhood, US authors needed protection. Meanwhile, anti-copyright petitions argued that the cultivation of a radically different literary marketplace, a kind of republican based on reading and reprinting rather than authorship, would prove cultural independence. McGill argues that ‘the resetting of type becomes a powerful point of re-origination’ and the single-volume US reprint of The Whale was a sign of this developing literary culture. McGettigan argues, conversely, that Bentley’s materialisation of The Whale as an expensive and beautiful print object ‘validated a copyright system in which foreign authors had equal rights’, as well as an author-centred literary culture. So, in addition to intervening in copyright debates, Bentley’s lavish edition envisioned authorship as central to a print culture that was still finding its shape.

Turning to the book’s author, McGettigan examined Melville’s own engagement with copyright law in The Whale. In chapters 3 and 4 in the third volume, ‘Fast-Fish and Loose-Fish’ and ‘Heads and Tails’, Ishmael digresses to explain how disputes over whale ownership are resolved, observing that the American whaleman’s code is ‘One, a fast-fish belongs to the party fast to it’ and ‘Two, a loose-fish is fair game for anybody who can soonest catch it.’ These statements, McGettigan proposes, ‘constitute a version of the English court’s position on foreigners’ copyright’: American books entering the British marketplace attached to a British publisher were fast fish, but those loose fish that came over after publication were fair game. 

In ‘Heads and Tails’, Ishmael explains that the heads of whales beached on English coasts belong to the king, the tails to the queen. He tells the story of the Lord Warden of Cinque Ports taking possession of a beached whale brought in by ‘honest mariners of Dover, or Sandwich’, robbing them of the chance to make £150 from oil and bone. McGettigan underlines that what Melville imagined here was good men taking pains to bring a whale to England and then losing a considerable sum when it is seized ‘by one who has a legal but not a moral right to it’, and the sum of £150 ‘further binds Melville to the mariners’, since this is the amount Bentley offered for The Whale

Dr McGettigan gave us an extremely rich and informative talk on The Whale’s participation in the transatlantic fashioning of the material and aesthetic practice of American authorship. We eagerly anticipate her second monograph and hope she’ll visit us again soon! You can find the link to Dr McGettigan’s first book, Herman Melville: Modernity and the Material Text, below:

Herman Melville: Modernity and the Material Text

Follow Dr McGettigan on Twitter @KatieMcGettigan.

Post by Chiara Howe, PGR American Studies

Dr J. Michelle Coghlan: ‘The Art of the Recipe: American Food Writing Avant la Lettre’

As part of the 2019/20 BAAS-funded seminar series, we were excited to be joined in Glasgow last semester by not one but two Americanist speakers: Dr J. Michelle Coghlan from the University of Manchester and Dr Katie McGettigan from Royal Holloway, University of London. This post is about the first talk of the evening, given by Dr Coghlan, Lecturer in American Literature and Programme Director of American Studies at the University of Manchester.

Dr Coghlan’s talk, ‘The Art of the Recipe: American Food Writing Avant la Lettre’, began life as a chapter in Food and Literature edited by Gitanjali G. Shahani. Coghlan began her talk by asking what this thing we call a recipe is: ‘Is a recipe a list of ingredients and a formula of the steps to be taken in producing a dish? If it comes to us as a lyric, could we call it a poem? If it’s an essay or in a memoir or dropped in as a supplement or an interruption to a novel’s narrative, can we think of the book it comes to us in as a kind of cookbook, even if it would likely be more readily categorised, at least initially, as something else? And, finally, could cookbooks be read – even savoured – for something beyond themselves, or rather, for a pleasure in the form their recipes take rather than simply the foods they instruct us to prepare?’

The idea of the ‘artful recipe’ originated in the 20th century with works such as M. F. K. Fisher’s Serve It Forth (1937), Consider the Oyster (1941) and How to Cook a Wolf (1942). Since then, there have been many novels and memoirs which ‘ingeniously embed recipes for the dishes cooked up in their pages’, such as Nztotake Shange’s Sassafrass, Cypress and Indigo (1982) and Nora Ephron’s Heartburn (1983). This new hybrid form was termed ‘recipistolary’ by literary scholar Doris Witt and food studies scholars have treated it as a contemporary invention, largely overlooking the American food writing of the previous century and its literary aspirations.

Reflecting on Fisher’s How to Cook a Wolf, Coghlan discussed the difficulty of classifying the work’s genre, it having first been reviewed as a cookbook and since thought of as ‘something else we don’t quite have a term for, “a collection of gastronomical essays” being our closest approximation.’ In An Everlasting Meal, Tamar Adler describes Fisher’s book as ‘a book about cooking defiantly, amid the mess of war and the pains of bare pantries’, but Coghlan is compelled by food studies scholar Allison Carruth’s argument that the work should be read ‘as both an inflection and a re-articulation of modernist aesthetic form’. 

Seeking to enrich our understanding of ‘the aesthetic pleasures at the heart of Fisher’s essays and the modern recipistolary canon of which they are a part’, Coghlan has examined the essays of expat American writer Elizabeth Robins Pennell, featured in an 1896 collection called The Feasts of Autolycus: Or, the Diary of a Greedy Woman, which was originally written for the Pall Mall Gazette and later circulated transatlantically. Parenthetically, Coghlan noted that she first began researching Pennell when she was living in the US, where ‘greedy’ refers exclusively to money. It was only after years of living in the UK that she discovered it has a rather different meaning here. 

Fisher refers to Pennell at the outset of An Alphabet for Gourmets in ‘A is for Dining Alone’: ‘There is always the prospect to cheer us of a quiet or giddy or warmly somber or lightly notable meal with “One” as Elizabeth Robins Pennell refers to him or her in The Feasts of Autolycus, “… one sits feasting in silent sympathy”, this lady wrote at the end of the last century, in her mannered and delightful book.’ Coghlan argued that this allusion ‘remarkably invokes but notably does and does not situate’ Pennell, and that Fisher’s ‘affectionate if gratuitous nod’ at the beginning of her own collection evinces her familiarity with the earlier work. And so Pennell might be read as an incubator of modernist food writing, or an ‘alternate temporal trajectory’ as Coghlan puts it.

Pennell wrote prolifically and the gastronomical essay is just one genre with which she experimented. She was born in Philadelphia in 1855 and in 1883 married American illustrator, Joseph Pennell, moving to London later that year. They soon befriended Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, and Henry James among others, and recent critical interest in Pennell has more often focused on her reputation as a fin-de-siècle New Critic than her food writing. Coghlan, however, identifies a ‘New Critical tendency to attend to the formal characteristics of an artwork’ in The Feasts of Autolycus. She suggests reading Feasts as if it were a kind of cookbook for an alternative understanding of whether cookbooks have to function as we expect, assuming readerly cooperation in performing its instructions. Pennell does not offer precise recipes nor ‘adopt the voice of a domestic authority’, ways in which she subverts the cookbook genre. Instead, Coghlan argues, one finds Pennell repurposing ‘aestheticism for the kitchen’ through ‘meandering meditations on delightful meals’. Coghlan offers the example of Pennell’s recipe for “Gaspacho”, which Pennell imagines to have appeared ‘to the strumming of guitars and click of castanets’, to have been dreamed up ‘in sheer levity of spirit and indolence’ (‘The Salads of Spain.’). Thus, the recipe begins not with an instruction for the dish – and the expectation of readerly obedience – but with Pennell immersing her reader in ‘the sensations of its fabular genealogy’. 

Pennell uses this aesthetic rhetoric not to create a “‘Cook’s Manual,’ or a “Housewife’s Companion”’, but ‘a guide to the Beauty, the Poetry, that exists in the perfect dish, even as in the masterpiece of a Titian or a Swinburne’, a comparison that Pennell makes in the introduction to Feasts and which Coghlan is confident she did not intend hyperbolically. Rounding off a lively and engaging talk, Coghlan suggested that the aim of Pennell’s essays is ‘not so much to instruct as to indulge the senses and to take eating seriously – and thus to refashion readerly palates as much as culinary savoir-faire.’ Pennell’s aim and aesthetic thus combine to resist easy categorisation, like Fisher’s writing and much cookery literature since. 

Dr Coghlan’s talk gave us much food for thought (sorry…) and we hope this was the first of many visits to Glasgow! If you would like to read her work, she is the editor of the forthcoming Cambridge Companion to Literature and Food (CUP, March 2020). Links to this and her first book, Sensational Internationalism: the Paris Commune and the Remapping of American Memory in the Long Nineteenth Century’, which won the 2017 Arthur Miller Centre First Book Prize in American Studies, are below:

Sensational Internationalism

Cambridge Companion to Literature and Food

Follow Dr Coghlan on Twitter @JMCoghlan.

Post by Chiara Howe, PGR American Studies

The Andrew Hook Centre for American Studies, University of Glasgow

The Andrew Hook Centre is Scotland’s only centre for American Studies, providing a hub for postgraduate students and academics. Building upon the University of Glasgow’s distinguished record in American Studies, the Centre promotes American studies by sponsoring seminars, colloquia, conferences, films and theatrical events.

Ever since the seventeenth century Glasgow has been a gateway for economic, social and cultural exchange between Scotland and North America. From the tobacco trade to the annual Transatlantic Sessions concerts, these connections provide the foundation for American Studies at the University of Glasgow, which has long been at the forefront of the study of American society and culture in the British Isles. The University of Glasgow was one of the first British universities to take seriously the study of the literature, history and politics of the United States of America. John Nichol (Glasgow’s first Regius Professor of Literature, appointed in 1862) taught American literature at a time when no British and very few American academics believed that American literature deserved to be considered part of English literature. His book American literature: an historical sketch, 1620-1880 (1882) was the first such volume to be published on either side of the Atlantic. Since then distinguished Americanists at Glasgow have included students such as Sir Denis Brogan and academic staff such as Esmond Wright, Peter Parish, William Brock and Andrew Hook.

In 1997 the University of Glasgow recognized this heritage with the creation of the Andrew Hook Centre for American Studies. The Hook Centre has become Scotland’s only centre for American Studies, and it operates one of the leading taught master’s degree courses in the UK. The Centre sponsors the most extensive American Studies lecture and seminar series in Scotland, which is open to academics, students and the general public.

The Centre has featured presentations by the Nobel laureate Toni Morrison, the Oscar-winning documentary film-maker Ken Burns, and the Grammy-nominated musician Bruce Molsky, as well as scholars from North America and Europe. Furthermore, the Centre has hosted the annual conferences of the British Association for American Studies, the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, and the Scottish Association for the Study of America, as well as numerous smaller conferences and symposia.

The Hook Centre brings together academics from across the university to create a focus for research and teaching in the history, literature, media and culture of the United States. Staff associated with the Centre are based primarily in the subject areas of History; English Literature; Theatre, Film and Television Studies; Music and Politics. The Centre offer a taught MLitt degree as well as a research PhD, and hosts a vibrant research community of postgraduates and academic staff.

You can keep up to date with the Centre and our events below:

Andrew Hook Centre, University of Glasgow

2019-20 Seminar Series

The Andrew Hook Centre is directed by Dr Laura Rattray, Reader in American Literature at the University of Glasgow.

This blog is managed by Chiara Howe, the PGR Representative of the Andrew Hook Centre, so please get in touch if you’d like to write something! It could be about Americanist themes in your research, a trip you’ve been on, or a conference you’ve attended – whatever takes your fancy.