Amplifying Archives: a Bolt Scholarship research trip report

Ellie Armon Azoulay, a PhD student at the Centre for American Studies, has recently returned from a month’s research trip in the USA, having been awarded this year’s Christine and Ian Bolt Scholarship. The scholarship was set up in memory of Christine Bolt, Emeritus Professor of History at the University of Kent, by her husband, and supports a sustained period of research in America.

Ellie’s PhD thesis is entitled, The Voiceless Were Singing When You Came to Give Them Voice; Confronting Practices of Collecting African American Folk Music in the US, 1900-1950. The study explores different approaches to collecting African American folk music during the first half of the 20th century, and how these can affect representation and the understanding of an important historical archive.

Reflecting on her research trip, Ellie writes;

“For the past year and a half, I’ve been exploring the surprisingly rich terrain of Americanist scholarship within the UK, and simultaneously taking advantage of the multiple resources and databases available online. The distance between the UK and America is not just geographical, but cultural, which – for me – provides a variety of perspectives, and a certain freedom of expression.

One of my research aims is to identify the role of national and federal institutions in constructing national identity and historical narratives. Crucially, it is committed to highlighting and resounding other voices and initiatives – those which are often more regional, locale and smaller-scale – and which have often been marginalized historically. In the course of my research it became clear to me that I needed to question what materials exist beyond reach and accessibility. A simple search reaffirmed the bleak reality under which hegemonic institutions have greater resources to digitize and advance their collections, while those who were historically marginalized are still struggling to match such efforts.

With this understanding it became evident that I must find a way to overcome such barriers (geographical and economical) and visits local, unique archives and collections to study their content. I was extremely excited to learn about the Ian and Christine Bolt Scholarship and even more fortunate to have received it. It allowed me to fulfil an ambitious plan to visit five different collections at three different states – three of them kept in the archives and special collections of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU).

Moreover, spending times in these places enabled me to visit state archives, and local libraries to explore parallel links and expand the local context relevant to my research. In addition to these materials, I took advantage of this travel to follow the footsteps of my research subjects – the collectors – to be in places where the recordings took place, take photographs of specific locations, trace some of their living family members and to initiate some encounters and interactions that can only happen from word of mouth.

The Bolt Scholarship has allowed me access to smaller, sometime silenced or forgotten collections that would less likely to be digitized and therefore unknown to the broader research community as well as the wide public. The award offers young researchers like me a rare opportunity to immerse themselves in a long-term research endeavour that wouldn’t be possible otherwise.”

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Registration open for ‘Visualising the Americas’

Now in its third year, The University of Kent’s Annual Americanist Symposium will take place on Monday 3rd June 2019, at the University’s Canterbury campus. The event is free and everyone is welcome to attend. Register as soon as possible to secure your place and follow @KentAmSymposium for updates regarding the symposium.

This one day symposium will explore how the Americas have been visualised, with speakers using a singular specific image as a gateway to broader events, trends, and figures. This interdisciplinary event will examine a wide range of themes, and promises to be an exciting and engaging day showcasing the forefront of current American Studies research.

Symposium Programme
Keynote Speaker: Professor Luciana Martins, Birkbeck, University of London
‘Expanding the field: visual and material sources in Latin American research’

Endnote Speaker: Dr. Phil Hatfield, Eccles Centre
‘The ‘Patriotic Indian Chiefs’: propaganda, photography and Canada’s First Nations’

Panel 1: ‘Photography, Activism, and Memory’ (Chair: Megan King, University of Kent)
Charlotte James, University of Nottingham: ‘A Young, Determined Harriet Tubman’ The Power of Photography in the Memory of Harriet Tubman and Nineteenth Century Black Antislavery Activists’

Paul Young, University of Edinburgh: ‘“See dis pictyah in my han’?”: Pictures and Power in the Life and Works of Paul Laurence Dunbar’

Emily Brady, University of Nottingham: ‘“No Matter What It Takes To Get The Job Done”: Elizabeth “Tex” Williams and African American Women Photographers in the US Military

Panel 2: Perspectives on Culture, Nationality, Politics, and Violence (Chair: Sarah Smeed, University of Kent)

Alice Patchett, Durham University: Depicting Corn: Nation and Narrative in American Gothic and Horror Fiction

Chloe Balandier, University of Strasbourg: ‘Doubling The Poet’s Perspective: A European Pointillist Painting in the U.S.’

Tim Galsworthy, University of Sussex: ‘Barry Goldwater, Confederate Icon?: Civil War memory, civil rights, and the “Party of Lincoln”’

Adam Dawson, University of East Anglia: ‘Some Chips and a Pack of Gum: Objects and the Black Male Body in Contemporary African American Young Adult Literature’

Panel 3: Representations, Witnessing, and Agency (Chair: Ellie Armon Azoulay, University of Kent)

Jennifer Dos Reis Dos Santos, Aberystwyth University: ‘Voodoo Feminism’

Sheila Brannigan, NOVA School of Social Sciences and Humanities: ‘Power and knowledge in Gordon Parks’ Homeless Couple, Harlem, 1948’

Elizabeth Collier, University of Essex: ‘The photographic medium and the visualisation of the mask in Tar Baby by Toni Morrison’

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Film Screening: The Psychosis of Whiteness

All are welcome to attend a free screening of this documentary, followed by a short Q&A panel discussion on Friday 22 March at 16.30 to 18.15 in the Gulbenkian Cinema at the Canterbury campus of the University of Kent. Please book your free place through

The Psychosis of Whiteness sheds light on society’s perceptions of race and racism by exploring cinematic representations of the slave trade. This documentary takes an in-depth look at big budget films that focus on the transatlantic slave trade and, using a wealth of sources and interviews, it argues that these depictions are metaphoric hallucinations about race. Rather than blaming the powerful institutions that are responsible for slavery, these films rewrite history by praising those same institutions for abolishing the slave trade.

We have assembled a panel who will bring multiple perspectives from areas that the film touches on: Eugene Nulman (the co-writer and director, Birmingham City University), Ben Marsh (History), Charles Devellennes (Politics), Richard Misek (Film), Sweta Rajan-Rankin (Sociology), and Carol Stewart (Medway African & Caribbean Association). It should be great chance to reflect on the historic and contemporary relationships between race, institutions of power, and cultural memory and practice.

You can find here an Open Access version of the scholarly article by Kehinde Andrews (published in the Journal of Black Studies in 2016) which helped inspire the making of the documentary, and gives a sense of its remit.



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New publication by Dr Basha i Novosejt

Dr Aurélie Basha i Novosejt, Lecturer at The Centre for American Studies, has recently published a new book on Robert McNamara’s Vietnam War policy.

Entitled “I Made Mistakes”, the study provides a fresh and controversial examination of Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara’s decisions during the Vietnam War. Although McNamara is remembered as the architect of the Vietnam War, Novosejt draws on new sources – including the diaries of his advisor and confidant John T. McNaughton – to reveal a man who resisted the war more than most.

Speaking to an advisor in 1966 about America’s escalation of forces in Vietnam, Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara confessed: ‘We’ve made mistakes in Vietnam … I’ve made mistakes. But the mistakes I made are not the ones they say I made’. As Secretary of Defense, he did not want the costs of the war associated with a new international commitment in Vietnam, but he sacrificed these misgivings to instead become the public face of the war out of a sense of loyalty to the President.

I Made Mistakes”; Robert McNamara’s Vietnam War Policy, 1960–1968 is published by Cambridge University Press

Reviews of the book

‘Basha’s careful account of McNamara’s Vietnam policies is a terrible indictment not just of the policies but of McNamara’s moral failure in prizing loyalty over lives. How he defined his job dictated his failures. Recommended reading for all future defense secretaries.’
Kori Schake – Deputy Director-General, The International Institute for Strategic Studies

‘I didn’t think there could be much more to say about Robert McNamara and the escalation of America’s war in Vietnam, but Aurélie Basha i Novosejt has proven otherwise. In this boldly original book, she forces us to revisit basic assumptions about an important but enigmatic figure. By showing that economic concerns were paramount, by considering counterinsurgency from a different angle, and by emphasizing previously neglected institutional changes within the Pentagon, Basha is able to shed new light on the subject. But even more, by revealing that McNamara opposed the war at its very beginning, even as he was planning its expansion, Basha is able to reveal the ultimate price of loyalty.’
Andrew Preston – University of Cambridge

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Americanist Research Symposium: 3 June 2019

The Centre for American Studies is delighted to announce that its third annual Americanist Symposium: Visualising the Americas will take place on Monday 3rd June, 2019 at The University of Kent, Canterbury.

With this year’s keynote speaker confirmed as Professor Luciana Martins, Professor of Latin American Visual Cultures at Birkbeck, University of London, the symposium organisers now welcome submissions for a 20-minute paper from all interested postgraduate and early stage researchers. Please see the call for papers, below, or contact the organisers at for further information.

Call for papers
This symposium invites Postgraduate Researchers and Early Career Researchers to aid in advancing the interdisciplinary potential of American Studies by focusing on a specific object or image as a gateway to a broader event, trend or figure. Respondents should aim to reverse the common use of objects or images as mere illustrations by bringing them to the forefront for analysis as a means of inspiring new methodologies and uncovering further knowledge. The use of digital humanities within American Studies will be central to this symposium, as geography requires that European-based researchers are naturally reliant on digital sources and data. Due to the interdisciplinary nature of this symposium, proposals are welcomed from PGRs and ECRs working across different periods, themes, landscapes, and disciplines within American Studies including, but not limited to, History, Literature, Music, Visual Culture, Politics, and Film.

Please submit a proposal for a 20-minute paper to by 20th April, 2019. Proposals should include the title of the paper, a 250-word abstract, the chosen object or image, and a 50-word biography.

Travel bursaries will be offered accordingly.


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Visiting speaker talk on ‘American Horror Story’

We’re delighted to welcome Dr Harriet Earle, Lecturer in English at Sheffield Hallam University, to give a Centre for American Studies research seminar:

Dark Underbellies: How American Horror Story [Re]constructs ‘America’
Friday 15th February,
in the E.Taylor Room, Eliot College

America’ is a strange and amorphous term – a ‘weak brand’ in advertising speak – and ‘American’ only more so. If postmodernism gave us the freedom to think of our identity markers as fluid and arbitrary, by this reckoning is surely follows that ‘America’ contains only the meaning to which the individual will ascribe it, based on personal experiences and understandings. And yet, it remains popular to use it as a title for popular culture artefacts.

In this talk, I will interrogate the use of ‘American’ in the name of the popular television series, American Horror Story. Since its first airing in October 2011, American Horror Story has moved through eight seasons, 60 awards, over 250 nominations and a huge amount of critical debate. I will argue that the inclusion of ‘American’ in the title can be seen in one of two ways. On one hand, it is inclusivist, bringing together a collection of narratives linked geographically to think about how inter- and transnational narratives have shaped the concept of America. On the other, the inclusivist ‘melting pot’ does not allow for the richness of hyphenated Americans to be adequately represented and instead leads to hierarchy and isolationist fracturing of identity.

Using examples from across all eight seasons of the series*, I will address the following questions: According to American Horror Story, what does it mean for something to be ‘American’? What kinds of strategies are being used in this identity construction? And, perhaps most importantly, why should I care?

Speaker biography
Dr Harriet Earle is a lecturer in English at Sheffield Hallam University and researcher in American comics, literature, and popular culture. She has a  PhD in American Comics from Keele University (completed  2014) and her first monograph about conflict trauma and comics post-Vietnam was released in July 2017 by the University Press of Mississippi. She has published across the field of comics  and popular culture studies, with recent publications in The Journal of Popular Culture and Film International. Dr Earle sits on the editorial board of Comics Forum.

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The Roger Anstey Memorial Lecture: 16 January 2019, 5pm

Race, War and Anti-Imperialism in Merze Tate’s International Thought
Professor Barbara Savage, University of Pennsylvania

The School of History and the Centre for American Studies at the University of Kent warmly invite you to the 2019 Roger Anstey Lecture on Wednesday 16th January, at 5pm in Darwin Lecture Theatre 1 (DLT1), The University of Kent. This year’s speaker, Professor Barbara Savage of the University of Pennsylvania will be discussing Race, War and anti-Imperialism in Merze Tate’s International Thought.

Professor Merze Tate (1905-1996), an African American woman, pioneered
in the fields of diplomatic history and international relations during her tenure
at Howard University from 1942 to 1977. Trained at both Oxford and
Harvard, Tate was one of the few black women academics of her generation.
A prolific scholar with a wide-range of interests, her works covered the fields
of disarmament, the diplomatic and political histories of the Pacific, and the
role of railways and mineral extraction industries in the colonization of Africa.

All are welcome to attend the lecture and a wine reception afterwards.

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The 2018 Bolt Lecture by Professor Lisa Brooks

The Centre for American Studies and the School of History at the University of Kent are delighted to announce this year’s Bolt Lecture on Thursday 22 November at 6.30pm in Grimond Building, Lecture Theatre 3. Entitled, Our Beloved Kin; War, Captivity and Native resistance during the ‘First Indian War’ the lecture will be given by Professor Lisa Brooks of Amherst College, Massachusettes.

All are welcome at this public lecture and a drinks reception beforehand at 5.45pm in the main foyer of Grimond Building.

Abstract of the lecture
Lisa Brooks recovers a complex picture of war, captivity, and Native resistance during the “First Indian War” (later named King Philip’s War) by relaying the stories of Weetamoo, a female Wampanoag leader, and James Printer, a Nipmuc scholar, whose stories converge in the captivity of Mary Rowlandson. Through both a narrow focus on Weetamoo, Printer, and their network of relations, and a far broader scope that includes vast Indigenous geographies, Brooks leads us to a new understanding of the history of colonial New England and of American origins. Brooks’s pathbreaking scholarship is grounded not just in extensive archival research but also in the land and communities of Native New England, reading the actions of actors during the seventeenth century alongside an analysis of the landscape and interpretations informed by tribal history.

Speaker biography
Lisa is currently a Professor at Amherst College. She teaches courses in Native American studies, early American literature and comparative American Studies. Before Amherst, she was John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Humanities at Harvard University. As a writer, literary scholar and historian, Lisa works at the crossroads of early American literature & history, geography and Indigenous studies. In her writing and teaching, she asks questions about how we see the spaces known as “New England” and “America” when we turn the prism of our perception to divergent angles. Indigenous methodologies, including a focus on language, place, and community engagement, are crucial to her research, as is deep archival investigation.

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Native Canadian Film Maker visits the Centre

The Centre for American Studies is delighted to host indigenous Canadian film maker, Jooles Koostachin, during her visit to the UK for the 12th Native Spirit Film Festival in London this month.

On Thursday 18th October, Jooles will be leading a research seminar about Cree identity for all interested postgraduates and staff members, and we’ll also be screening her two latest short films, followed by a discussion with the director about her work.

The research seminar will be held in Eliot College, Seminar Room 3 at 1pm and the film screening takes place in Keynes College, Seminar Room 16 at 4pm.

About the films
PLACEnta (17min)
PLACEnta is the sharing between a mother, her daughter and a midwife of the re-discovery of First Nations traditional childbirth teachings. Jules sets out to find a place for her Cree Nation traditional placenta ceremony.

NiiSoTeWak: (16min)
Twins Pawaken and Tapwewin Koostachin-Chakasim. Tapwewin and Pawaken are 10-year-old brothers trying to make sense of the world, their family and each other. They’re already grappling with some heady questions about identity. What does it mean to be a twin? What does it mean to be Cree? How do you define yourself when you’re forever linked to someone else? The twins discuss these questions with their two elder brothers — 22-year-old actor Asivak and 20-year-old basketball player Mahiigan — and their parents, Jules and Jake.

For more information, please email






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Dr John Wills’ research at the British Academy Summer Showcase

Between the 22-23 June this year The British Academy staged its first-ever Summer Showcase, ‘a free festival of ideas for curious minds’ which featured interactive exhibits by academics from 15 British universities, celebrating the fascinating research and ideas shaping the world in which we live.

The Centre for American Studies’ Dr John Wills was one of the researchers selected to take part, with a hands-on exhibit highlighting his research on how America has been depicted in popular videogames from the 1970s onwards.

Entitled, Playing Cowboys and Criminals: Videogame Depictions of the Frontier and Urban West, Dr Wills’ exhibition offered visitors the chance to try their hand at some iconic retro-videogames, while learning how these have shaped our lense on American history and culture. Focusing on ‘Wild West’ titles such as The Oregon Trail (1971), an educational adventure used to teach the history of the frontier, as well as games based on the modern American city, such as LA Noire (2011).

Said Dr Wills of the event;

Over 1,700 people visited the first British Academy Summer Showcase – a mix of families and school children, through to couples and special VIP guests. It was an amazing event.  Nicolas Blower, Hollie Bramwell, and I created an exhibit where visitors could try first-hand a range of vintage games (including Atari Pong and a 1966 Williams pinball machine) through to more modern titles such as Sega’s Crazy Taxi, and ask us questions about how games worked and how they depicted the United States. It was striking how positive people were over my research and how much they felt both excitement and nostalgia for the medium. I felt very privileged to be there.

Read more about John Wills’ research on how America has been depicted in videogames in his piece for the British Academy’s Summer Showcase blog, ‘How Far Cry 5’s depiction of a conflicted nation is subtler than you thought’.

The British Academy is the UK’s national body for the humanities and social sciences – the study of peoples, cultures and societies, past, present and future. To learn more about the organisation and its work, please visit The British Academy website.

Dr John Wills is a Reader in American History and Culture at the University of Kent. He specialises in environmental issues and popular culture, and edits the journal European Journal of American Culture. His most recent publication is Disney Culture (2017) with Rutgers University Press, with a book on video games forthcoming with Johns Hopkins University Press.





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