I’m delighted to be able to come to Gloucestershire next semester, where I’ll be teaching two courses, ‘The Quest for Equality: Civil Rights in the USA, 1930-70’ and ‘Democracy, Freedom and Slavery: the USA, 1776-1865’, as well as supervising a number of dissertations. I’ve been asked to tell you a little about myself, so here goes.
I was born and raised in County Fermanagh in the west of Northern Ireland. I decided to go to the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, partly, as I recall, on the basis of having so much fun when I came to visit the city. As my undergraduate degree progressed I became more and more interested in American history, so much so that I stayed in Edinburgh and completed an MSc and, in 2015, a PhD. Having spent most of my adult life in Scotland, I seem to have developed a hybridized Scottish-Irish accent, much to the amusement of my family. I now live in London, though I have not, as yet, picked up any semblance of a cockney twang.
My research expertise lies primarily in twentieth century history, particularly the period from the Great Depression and the emergence of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s, through to Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980. I am especially interested in grassroots social movements, race relations in the North and the South, party politics, conflicts between business and labour unions, the history of capitalism, evangelicals and fundamentalists’ engagement with politics, anti-communism and the Cold War, and changes to gender relations and ideals. All of these themes were woven into my doctoral project, “Educating the Nation: George S. Benson and Modern American Conservatism”, which offers a new interpretation of the nature, origins and influence of modern U.S. conservatism. This project, which I am now turning into a monograph, examines the career of American conservative activist George Benson (1898-1991), who served as President of the Church of Christ–affiliated Harding College in Searcy, Arkansas and rose to national prominence in the early 1940s, when he established the National Education Program (NEP). With funding from a remarkable array of the nation’s business elites, the NEP reached millions of ordinary Americans through a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated radio broadcast and a series of films. I first became aware of Benson, in fact, when, as an undergraduate student I stumbled across (and was bewildered by) a remarkable series of propagandistic animated Technicolor cartoons made by the NEP that fused Disney techniques with right-wing politics (which you can see here.
I consider it a significant privilege and responsibility to be able to assist students’ engagement with history. At Edinburgh I taught courses on various aspects of American history from 1607 and from January I will also be teaching at Queen Mary, University of London. I look forward to meeting and getting to know many of you in the New Year. In the meantime, I hope you have a great break.
Dr Robbie Maxwell will be substituting Dr Christian O’Connell while he is the US as part of his Fulbright-Elon Scholar Award.