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Forthcoming events and conferences

The Eccles Centre for American Studies regularly organises and supports conferences, seminars, lectures and other events on North American and transatlantic themes, often in partnership with other institutions and organisations.

Summer Scholars Series 2015

When All sessions take place 12.30-14.00
Where British Library Conference Centre, Bronte Room
Price Free; Register for individual sessions via Eventbrite

Join the Eccles Centre for a series of free lunchtime events where writers and scholars will discuss their work and forthcoming publications in an informal setting. The season brochure is available here.

Attendance is free and all are welcome.  Tea and coffee will be provided. 

Summer Scholars Friday 14 August

Register via Eventbrite

  • Committing History: The October 2014 Ottawa Terrorist Attack and the Need for More Historical Writing about Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism

Steve Hewitt (Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow) places the Ottawa attack into a wider Canadian historical context and addresses why, more generally, history is often left out of discussions around political violence.

  • Struggles for Freedom: America and Afghanistan - the Soviet Invasion, 9/11, & the Longest War in US History

Andrew Hammond (Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow) places the longest war in American history and the events of 9/11 in a deeper historical context by considering US foreign policy towards Afghanistan since 1979.


‘Committing History: The October 2014 Ottawa Terrorist Attack and the Need for More Historical Writing about Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism’

Steve Hewitt, University of Birmingham (Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow)

Terrorism is not normally associated with Canada but this changed in October 2014 when Michael Zehaf-Bibeau shot and killed a soldier at the country’s national war memorial and stormed into Canada’s parliament buildings before being shot dead. This talk attempts to place the Ottawa attack into a wider Canadian historical context and addresses why, more generally, history is often left out of discussions around political violence. Ultimately, it argues that a lack of historical context, fuelled in part by government funding directed at certain questions and academic disciplines, leads to a tendency by the media and politicians to overreact to acts of terrorism.

Steve Hewitt is a Senior Lecture in the Department of History at the University of Birmingham. He has written extensively on topics related to security and intelligence in a Canadian, US, and UK context including The British War on Terror: Terrorism and Counterterrorism on the Home Front since 9/11Snitch: A History of the Modern Intelligence Informer, and Spying 101: The RCMP’s Secret Activities at Canadian Universities, 1917-1997.  Currently, he is working on a history of terrorism and counter-terrorism in Canada.

‘Struggles for Freedom: America and Afghanistan - the Soviet Invasion, 9/11, & the Longest War in US History’

Andrew Hammond, University of Warwick (Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow)

The United States is currently in the process of trying to disengage from the longest war in its history. This talk puts this war - Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Freedom's Sentinel - and the events of September 11, 2001 in a deeper historical context. It does so by looking back to an earlier struggle waged in freedom's name in Afghanistan: that which took place during the latter stages of the Cold War when the US supported insurgents fighting the Soviet 40th Army. Based on extensive archival research and over 80 oral history interviews with key players, such as former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski (1977-81) and former Secretary of State George Shultz (1982-89), this talk will help you reconsider some of the most significant and momentous events of modern times.

Dr. Andrew Hammond is a Postdoctoral Visiting Fellow at the British Library's Eccles Centre. He is based at the University of Warwick where he completed his PhD after winning an ESRC 1+3 scholarship through the national competition. In 2011 he was a British Research Council Fellow at the Library of Congress. He has published on US foreign policy, Afghanistan, CIA, Snowden, and 'American Freedom'. His forthcoming book with Edinburgh University Press is entitled Struggles for Freedom: Afghanistan and US Foreign Policy Since 1979.

Summer Scholars Monday 24 August

  • The Poetics of Reticence: Emily Dickinson and Her Contemporaries

This event has been cancelled. Apologies for any inconvenience caused.

Summer Scholars Friday 28 August

Register via Eventbrite

  • British Intervention in the American Civil War: Case Closed?

David Brown (Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow) reconsiders the case for British intervention in the American Civil War (1861-65). While most scholars suggest this was unlikely, could the Lancashire cotton famine have forced the British government to break its policy of neutrality?

  • “The Seal and his Jacket”: Conservation, Cruelty and Consumption in the Fur Seal Fisheries of Alaska, 1850-1914

Helen Cowie (Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow) discusses her research on the sealskin industry in late-nineteenth-century Alaska.


‘British Intervention in the American Civil War: Case Closed?’

David Brown, University of Manchester (Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow)

The American Civil War (1861-65) had a profound influence on British politics and society. Most immediately, it threatened to drag Great Britain into a potentially calamitous conflict with the United States. Economic links between the two nations, as well as numerous cultural affiliations, made it very difficult for the leading power of the age to avoid direct involvement. More than once, British intervention seemed inevitable, not least because Abraham Lincoln’s naval blockade drastically curtailed cotton supplies. The ensuing Cotton Famine caused a devastating downturn in the Lancashire textile industry and severe unemployment among cotton operatives by the winter of 1862. This talk reconsiders the case for British intervention in the American Civil War. While most scholars suggest this was unlikely, could the Lancashire cotton famine have forced the British government to break its policy of neutrality?

Dr. David Brown is Senior Lecturer in American Studies at Manchester University. He is the author of Southern Outcast: Hinton Rowan Helper and the Impending Crisis of the South(2006), co-author of Race in the American South: From Slavery to Civil Rights (2007) and co-editor of Creating Citizenship in the 19th Century South (2013). His current research investigates British public opinion and transatlantic diplomacy during the American Civil War in the first scholarly examination of the Manchester Union and Emancipation Society. In an era when public opinion was especially critical to policy-making, the UES led the last major abolitionist campaign (1863-1865) seeking to influence British responses to the war. This alliance of Manchester workers and professionals sought restoration of the American Union and its principled stand against slavery attracted significant national support.

‘“The Seal and his Jacket”: Conservation, Cruelty and Consumption in the Fur Seal Fisheries of Alaska, 1850-1914’

Helen Cowie, University of York (Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow)

The Pacific fur seal was heavily hunted in the nineteenth century for its coat. Every year, thousands of seals were culled on the Pribylov Islands in the Behring Sea and their skins shipped to London, where they were prepared and processed. They were then distributed to consumers in North America and Europe as shawls, pelisses, gloves and jackets. By the mid-nineteenth century, the fur seal industry was a global business, employing men and women in Alaska, San Francisco and London. It was also a highly fragile and contentious enterprise whose existence was threatened by the uncontrolled exploitation of the natural resource upon which it was built. Examining the Alaskan seal fisheries from an environmental history perspective, this talk looks at the measures taken to protect seals from overfishing and positions their management within a wider raft of conservation initiatives. I discuss the humanitarian objections to the fur industry, which according to one contemporary ‘makes patchwork…not only of the hides of its victims, but of the conscience and intellect of its supporters’. I also show how the seal industry was bound up with complex commodity chains and international diplomacy.

Helen Cowie is lecturer in history at the University of York. Her research focuses on the history of animals and the history of natural history. She is author or Conquering Nature in Spain and its Empire, 1750-1850 (Manchester University Press, 2011) and Exhibiting Animals in Nineteenth-Century Britain: Empathy, Education, Entertainment (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014). She is currently working on a history of animal-based commodities in the nineteenth century, including sealskin, ivory and alpaca wool. 

Jesse Jackson in Conversation

When Friday 21 August 2015, 18:30-20:00
Where British Library Conference Centre
Price £20 / £16 / £14 Book via the BL Box Office

The Rev. Jesse Jackson is one of America’s foremost civil rights, religious and political figures. Over the past forty years, he has played a pivotal role in virtually every movement for empowerment, peace, civil rights, gender equality, and economic and social justice. At this special event he talks about the present state of equalities and rights in the US and beyond.

This event is part of the events programme for the Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy exhibition.

WordPower: Britain and the American Constitution

When Tuesday 8 September, 18.30-20.00
Where British Library Terrace Restaurant
Price £8 / £6 / £5 Book via the BL Box Office

The United States was created by a war against Britain and is separated from it by much more than the Atlantic. Most specifically, the American Federal constitution, drafted in 1787, has often been represented as being critically different from Britain’s own “unwritten” constitution.  For the 2015 Eccles Centre Fulbright Commission Lecture, Linda Colley traces the evolution of such views and assesses their validity. She also charts how different Britons have reacted over time to the idea of a written constitution.

Linda Colley, CBE, FBA, FRS, FRSH, is the Shelby M.C. Davis 1958 Professor of History at Princeton University, and previously taught at Cambridge and Yale Universities and at the LSE.  She is the author of six books which have been translated into ten languages. These include In defiance of oligarchy: The Tory party 1714-1760, Namier, Britons: Forging the Nation 1707-1837, which won the Wolfson Prize, Captives: Britain, Empire and the World 1600-1850, The Ordeal of Elizabeth Marsh: A Woman in World History, named by the New York Times as one of the ten best books of 2007, and, most recently, Acts of Union and Disunion, based on fifteen talks she delivered on BBC Radio 4.

Organised in collaboration with the US-UK Fulbright Commission.

Let's All Move to Detroit

When Monday 14 September, 18.30-20.00
Where British Library Conference Centre
Price £5 / £4 / £3 Book via the BL Box Office
Benjamin Markovits (2015 Eccles British Library Writer in Residence) reads from and discusses his new novel, You Don't Have to Live Like This, about race, justice and the American way, set in an experimental community in Detroit. The event will be followed by a drinks reception and book signing.

Benjamin Markovits grew up in Texas, London and Berlin. He is the author of six previous novels: The Syme Papers, Either Side of Winter, Imposture, A Quiet Adjustment, Playing Days and Childish Loves. He has published essays, stories, poetry and reviews on subjects ranging from the Romantics to American sports in The Guardian, Granta, The Paris Review and The New York Times, among other publications. In 2013 Granta selected him as one of their Best of Young British Novelists and in 2015 he won the Eccles British Library Writer in Residence Award. He lives in London and teaches creative writing at Royal Holloway, University of London.

Ben Markovits will be in conversation with critic and author Erica Wager (2014 Eccles British Library Writer in Residence).

Books Talk Back with Tracy Chevalier

When Monday 21 September, 18.30-20.00
Where British Library Conference Centre
Price Free by reservation via the BL Box Office

Books Talk Back is an informal, interactive literary event for aspiring authors. A panel of pre-selected aspiring authors read an extract of their unpublished fiction to a published author and audience, then receive feedback from both. 

At this event, guest author Tracy Chevalier, will share insight and ideas for aspiring authors writing historical fiction and the audience of guests are welcome to ask questions.  Tracy Chevalier FRSL is an historical novelist with dual US/UK citizenship. She has written seven novels and is best known for her second novel, Girl with a Pearl Earring, which has sold over 5 million copies and was made into a 2003 film, starring Scarlett Johansson and Colin Firth. She has been a British Library Reader since 1988, when she began doing research there as a reference book editor. From 2011-2015 she was a judge for the Eccles British Library Writer in Residence Award. She is currently a member of the British Library Board and a Trustee of the Royal Literary Fund. 

Please note, the room will be open from 18.00 when refreshments will be served. The discussion will begin at 18.30.

For more information visit

Making Room: The Housing Crisis in New York and London

When Monday 28 September, 18.30-20.00
Where British Library Conference Centre
Price £5 / £4 / £3 Book via the BL Box Office

Arguably the capitals of the world, New York and London, share great wealth and power. However at their heart they have some real challenges, including unaffordable housing and infrastructure not suited for modern life. In this Benjamin Franklin House Symposium, award-winning architect John McAslan of John McAslan + Partners will address the housing crises in both cities and suggest a template for change.

Born in Glasgow, McAslan was educated at the University of Edinburgh, winning his Diploma year prize. He trained in Boston with Cambridge Seven Associates before joining Richard Rogers and Partners in 1980. He co-founded Troughton McAslan in 1984 and John McAslan + Partners in 1996.  He is Executive Chairman of the practice and is active in all of its work. The practice’s core work runs in parallel with its Initiatives Unit, which delivers not-for-profit projects across the globe, such as community regeneration in Tottenham and modular school design for rural Malawi. In 1997 he established the John McAslan Family Trust, which, as a registered charity, provides support for arts and educational projects in the UK and overseas.  In 2010, John led the reconstruction of the iconic Iron Market in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, which was destroyed in the 2010 earthquake, with the restored Market opening in January 2011.  The practice's work has been widely published internationally in professional journals, newspapers and in the form of monographs and has received in excess of 90 design awards, including 20 RIBA national and international awards, three European Union prizes for cultural heritage and he was named World Architect of the Year in 2009. In 2012 McAslan was appointed Commander of the British Empire by Her Majesty the Queen and also served in 2012 - 2013 as Honorary Consul for the Republic of Haiti in London.

Organised in collaboration with Benjamin Franklin House.

Last Days in Vietnam

When Monday 19 October, 18.30-20.30
Where British Library Conference Centre
Price £10 / £8 / £7 Book via the BL Box Office shortly

April, 1975. During the chaotic final days of the American involvement in the Vietnam War, as the North Vietnamese Army closed in on Saigon, South Vietnamese resistance crumbled. City after city and village after village fell to the North while the U.S. diplomats and military operatives still in the country contemplated withdrawal. With the lives of thousands of South Vietnamese hanging in the balance, those in control faced an impossible decision—who would go and who would be left behind to face brutality, imprisonment, or even death. At the risk of their careers and possible court-martial, a handful of individuals took matters into their own hands. Engaging in unsanctioned and often makeshift operations, they waged a desperate effort to evacuate as many South Vietnamese as possible.

Produced and Directed by Rory Kennedy, Last Days in Vietnam was nominated for a 2015 Academy Award for Documentary Feature.

The screening will be followed by a Q&A with special guests.

Organised in collaboration with PBS America.

Jill Lepore on The Secret History of Wonder Woman

When Wednesday 21 October, 18.30-20.00
Where British Library Terrace Restaurant
Price £8 / £6 / £5 Book via the BL Box Office shortly

Jill Lepore discusses the story of one of America's greatest pop culture icons, along the way revealing the secret life of her highly influential creator and the real heroines who inspired him. Ultimately, her exploration tells the story of women’s experience in the twentieth century as it has never been told before — from the women’s suffrage campaigns of the early 1900s to the troubled place of feminism a century later.

Commanding a vast and wildly passionate following, Wonder Woman has never been out of print in seven decades. She appeared in 1941, a liberated and powerful female superhero at a time when women’s role models were stiflingly conservative. Her creator was American psychologist William Moulton Marston, who was inspired by legends of the warrior princesses of the Amazon and by early feminists, starting with the famous suffragist Emmeline Pankhurst. Marston was also influenced by the women in his own life, including Sadie Holloway, the spirited young British girl who would later become his wife. Through extensive research for her recent book The Secret History of Wonder Woman, Lepore paints a compelling portrait of Marston, revealing him to have been talented and charismatic, but also deeply conflicted. He wrote a column celebrating conventional family life — but practised extraordinary sexual nonconformity, with his wife and mistress under the same roof. The inventor of the lie detector, he lived a life of secrets — which he then spilled on the pages of the Wonder Woman comics he wrote.

Lepore argues that Wonder Woman is the missing link in understanding the struggle for women’s rights across the twentieth century.

Jill Lepore is a professor of American history at Harvard University and a staff writer at The New Yorker. Her books include Book of Ages, a finalist for the National Book Award; New York Burning, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; The Name of War, winner of the Bancroft Prize; and The Mansion of Happiness, which was short-listed for the 2013 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction.

Jill Lepore will be in conversation with author Naomi Alderman.

Shoulder to Shoulder: Americans in Britain during World War Two

When Wednesday 4 November, 18.30-20.00
Where British Library Terrace Restaurant
Price £8 / £6 / £5 Book via the BL Box Office shortly

Lynne Olson explores how the United States forged its wartime alliance with Britain. Focusing on the three key American players in London: Edward R Murrow, the handsome, chain-smoking news reporter; Averell Harriman, the hard-driving millionaire who ran President Roosevelt’s Lend-Lease programme in London; and John G Winant, the shy, idealistic US ambassador, Olson discusses how these men fought to save Britain in its darkest hour. Each formed close ties with Winston Churchill — so much so that all became romantically involved with members of the prime minister’s family.

Drawing on a variety of primary sources, Olson examines the dramatic personal journeys of these men who, determined to save Britain from Hitler, helped convince a cautious FDR and reluctant American public to back the British at a critical time.

Lynne Olson is the former White House correspondent for the Baltimore Sun. She is the author of Citizens of London: The Americans who stood with Britain in its darkest, finest hour, Those Angry Days: Roosevelt, Lindbergh, and America’s fight over WWII 1939-1941, Troublesome Young Men: the rebels who brought Churchill to power and helped save England and Freedom’s Daughters: the unsung heroines of the civil rights movement from 1830 to 1970, and is a co-author of two other books.

The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World

When Wednesday 18 November, 18.30-20.00
Where British Library Terrace Restaurant
Price £8 / £6 / £5 Book via the BL Box Office shortly

The visionary German naturalist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) was daringly adventurous but also created the way we understand nature today. Though almost forgotten today, more things are named after him than anyone else. There are towns, rivers, mountain ranges, the ocean current that runs along the South American coast and there’s a penguin, a giant squid – even the mare Humboldtianum on the moon.

Humboldt was the most famous scientist of his age. Perceiving nature as an interconnected global force, Humboldt discovered similarities between climate zones across the world and predicted human-induced climate change. He turned scientific observation into poetic narrative, and his writings inspired poets such Wordsworth and Goethe but also politicians such as Jefferson. Darwin would have not boarded the Beagle without Humboldt, and it was Humboldt’s influence that shaped Thoreau’s Walden.

Drawing on the research for her new book The Invention of Nature, Andrea Wulf (2013 Eccles British Library Writer in Residence) will take us on a fantastic voyage in his footsteps – across the highest peaks of the Andes and along tropical rivers alive with crocodiles, showing us why his life and ideas remain so important today. She traces Humboldt’s influences through the great minds he inspired in revolution, evolution, ecology, conservation, art and literature.  Wulf brings this lost hero to science and the forgotten father of environmentalism back to life.

Andrea Wulf was born in India, moved to Germany as a child, and now lives in Britain. She is the author of several acclaimed books, including The Brother Gardeners which was long-listed for the Samuel Johnson Prize 2008 and Founding Gardeners which was on the New York Times Best Seller List. She used her residency at the British Library in 2013 to conduct research for The Invention of Nature.

The talk will be followed by a wine reception and book signing.

Organised in collaboration with the American Museum in Britain.

Henry James and Memory Conference

When Thursday 14 - Saturday 16 April, 2016
Where British Library Conference Centre

Plenary Speakers:
Sarah Churchwell, Professor of American Literature and Public Understanding of the Humanities, University of East Anglia
Richard Holmes, OBE, FRSL, FBA, biographer

2016 marks the centenary of the death of Henry James (15 April 1843-28 February 1916), and will be a year in which James’s heritage will be celebrated, and will come under scrutiny, in a variety of settings and in different modes. This first conference of the centenary year will take place in London, James’s adopted home and the location of much of his fiction, and will be hosted by the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library, one of the world’s greatest libraries. Taking advantage of another centenary, it will give special attention to James’s richly complex relation to Shakespeare, as well as to other writers, especially poets. In addition to academic papers, it will also involve readings by creative writers - in poetry and prose - of works inspired by James and his example.

The conference will start with a public event on Thursday evening 14 April and continue until Saturday afternoon 16 April 2016.

The academic organisers are Philip Horne (University College London), Gert Buelens (Ghent University) and Oliver Herford (University of Birmingham).

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