The British Association of American Studies Conference, Northumbria University, April 2015

Randall Stephens

1955 was an eventful year on both sides of the Atlantic.  The Brooklyn Dodgers bested the New York Yankees in the World Series, thus giving Billy Joel a line for one of the worst songs ever written, “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” For the first time in their history Chelsea F.C. won the Football League First Division championship. Doubleday published Will Herberg’s Protestant, Catholic, Jew: An Essay in American Religious Sociology. J. R. R. Tolkien rolled out the final in his Lord of the Rings series: The Return of the King. Speaking of Kings, Elvis continued to fill out his Sun Records sessions, with amazing results.  Fellow southerner Billy Graham held his 1955 London crusade at Kelvin Hall and Wembley.

And . . . in that same year a few intrepid academics founded the British Association of American Studies (BAAS) in order to “support and encourage the study of the United States in the Universities, Colleges and Schools of the United Kingdom, and by independent scholars.”  It's been going strong ever since.

The 60th Anniversary Conference of BAAS will be held at my institution, Northumbria University, between Thursday April 9th and Sunday April 12th 2015.  (The call for papers is here. The Deadline is November 1.)

Plenary speakers include:

• Gary Younge. Author, broadcaster and award-winning columnist for The Guardian and The Nation.
• Dana Nelson. Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Professor of English, Vanderbilt University.
• Sarah Churchwell. Professor of American Literature and Public Understanding of the Humanities, University of East Anglia

My colleague, Joe Street, is putting his shoulder into the organization of the conference.  It’s shaping up to be a good one.  And, if you, like me, have been to BAAS before, you know that it is a rewarding, enjoyable experience. (Along with excellent panels and sessions at the 2007 meeting at the University of Leicester, I distinctly remember watching some tweeded-up profs tear up the dance floor under a disco ball as Pulp’s “Common People” blared over the speakers.  Can’t promise the same this time, but should be a great event nonetheless.) 

Panels and individual papers on a variety of topics—film, religion, literature, history, politics, sociology, and more—are welcome. A growing number of sessions in recent years have covered religious topics. I’d like it if we can continue that trend for the Northumbria University conference.

All said, I’m hoping to see some RiAH readers in the “toon” next spring! (For more on what's happening in American Studies at Northumbria, see our latest newsletter here.)