Film studies; queer theory; Ethics and Spectatorship; Jewish Cultural Studies’; identity and representation; representations of death.
Contact: Dr Michele Aaron
Tel: +44 (0)121 414 5750
19th- and 20th-century US literature and culture; African-American studies; 1950s US and the Beats.
Contact: Professor Dick Ellis
Tel: +44 (0)121 414 5509
20th-century North American literature (especially Canadian fiction); Canadian Studies; gender studies in a Canadian context; contemporary print cultures/reading studies (UK & North America)
Contact: Dr Danielle Fuller
Tel: +44 (0)121 414 6611
Canadian history and politics; North American security and foreign policy.
Contact: Dr Steve Hewitt
Tel: +44 (0)121 414 6634
Film aesthetics; television studies; Hollywood cinema; authorship; fantasy and fictional worlds; performance; production communities; children's media.
Contact: James Walters
Tel: +44 (0) 121 414 8333
Gender and international history; civil rights; American women's history; Cold War film and history.
Contact: Dr Helen Laville
Tel: +44 (0)121 414 5737
Social/cultural history; African-American history (especially slavery); popular culture (especially commercial entertainment); 19th-century history.
Contact: Dr Robert Lewis
Tel: +44 (0)121 414 5745
20th-century US diplomatic and political history; history and the media; propaganda; US intelligence services; Anglo-American and US-European relations.
Contact: Professor Scott Lucas
Tel: +44 (0)121 414 5763
Late nineteenth and early twentieth-century American literature and art, especially the movement between realism and modernism; American visual culture – including genre painting and illustration, documentary art and photography.
Contact: John Fagg
Tel: +44 (0) 121 414 7812
20th-century American literature and art, African American artists and abstraction; contemporary US fiction.
Contact: Dr Sara Wood
Tel: +44 (0) 121 414 5681
Genre Painting in Early Twentieth-Century America
How was the nineteenth-century genre painting tradition re-imagined to meet the demands and circumstances of the early twentieth-century?
Genre paintings – commonly glossed as paintings of everyday life – tend towards gentle humour, broad stereotypes, mawkish sentiment, cosy domesticity and normative naturalism. But to claim that a work of art represents the everyday is to make a powerful assertion about what constitutes average or ordinary experience. Genre paintings tend to be ‘official art’ reinforcing hegemony and appealing to conservative tastes, but, just occasionally, genre paintings can be subversive.
The Metropolitan Museum’s recent Telling Stories exhibition surveyed American genre paintings produced across a (very) long nineteenth century, but did not undo the common perception of a tradition that was at its most vibrant, popular and culturally relevant in the antebellum era. To trace into the early twentieth century the ongoing expression of genre painting's mix of humour and sentiment, its absorption in the leisure, labour and interaction of everyday life, and its capacity to evolve complex systems of meaning, it is necessary to look beyond the traditions' conventional forms and modes of production and reception. My research explores the way that the street-level anecdotes of Ashcan School realism can be read within and against the genre tradition; the reworking of genre motifs, types and techniques by commercial illustrators in the 1910s; the expansion of the (visual) discourse of everyday life in America to include marginalised groups and regions; and the self-conscious revival of nineteenth-century genre in the 1930s art-world. It is informed by and traces the emergence of the politics and poetics of daily life as a site of oppression and resistance.
Outputs from this research include the Representing the Everyday in American Visual Culture conference and forthcoming edited collection; articles on Ben Shahn’s painting and photography and on the 1930s genre revival (details below); and a book-in-progress provisionally titled, Re-envisioning the Everyday: American Genre Scenes, 1900-1940.
Realism, Impressionism, Modernism
How did writers and artists working within nineteenth-century forms respond as the pace and complexity of city life presented new challenges to familiar modes of representation?
My work on the writer Stephen Crane and the painter George Bellows answers this question by considering the ways in which aspects of their work – their use of sketches, ellipses, anecdotes, frames, schema, aphorisms and clichés – reveal figures caught between modes of representation, at times pre-empting the forms of more fully-realised modernisms but also working within the established terms of realist literature and art. Rather than seeking to make modernists of Crane and Bellows I use them to explore frayed, messy, dynamic processes of cultural change.
Even as he was being hailed by H.L. Mencken as America’s foremost cultural critic – and mocked by Randolph Bourne as “our gourmand of culture” – James Huneker assured his readers that he was a “man of the [eighteen-] eighties” out of step with the worlds he encountered in New York bars, galleries and tango halls during the 1910s. Huneker’s journalism and criticism were avowedly impressionistic, drawing on the voice and tradition of the sketch-writer, the flâneur and the amateur critic. In the article listed below and in my ongoing research I explore the way that Huneker’s ‘back-number aesthetics’ enabled him to be a gourmand of urban modernity’s myriad sensations and a conduit for the intersecting cultures of the European avant-garde and the New York street in the years before the First World War.
Magazine Culture: Literature, Illustration, Networks
How was the production of American periodicals shaped by networks of contributors, editors, publishers, advertisers and political interests - and how do those networks respond to and reveal the processes of early-twentieth-century modernity?
In 1913 Norman Hapgood purchased Harper’s Weekly. Harper & Brothers’ “Journal of Civilization” had been among the most influential American periodicals of the nineteenth century but was, by the 1910s, rapidly losing status and readership. The energetic editor sought to revive the institution by drawing on various networks of contributors including college friends from Harvard (most prominently Louis Brandeis), the muckraking journalists he had employed on Collier’s Weekly, and Greenwich Village writers and artists (including George Bellows, John Sloan and Stuart Davis) who he knew through his brother Hutchins.
Hapgood’s magazine asserted its modernity by borrowing its graphic style from The Masses, but was mailed out to the previous editor’s subscribers who wrote back to complain about the “shredded wheat” illustrations. It was informed by the radical (feminist) politics emerging from Greenwich Village, but was intended by Hapgood and Brandeis to serve as a platform for supporters of Woodrow Wilson. These conflicting interests were brought to a head by the onset of the First World War, and the magazine collapsed in 1916. Hapgood’s Harper’s offers an insight into the periodical as at once the product of a collaborative network and the projection of a unified voice, and provides a productive way of thinking about the end of the nineteenth century.
My research in this area contributes to the Knowledge Networks: Nineteenth Century American Periodicals, Print Cultures, and Communities project.
Atlantic Canadian literary culture
My fascination with reading, writing and publishing communities in the Atlantic region of Canada began with my PhD - research that was expanded for my book, Writing the Everyday: Women’s Textual Communities in Atlantic Canada (McGill-Queen’s UP, 2004). There, I explore how and why communities form around texts that record women’s everyday realities, histories, and traditions.
My interest in popular, non-canonical writing is informed by feminist standpoint epistemology (see, for example, my articles in Women’s Studies International Forum 2002b and Atlantis 1999a) - a theoretical approach that has shaped my investigation of textual communities, leading me to combine qualitative interviewing with studies of publishing history, social contexts, textual analysis and, most importantly, close attention to the local histories and oral cultures that many Atlantic writers draw upon in their work (evident in the poetry of Maxine Tynes, see 1999b below; and 2006).
My research has developed into a consideration of the reception of “best-selling” Atlantic Canadian books and films beyond their most immediate communities (2007d; 2008a). In my essay “Strange Terrain” (Essays in Canadian Writing, 2004), for example, I consider how two writers engage with place-myths about Newfoundland that circulate trans-nationally.
Reading communities and cultures of reading in the USA, Canada and UK
“Beyond the Book: Mass Reading Events and Contemporary Cultures of Reading in the UK, USA and Canada” was an ambitious interdisciplinary trans-Atlantic investigation of shared reading events, which was funded for 3 years by the AHRC (2005-8) and undertaken in collaboration with DeNel Rehberg Sedo (Mount Saint Vincent University, Canada), a communications scholar with expertise on book groups.
A pilot fieldwork study with readers participating in a “One Book, One Community” program in Kitchener/Waterloo/Cambridge (Canada) and with the agencies involved in the organisation of “One Book, One Chicago” was completed in October 2004, part-funded by the British Academy. This research is informed by my previous work on textual communities and my interest in issues of democratic access to cultural production and literature pursued via my guest editorship of Women’s Studies International Forum (2002) and a co-authored article on the export of Canadian Literature (2000). It also builds upon my commitment to research methodologies that combine empirical and textual approaches to the study of literary cultures (e.g. 2007c; 2008b; 2009a).
The capstone publication for the project is a monograph co-written with DeNel Rehberg Sedo, Reading Beyond the Book: The Social Practices of Contemporary Literary Culture (Routledge, 2013). Several articles arising from the same research project are already in print (e.g. 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012) and more are forthcoming. Please see the Beyond the Book website for details of articles, book chapters, podcasts, resources and more information. www.beyondthebookproject.org
During 2012 I gave keynote presentations at a conference on book events at the University of Stirling and on readers at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. I also ran a workshop on methods and methodologies for literary research at the Wheeler Centre in Melbourne and worked with Estonian MA students at the University of Tartu.
In May 2013 I will be speaking about our research on readers and reading events at the Hay Literary Festival.
Counter-terrorism and terrorism
One of my current teaching and research interests relates to counterterrorism and terrorism. My book The British War on Terror: Terrorism and Counterterrorism on the Home Front since 9-11 was published in January 2008. I have also done research related to American counterterrorism policy, specifically the State Department's Rewards for Justice program, the origins of which lie in 1984 and the Reagan administration. This interest emanates from research on state informers that I describe below.
Security and intelligence
In January 2010, my new history of informers was published. Even before September 11, books and popular culture have focused on technology as being the chief threat to civil liberties through state and private surveillance. Lost in the shuffle has been the human factor, namely the reality that some individuals actively assist the state, be it in police forces or intelligence services, by supplying information on others. The book is entitled Snitch!: A History of the Modern Intelligence Informer. My previous work looked at the history of state surveillance in a Canadian context, in particular the spying by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police at Canadian universities for over eighty years.
Canadian security and intelligence and Canadian studies
In collaboration with Professor Christabelle Sethna of the Institute of Women’s Studies at the University of Ottawa, I am working on a project entitled “Sex Spying” that will investigate state surveillance in Canada of women’s organizations from the 1960s until the 1980s. We are currently under contract by McGill-Queen's University Press to produce a monograph on the topic. Eventually, we hope to broaden this project into a comparative examination of state surveillance of women’s organizations in both Canada and the U.S.
As a Canadian I am, according to historian Frank Underhill, "the first anti-American, the model anti-American, the archetypal anti-American, the ideal anti-American as he exists in the mind of God." Thus, by birth I have an interest in this topic, as I do with the wider nature of Canadian-American relations. Of particular interest to me in terms of research is not just anti-Americanism, but the negative response by some in the United States or elsewhere to criticism of the U.S. I call this anti-Anti-Americanism (© Steve Hewitt) and I am interested in the gendered and ideological nature of this backlash against the backlash.
Death and the moving image
I am currently completing a major study entitled Death and the Moving Image: Ideology, Iconography and I. This monograph considers the various forms and functions of the spectre of death, of cinematic death itself and of grief, in Western cinema and explores their relationship to narrative, ideology and spectatorship. The book will be published by Edinburgh University Press in 2012.
Death and visual culture
In 2009, I ran an international multi-disciplinary conference on this theme which emerged out of collaboration with the ‘End of Life’ Head of the West Midlands’ NHS. As a result of this event, I have put together an edited collection drawn from a selection of the papers presented. The book will be entitled Envisaging Death: Dying and Visual Culture.
I have an ongoing interest in theories of gender and sexuality, especially as they interact with the construction of Jewishness and race more broadly. I have published and presented a series of pieces on the intersection of queerness and Jewishness. Grounded in the discourses of race and gender of late nineteenth century Europe, these explore Hollywood, European and Yiddish film and history, and more recently television.
Ethics and film theory
My previous work on the ‘ethics of spectatorship’ has progressed into a questioning of the racialised or imperial, or simply partial, assumptions underlying philosophically informed Western film criticism which addresses the dynamics of watching the suffering of others. While such a questioning underlies my other research projects, it represents a future and more transnational trajectory of my work.
Helen talks about her research into investigating the role of white women in Southern United States communities in the civil rights era.
Helen talks about her research into investigating the role of white women in Southern United States communities in the civil rights era.
Gender and International Relations
My PhD investigated the role of American women’s associations in the Cold War. This research was included in my first book,
Cold War Women published in 2002. I am currently interested in the internationalization of women’s rights which took place through the foundation of the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nation. I am currently writing two articles on different aspects of the work and the early years of the Commission. I am interested in the way in which some women attempted to create international, or universal standards for the status of women, and the way in which this aim was challenged by some nation-states. In particular I am interested in the conflicted US position, which was torn between the desire to appear modern and democratic, and the desire to protect the special interests and needs of women.
My interest is specifically in American women’s role in the implementation of Civil Rights. My research examines the activities of women’s groups as community leaders and as political lobbyists, investigating their beliefs and strategies through the civil rights years. My research demonstrated the inherent conservatism of women’s organizations who sought to preserve peace and community stability, even at the expense of ignoring the moral imperatives of the Civil Rights movement and the need for real change.
Cold War Film
My research in this area looks at the representation of gender in films in the cold War period. I am interested in the way in which constructions of American womanhood were contrasted with stereotypes of Soviet women in films such as Ninotchka and Silk Stockings, in order to make broader points about the differences between the two nations’ politics, society and economy.
The Beats and Beat Writing and Culture
My research into the Beats, commencing with my PhD research, has given rise to many publications. It is rooted in a process of resisting the (until recently) dominant approach of relating the Beats’ work to their biographies, and instead focuses on relating their writing and their poetic and prosodic strategies to their historical and cultural contexts in close detail – an approach formulated in the early 1970s during my research into Evergreen Review and developed, for example, in my 1988 article on the laws of obscenity (focusing on William Burroughs and Grove Press), my 1996 article on Lawrence Ferlinghetti and the Cuban crisis and my book on Jack Kerouac (Liar! Liar!, Greenwich Exchange, 1999).
My interdisciplinary research into African-American writing is similarly centred in an approach rooted in deep cultural contextual readings. My work on Harriet E. Wilson has included preparation of the first modern edition of her writing, four articles and four conference papers. In sum, these amount to a substantial expansion in the process of identifying this writer’s socio-historical and generic co-ordinates. My monograph on Harriet Wilson, published in 2003 by Rodopi Press undertook a cultural biography of her novel Our Nig, studying in detail the contexts of its production. I recently published a study of Hannah Crafts’ The Bondwoman;s Narrative and a new edition of Harriet Wilson's Our Nig, which i edited with Henry Louis Gates Jr. I am currently working on an article on Harriet Beecher Stowe and sadism and an ew edition of Charles Chesnutt's Ther Colonel's Dream.
My major interest has been the broad field of leisure in the American past. My research has mainly been in recreation and leisure, both private and public/commercial. I have edited a forthcoming book of primary sources on popular nineteenth-century theatrical entertainment that explores the major forms—minstrelsy, circus, melodrama, burlesque extravaganzas, wild west shows, summer amusement parks, and vaudeville. It uses extracts from autobiographies, plays and theatre programmes to trace the cultural values of impresarios, showmen and audiences; most of these sources, once popular, now exist only in research collections in the U.S. and have never been reprinted.
Professor Lucas has recently completed two edited books on US foreign policy and power --- The Trials of Public Diplomacy (with Ali Fisher) and The Limits on US Power (with Bevan Sewell) --- which will appear in 2011. Complementing his work as an electronic journalist and analyst as well as an academic, he is now beginning work on a book on how “New Media” is reshaping foreign policy and international affairs.
My research focuses on African American visual art and literature in the twentieth century. I am particularly interested in how ideas of artistic freedom – particularly formal experimentation and abstraction – can be explored within the broader context of the African American freedom movements during the civil rights era.
My forthcoming monograph entitled Maximising Freedom: African American Art, 1945-1970 (under contract to University Press of Mississippi)examines the synergy between ideas of aesthetic and political freedom in the work of African American visual artists. Given the formal developments in American art, and the civil rights history of the postwar period, African American artists responded to a complex set of demands in their work. The book explores how visual artists such as Norman Lewis, Romare Bearden, and Hale Woodruff challenged this understanding of art, as either aesthetically driven or socially engaged, and the narrow definitions of artistry that such a dichotomy imposes.
My research engages with the profits and challenges inherent in the close scrutiny of film style, and how sustained attention to questions of aesthetic composition can enrich claims for achievement in cinema. My book, Film Moments, best reflects this approach. I have a particular investment in movies from contemporary and golden era Hollywood, represented in critical appraisals of the work of directors such as Fritz Lang, Vincente Minnelli, Frank Capra, Woody Allen and Quentin Tarantino.
I have a broad interest in genres of British and US television, again featuring a critical emphasis upon matters of style and meaning. My work attends to a series of issues ranging from the representation of ordinary people in reality television, thematic structuring and character arcs in television drama, and close textual analysis in the context of television released as DVD. I also spent a year working on the AHRC-funded research project 'The Production Ecology of Preschool Television', the outcomes of which were published in 2010.
My writing on film and television often incorporates a close consideration of tones and styles of performance, taking into account the ways in which gesture, movement, voice and gaze resonate within a character’s fictional world. Articles on His Girl Friday, The Others and the television dramas Shameless, Doctor Who and 24 make this their specific focus.
Fictional worlds and fantasy narratives
A large amount of my research has involved an analysis and evaluation of fictional worlds in cinema, and particularly films that create the fantasy of an alternative or parallel world within their narratives. This interest is best represented in my books, Alternative Worlds in Hollywood Cinema and Fantasy Film.