This weekend I leave for Elon in North Carolina, where I will be spending four months teaching and researching as part of the Fulbright-Elon Scholar Award 2015-16. I was delighted to receive this award as I would have the opportunity to spend four months in the United States working on a new research project. However, this award would also give me the chance to ply my trade in a very different environment. Other than the occasional conference, opportunities for academics to work abroad in today’s climate can be at a premium. The increasing demands on academics throughout the year can restrict the amount of time available for that essential ingredient to engaging and innovative teaching – research. Created back in 1948 by Senator J William Fulbright, the Fulbright Commission “fosters mutual cultural understanding through educational exchange” between the US and the UK. Therefore, upon my return to the UK, I am hoping to bring back a number of experiences that will be in my teaching as well as my research.
Elon University is a small liberal arts college located about a 20-minute drive east of Greensboro, the city where the 1960 student sit-ins of the Civil Rights Movement began. The university prides itself on engaging and interactive teaching, and boasts a beautiful campus which was ranked by the New York Times as the nation’s #1. I’m very much looking forward to the fascinating task of teaching a course on ‘US History to 1865’, as well as ‘An Introduction to American Studies.’ We often get American exchange students at the University of Gloucestershire, and these always add a useful and ‘insider’ perspective to class discussions. However, I am positive that I will learn a lot from students at Elon about the way Americans think about their own history. I’m also sure that students will benefit from my ‘outsider’ perspective.
Being in North Carolina will also allow me to begin gathering materials for a new research project which looks at the influence of African American culture in Italy between 1930-1960. When I’m not teaching, I will be concentrating on the experiences of African Americans during WII, exploring oral histories, correspondence, and memoirs by visiting a number of archives and libraries such as the Library of Congress, the African American Museum, the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage in Washington DC, and the John Hope Franklin Library at Duke University. I will also be presenting a talk on my new book Blues, How Do You Do? (Michigan, 2015) at Tennesse State University in Nashville on March 24th.
Importantly however, I will be in the South, a region which scholars of the Americas continue to study as region with a certain unique cultural heritage and history. This is a topic I have been exploring in a recent research project that examines representations of the American South on British television. I am looking forward to having a number of ‘Southern’ experiences: driving through the Appalachian mountains, visiting places such as Nashville and Asheville, historic cities such as Charlottesville, Charleston and Savannah, live music, and last but not least, barbecue!
I also be in the US in the build up to the Presidential elections where I hope to get more of a sense of the way Americans feel about the potential candidates, and what they think about a number of the issues that make the UK news regularly, such as guns, the confederate flag, and police violence. Before all of this however will be Superbowl 50 on February 7th, which this year by coincidence sees the Carolina Panthers take on the Denver Broncos. At this point, all I can say is ‘Go Panthers!’