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American Studies

Student spotlights

There is a thriving community of postgraduate researchers at Manchester working on many aspects of the Americas.

Below several of our students reflect on the ways in which the University has helped to support their research: through its unique archival collections, funding opportunities, partnerships with neighbouring cultural institutions, and our efforts to encourage interdisciplinary research.

Helen Kilburn, MA in American Studies

While completing my Master’s in American Studies, I have been fortunate to work with original sources, including chapbooks printed by the American Sunday School Union (ASSU). The chapbooks have been held at the Special Collections of the John Rylands University Library since the mid-1980s, but they have never before been consulted. Regardless of the fascinating nature of the topic, it was a privilege to use them, and an opportunity to make one hell of a statement on my CV!

The American Sunday School Union was an interdenominational missionary institution established in 1824. By 1832, the ASSU had a presence in all twenty-four states and claimed that it sought to provide children’s moral literature that was “thoroughly American in their colouring and environment.” Having noticed that a substantial number of the chapbooks directly or indirectly addressed slavery and race, I decided to examine regional discrepancies within the organization, and to consider how race, sectional conflict, and contemporary ideas of ‘Americanness’ shaped the ASSU.

Having direct access to such original sources of Americana has allowed me to pursue my interests in nineteenth-century American culture in a highly original way, and is one of the unique benefits of being a postgraduate student in American Studies at the University.

James West, PhD in American Studies

Coming to Manchester from a university that did not have a dedicated American Studies department, I have found that the diverse mix of Americanists at Manchester has provided a great research environment. Manchester has also provided the unique opportunity to work with the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Library and Resource Centre, one of Europe’s leading specialist libraries on the subjects of migration, race and ethnicity. Through my position as Researcher-in-Residence for the Race Relations Library, I produced a major report assessing the effectiveness of the Centre’s relocation to the revitalised Manchester Central Library. I have also worked in a series of editorial roles for the Centre’s in-house journal, and have developed a number of projects, which linked the Race Relations Centre and the University of Manchester with Greater Manchester schools and the city council. The relationship between the Race Relations Centre and the University of Manchester is unique and just one exciting example of the ways in which the University promotes research impact and outreach.

Natalie Armitage, PhD in American Studies

The nature of my research seeks to examine the origin and nature of a misappropriated popular culture trope, and consequently requires a breadth of investigation into a wide range of sources and academic approaches; incorporating aspects of history, material culture, constructions of race and religious identity and popular culture studies.

I have always taken an interdisciplinary approach to academic study, and was pleased to find an MA course that reaffirmed this outlook. As I looked to carry on to a PhD I was not only able to shift disciplines, from Art History to American Studies, but also had the opportunity to choose appropriate panel members for my project from across the School of Arts, History and Cultures. My panel now includes members from American Studies, Archaeology, and History. In addition, the artefacts and materials held at the Manchester Museum have also proven invaluable in my doctoral research on the voodoo doll.