Department of History

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Joe Merton

Lecturer in Twentieth Century History, Faculty of Arts



I am a historian of the post-1945 United States, particularly interested in the politics of race and ethnicity in the US, crime and urban politics (with specific focus on New York City), and the wider political and historical legacy of the 1970s.

I obtained my BA in History & Politics from the University of Sheffield, before completing a D.Phil. in History at the University of Oxford, which was successfully examined in 2010. In July 2010, I was appointed to the post of Teaching Associate in the School of History at Nottingham, before being promoted to Lecturer in August 2013. I have also taught at the University of Oxford, University of Reading, and Queen Mary, University of London.

I am a member of the British Association of American Studies, Historians of the Twentieth Century United States, Urban History Association, and the American Politics Group.

Expertise Summary

My main area of expertise is the social and political history of the contemporary (post-1945) United States. I am particularly interested in the politics of race and ethnicity in the US, crime and urban politics (with a specific focus on New York City), and the wider political and historical legacy of the 1970s, but can offer expertise on large areas of twentieth century American history.

Teaching Summary

Core Teaching

I convene three undergraduate modules, two informed by my research interests. My Year 3 Special Subject 'Life During Wartime: Crisis, Decline, and Transformation in 1970s America' explores the various narratives of crisis and decline constructed during the 1970s, and their role in recasting the United States and its society, politics and culture in significant and far-reaching ways. Using original primary sources, we explore developments such as the growth of identity politics and rights consciousness, mass incarceration and populist conservatism, the proliferation of the market and neoliberal cities, a broader political and cultural power shift from Rustbelt to Sunbelt, even rampant individualism and the selfie, each growing out of the multiple crises of the 1970s.

My Year 2 option 'Race, Rights and Propaganda: The Politics of Race and Identity in the Cold War Era, 1945-1990', examines the politics of race during the Cold War era, addressing how questions of race and identity played a decisive role in shaping the foreign relations of the period. We explore case studies including the United States, Soviet Union, East Asia, post-colonial Africa, and post-imperial Britain, providing students with a deeper understanding of the relationship between the Cold War and the politics of race and the interconnectedness of the domestic and international, agency and structure, and the state and grassroots, in the Cold War era.

I have designed and convene our new first-year survey module in contemporary history 'The Contemporary World since 1945'. I contribute to our MA modules in modern and contemporary history, including Past Futures: Britain and the West since 1945, and Memory and Social Change in Europe and Beyond. I also teach as a seminar tutor on the first year core module, V11108, 'Learning History', and I lecture on the first-survey V11205, 'Roads to Modernity, where I discuss 'The Making of the American Century'.

I won the university's Lord Dearing Award for excellence in teaching and learning in 2019.

You can see my writing about my teaching here and here. And watch me talking about teaching here.

Office Hours (2019-20)

Autumn semester: TBC

Spring semester: TBC

East Midlands Centre for History Teaching & Learning

I am deeply interested in pedagogy and how students learn, and sit on the steering committee for the East Midlands Centre for History Teaching & Learning, a subject-specific advocacy group designed to promote innovation and excellence in history teaching in HE across the region. The Centre will be based at the University of Nottingham from 2019-21.

Research Summary

My doctoral research addressed the emergence of a new 'white ethnic' identity politics in the United States during the 1960s and 1970s. It seeks to explain the emergence of a new and distinct… read more

Selected Publications

Widening Participation, Outreach, and Schools Liaison

In my role as Widening Participation and Schools Liaison Officer within the department, I am responsible for a number of taster sessions and master classes for local school students. Working in partnership with the Hallward Library, I have taught primary source workshops and offered History taster sessions for schools visiting the university. I am also responsible for both the History afternoon and History taster day coordinated by the department, which run in February and June/July each year, and the History teachers' development network, a series of subject-based CPD sessions for local schoolteachers. If schools are interested in taking part in any of these events, please contact me at

I also coordinate the department's involvement in university-wide summer schools such as the Sutton Trust and give a number of taster lectures for prospective students on open days and UCAS visit events. Each of these events are aimed at building aspiration and broadening access to university for students from disadvantaged or non-traditional academic backgrounds. Other innovations have included a print credits scheme for students from low-income backgrounds - the first such programme in the university - and an "inreach" mentoring programme.

Finally, I am responsible for an innovative scheme designed to build aspiration and broaden access to History - and university - amongst children and young people. Our History schools volunteering project, developed in partnership with the History Society, sends up to 60 students a year into local primary and secondary schools in Nottingham to work with local schoolchildren, run History-themed workshops and classes, and develop enthusiasm for the subject.

Current Research

My doctoral research addressed the emergence of a new 'white ethnic' identity politics in the United States during the 1960s and 1970s. It seeks to explain the emergence of a new and distinct political identity - the 'white ethnic' - for the mainly working class, third-generation descendants of European immigrants, and the reasons for its adoption by a range of actors and institutions from across the political spectrum. Yet this 'white ethnic moment' ultimately collapsed, imploding as a coherent political force by the 1980s. Thus my research sheds light not only on the strength of ethnic group mobilisation in an era of political division and uncertainty, but also explains how such mobilisation can also fail to establish a durable presence on the American political stage.

This research arises out of my D.Phil. thesis, and is currently being converted into a monograph for publication, under the provisional title Ethnic Power! The Politics of White Ethnicity, 1964-1984. It has also produced journal articles in the Historical Journal, Journal of American Studies, and Presidential Studies Quarterly, and a book chapter in an edited collection on the Republican Party during the 1960s and 1970s, published by Vanderbilt University Press.

Future Research

I am also currently working on a new research project, provisionally titled Remaking Fear City: Fear of Crime and the Transformation of New York City. This addresses the role of crime, and in particular public fears and anxieties over street crime, in reshaping the political and cultural landscape of New York City during the 1970s. I am specifically interested in the impact of public anxieties and perceptions (and elite responses) in redefining city politics and political coalitions, public policies and attitudes towards them, urban space and design, and media cultures in the city during this period. Together, I argue, the public and elite response to fear of crime was as instrumental as the much-documented fiscal crisis in restructuring the city during the 1970s, transforming it from a bastion of "civic liberalism" (Freeman), even social democracy, into the prototypical "neoliberal city" (Hackworth) of today. You can read me discussing the project on the Urban History Association's Metropole blog.

The project was awarded a research grant by the British Academy/Leverhulme small research grants programme, and won a Founders' Research Travel Award from the British Association of American Studies (BAAS), both in April 2014. I intend this project to form the basis of my second monograph, and have already published research articles from the project in the Journal of Policy History and the Journal of Urban History.

Department of History

University of Nottingham
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

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