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RA5a: Structure,environment and staffing policy

Since the end of the last RAE period, the Department of American and Canadian Studies has gone through fundamental changes in organisation and staff which has greatly enhanced its research and output. In 1996, the Department had six full-time and one part-time lecturer; in 2001, it has eight full-time lecturers and one full-time Research Fellow. Six of the nine staff have joined the Department since 1997. These developments have been reinforced by the reorganisation of the Faculty of Arts in September 1997, which has provided more autonomy for the Department within a "federal" School of Historical Studies.
The outcome is a dynamic environment for research with encouragement of individual initiatives and the development of collaborative projects. This collaboration is founded upon a multi- and inter-disciplinary approach to research and teaching in all aspects of American and Canadian Studies, including history, literature, and cultural studies; it occurs between staff within the Department and between staff and colleagues in other departments and schools of the University of Birmingham and in other institutions in Britain, North America, and Europe. The collaboration has been furthered by financial support at School and Department level. Its success is evident in output through seminars, conferences, and publications in print and electronic monographs and journals.

The School of Historical Studies supports Department research through a number of initiatives. A designated Research Officer co-ordinates and distributes information on funding bodies and special programmes, and the School holds Training Days for staff preparing grant applications. Research and Overseas Conference Grants provide funds, on an annual basis, for the development and presentation of scholarship. Since 1996, nine Department members have received at least one grant and most have received more than one; in total, there have been 21 grants for research in North America and Europe and for delivery of papers at major conferences. The Department reinforces this support through its own annual grants for presentation of conference papers. The School also provides financial support for Teaching Relief for staff members, with a reduced teaching load (25 percent over a year or 50 percent over a semester), to complete monographs and articles. Since 1998, six Department members have been successful in applications for relief. The School has also introduced Teaching Relief for staff preparing submissions for major research grants; the Department’s first applications under this scheme will be made in spring 2001.
Vigorous support is given for the organisation of national and international conferences, with seven international conferences organised by staff members since 1995. The Department places a high priority on providing staff and postgraduate research students with feedback on work in progress. All staff and doctoral students present their research to the ACS Research Seminar; eight of those papers have subsequently been published. A further opportunity for development of research has come through 49th Parallel (www.artsweb.bham.ac.uk/49thparallel), the electronic journal edited by the Department’s postgraduate students; Gair, Laville, and Lucas, as well as a number of postgraduate students, have published articles in the journal.
The Department also emphasizes the development of research through the teaching of advanced undergraduate and postgraduate courses. In addition to individual staff designing courses drawing upon and extending their current research projects, the Department has established team-taught courses in areas such as Urban Studies, Film Studies, and US Culture and Foreign Policy. Interdisciplinary research has also been fostered by collaborative teaching with colleagues from departments such as English, Cultural Studies, and Politics and International Studies.
The Department’s research environment is enhanced by the holdings of the University Library, one of the best repositories in Britain for material on American and Canadian Studies. Since 1997, there has been significant investment in primary documents. Notable amongst the acquired collections are documents from the National Security Archive and the Declassified Document Reference System - Birmingham and the London School of Economics are the only institutions in Britain with the resource. Substantial holdings in colonial and early national US history include the editions of the papers of leading Americans (Franklin, Jefferson, Madison, Washington, Laurens, Adams, and Hamilton amongst others) and collections of key primary sources. Holdings of secondary and primary material on Canada have been developed with the assistance of an annual grant, provided since 1996, from the Canadian High Commission. In 1999, the Department arranged for the deposit in the University Library of the archive of the British Association for American Studies. Already catalogued, the collection is now being studied by staff and students for articles and dissertations. The Department also has a special resource in its Audio-Visual Library, which now has more than 4,000 hours of original British and US archival material. Equally significant has been the presentation of original research through the creation of audio-visual documentary. Submission of documentaries has been approved for M.Phil. and Ph.D. dissertations with more than a dozen audio-visual dissertations completed since 1998.

Research is supervised and developed through consultation between staff and the Head of Department. The Head of Department is supported by the Departmental Research Officer (Kennedy), who oversees research initiatives, provides information on funding opportunities, and reviews applications. Kennedy also serves as a School advisor on the preparation of applications for external grants. The Head meets formally with each staff member at the start of the academic year to set goals for the next 12 months and to consider the support the Department can give to specific projects. Junior staff members (those in post for less than three years) confer with a senior "mentor" on their current projects and proposed initiatives. At end of the academic year, consideration of research is a primary focus of the Staff Development Review, in which the staff member and the Head (or the "mentor") reviews progress towards the year’s goals. The Department meets twice each semester to review collaboration and to consider arrangements for seminars, conferences, grants, and overseas research.
The Department’s research strategy relies upon a cohesive outlook and ongoing collaboration amongst ourselves and with members of other departments and universities. The first stage of the transition from research to publication comes through participation in the weekly ACS Research Seminar and in specific groups such as the Urban Cultures Seminar. The seminars combine presentations by guest speakers from Britain, Canada, and the United States with those by staff and postgraduate students. Every member of staff not only introduces current research at the ACS Research Seminar but uses the commentary in that forum to revise and extend his/her analysis. This process is complemented by the teaching structure of the Department with its emphasis on collaborative instruction and research.
The next stage of development is supported by new forums for presentation. Department representation at international conferences has increased significantly since 1996, with staff present at major annual gatherings of US, Canadian, British and European associates as well as at special conferences and as visiting speakers in North America, Europe, and Britain. A unique opportunity is also being developed to present scholarship through the e-journal 49th Parallel and electronic books. The Departmental website (www.bham.ac.uk/USCanada), reconstructed at the end of 2000, features links to research websites produced in the department.
Through this system, individuals not only build upon their specialist areas but contribute to areas of strength furthered by joint initiatives in research and teaching. A leading example is the work in Urban Studies (Balshaw, Kennedy, Gair) with research with other colleagues and institutions and output through conferences, the Urban Cultures Seminar, and electronic and print publications. Another is US Culture and Politics (Laville and Lucas) with joint publications, international research projects, and postgraduate programmes generating a cluster of exceptional M.Phil. and Ph.D. candidates. Special mention should be given to Fuller’s promotion of Canadian Studies, not only in her position as Director of the Centre of Canadian Studies and her executive position with the British Association for Canadian Studies but also through initiatives with colleagues in other universities, leading to international conferences, joint publications, and special editions of journals, The Department is currently developing collaborations in two other areas. Film Studies (Balshaw, Fuller, Kennedy, Laville, Lucas), fostered through postgraduate programmes developed since 1996, is now being advanced through individual and joint publications and partnerships with external bodies such as the Midlands Arts Centre. Individual work in African-American Studies (Balshaw, Fuller, Gair, Kennedy, Laville), advanced through publications, has led to team-based initiatives which are generating joint presentations at major conferences and the recruitment of a body of research students, most supported by AHRB and other scholarships. A new initiative in Gender Studies, led by Wilson and including Balshaw, Fuller, Kennedy, and Laville, is being launched through team-taught courses drawing upon the publications and research of each scholar. Gair, Wilson, and Kennedy are also beginning a pilot project in Post-National Studies, linked to the Master’s degree in Trans-Atlantic Studies developed by Lucas, in September 2001. The one-day symposium on Post-National American Studies, held in March 2001, announced the commencement of this project. The Department also emphasises collaboration on initiatives in the presentation of research, notably through electronic publishing and the development of websites (Balshaw, Kennedy, Simmons).
These areas draw upon the Department’s dynamic approach to the development of research by postgraduate students. The M.Phil. and Ph.D. programmes have been revitalised, with intake rising from 2 in 1996/97 to 32 in 1999 and 2000, and the Department now has a very high ratio of research students to academic staff. Thirty-three M.Phil. and Ph.D. degrees have been completed since 1996, and another seven had been submitted and were awaiting final viva as of 31 December 2000. All staff contribute to the postgraduate research process, from entry through coursework to completion of dissertation. Detailed advice is given, over a period of several weeks, on the preparation of funding applications. Each student has an annual allowance for research support and conference attendance, and those with pressing financial needs are assisted by "work-study bursaries", carrying out tasks such as the administration of the Department’s Library and Audio-Visual Collection. Several have also won University Travel Grants.
Through this system, postgraduate students have not only been integrated into the Department through their participation in the ACS Research Seminar, mandatory for all candidates, but also through their own initiatives. 49th Parallel, the first electronic journal in American and Canadian Studies, was launched by the students in 1998 to present breakthrough scholarship and to foster international discussion of both historical and contemporary issues in the discipline. Postgraduates have organised conferences with international participation; one of these has just resulted in an edited collection on US culture in the Cold War.
Staffing Policy (RA 5b)

The period since 1996 has been one of rapid but productive transition for the Department, which has grown from six-and-a-half posts in 1996 to nine full-time posts in 2000. Four of the staff (Balshaw, Fuller, Laville, Lucas) joined the Department in 1997; two (Gair, Wilson) joined in 1998. Four staff returned in the 1996 RAE have left the Department: two through retirement, one through appointment to a Chair at another university, and one through a lectureship in his native country. The outcome of these changes is a Department with a young, vibrant profile: six of the nine staff are under 40; eight, including all staff appointed since 1997, are research-active with a full complement of monographs and articles for review.
The process of enhancing the Department’s reputation began with the six new appointments. Each was made as part of a strategy for elevating the research profile and building areas of strength. Lucas, who moved from the Department of Modern History to become Head of Department, already had an international reputation in diplomatic history but was seeking to expand his work in culture and foreign policy. Laville, with her work on private groups and the US Government, complemented this linkage of domestic and overseas activity and offered new opportunities in African-American and gender studies. Fuller, in addition to her strength as a Canadianist, was developing a new approach to gender and literature combining literary textual analysis with original fieldwork. Balshaw, in addition to her specific role of working with Kennedy on the 3 Cities research project, had a specialism in African-American and gender studies. Gair not only brought his research in 19th-century US literature but offered an approach to literary, cultural, and intellectual history which complemented Kennedy’s scholarship. Wilson’s publications in literary studies and work in queer theory offered perspectives on gender which were ideal for collaboration with Balshaw, Fuller, Kennedy, and Laville. Balshaw and Lucas brought expertise in film history and film studies; the four other appointments have subsequently developed research and publications in these areas.

With the appointment of so many staff, the Department then focused upon the development of a structure and practices to ensure their integration into a research culture. Support for the presentation of new work, formal review and mentoring have all been designed with attention to the needs of new staff. All have been given lighter teaching and administrative loads to help them establish research projects, and the Department’s extensive system of bought-in teaching by postgraduates has been used to support staff in their applications for grants, fellowships, and teaching relief.

Users of this website should note that the information is not intended to be a complete record of all research centres in the UK

Copyright 2002 - HEFCE, SHEFC, ELWa, DEL

Last updated 17 October 2003

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