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What is your favourite module to teach and why?
I love teaching my Year 3 Special Subject, Life During Wartime: Crisis, Decline and Transformation in 1970s America.
Each year the students tell me how gloomy and depressing the content is, how difficult it is to resolve the “urban crisis” or listen to disco music, but each year they come up with new and amazing ways of conceptualising or making sense of the 1970s. Discussing those interpretations with them and thinking about their application to both my own research and today’s contemporary United States is a real pleasure (and challenge!).
What inspired you to teach your subject?
It has always been important for me that history, as a subject, offered some degree of social or political value, relevance or importance. When I was reading about the 1970s as a graduate student, it seemed to be the period that could explain my times and why the world around me – a world of austerity amidst plenty, inequality, limited faith in government and “experts”, selfie sticks and #YOLO – was the way it was. It suggested history was not just a straight road to “progress”, but it also offered, amongst the gloom, possibilities for change. I wanted to share the importance of the 1970s – and my enthusiasm for the period – with others, and I hope, when they have finished the course, my students feel similarly.
What museum or heritage site would you recommend to prospective students?
The People’s History Museum in Manchester is essential for a different insight into the history of modern Britain – told from the perspective of working people – from the one you’ve often been taught at school. If you’ve just arrived in Nottingham, also check out City of Caves – one of the best introductions to the city you can get.
What is your favourite historical film?
It’s barely historical, but Do The Right Thing (1989) – a fantastic study of racial division and urban life in 1980s New York. And for a classic Cold War conspiracy, I love The Manchurian Candidate (1962).
What history book do you think more people should read?
In my research area, Kim Phillips-Fein’s book Fear City is one of the best accounts of New York’s fiscal crisis of the 1970s, a critical historical moment which empowered the orthodoxies of market-oriented restructuring and welfare state retrenchment that – at least until very recently – continue to dominate today. And it’s journalism rather than history, but Norman Mailer’s account of the tumultuous political conventions of 1968, Miami and the Siege of Chicago, is the book which drew me into American political history.
Recommend an online resource which is good for students interested in your research area...
If you like American political history, especially histories of the presidency, and want to listen to presidents and their staff at their most honest (and profane), try the Miller Center and its collection of White House tapes and oral histories.
And for the history of New York, read the blog entries and browse the online archives of the Gotham Center for New York City history.