The Americas at Oxford

The Americas at Oxford

The RAI seeks to provide a supportive and stimulating research environment so that our researchers at all levels across our three key subjects – History, Literature and Politics – can conduct the highest-quality of research under our roof. This ranges from providing comfortable and quiet office space, to running our high-profile seminar series to facilitate peer feedback, to ensuring that our library provisions are tailored to our researchers’ needs.

Read below about how we strive to create specific research cultures for each subject area we support.

American History

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With its large and vigorous academic community and dedicated research library, American history thrives at Oxford. Oxford’s scholars are renowned for their dedication to studying American history in its global context, from Early America to the present day. 

The RAI brings together Oxford’s specialist faculty in American history, doctoral candidates, students taking the MPhil and MSt in US history, and undergraduates working on one of a number of different papers in American history. History undergraduates can also write their final year thesis, based on independent study of original sources, on American topics. There are dedicated prizes for the best undergraduate thesis in US history, and for the best overall performance on the US MSt. Students are also eligible for a range of other Faculty and RAI grants and awards.

The Harmsworth Visiting Professorship of American History was established in 1922 to bring the most distinguished scholars of American history to Oxford to teach and research for a year. Recent holders have included Barbara Savage, Elliott West, Alan Taylor, Kristin Hoganson, Annette Gordon-Reed, Richard Blackett, Gary Gerstle, Philip Morgan, and Peter Onuf. 

The Vere Harmsworth Library is home to the largest academic collections in American history outside the U.S. The weekly American History Research Seminar (AHRS) and international conferences bring historians of America from across the world to the RAI. 

We hold two major annual lectures: the Harmsworth Lecture in American History in Michaelmas Term and the Sir John Elliott Lecture in Atlantic History in Trinity Term. 

Recent US History research students from Oxford have been appointed to a wide range of posts in Britain and the United States.

American Literature

American literature

The RAI hosts research seminars, classes, and conferences in American Literature and is home to a thriving community of faculty members and graduate students. The current Drue Heinz Professor of American Literature is Lloyd Pratt, an expert in nineteenth-century American literature, especially African American literature.

The American Literature Research Seminar (ALRS) brings scholars and critics from across the world to the RAI to present ground-breaking and influential work. We also regularly host conferences, such as a recent conference on ‘Rhetorics of Reading: American Contexts and Methods in Literary Studies’, organised by Associate Professor Nicholas Gaskill and RAI Senior Dr Fellow Rachel Malkin.

The Esmond Harmsworth Lecture in American Arts and Letters in Trinity Term is the centrepiece of the university’s American literary calendar and has been given by some of America’s most eminent writers, including Richard Ford, Joyce Carol Oates, C.K. Williams, Tobias Wolff, Marilynne Robinson, Jennifer Egan, and Lydia Davis.

The termly RAI Book Club brings together a panel of experts to discuss a topical book – and sometimes the author as a guest speaker. Recent authors at the RAI Book Club have included Saidiya Hartmann and Joe Sacco.

Regular public-facing events bring authors, academics and readers into conversation. Speakers in recent years have included the James Tait Black Prize Winner Benjamin Markovits, Costa Prize Winner Andrea Wulf, n+1 magazine editor Mark Greif, and the acclaimed poet and writer Eileen Myles.

We also regularly hold book launches for our RAI Fellows and other Americanists, featuring discussion of the book by an expert panel. Watch some of our past book launches here.

American Politics

the united states capitol washington

The study of American politics and government at Oxford has a distinguished heritage. Herbert Nicholas, the first Rhodes Professor of American History, was a sophisticated observer of post-war American politics. Other leading scholars of the subject have included Philip Williams, whose research focused on American parties and elections and a presence in the APSA; Byron Shafer, the first holder of the Andrew Mellon Chair of American Government and author of numerous path-breaking studies of American partisan and electoral orders; Alan Ware, the scholar of US parties and party systems; Nigel Bowles, a scholar of US presidential power; and Gillian Peele, the scholar of the American Right and conservatism. 

The current Andrew Mellon Professor of American Government is Desmond King, an expert on American political development and the author of many works on labour markets, race, immigration, and ethnicity. Each year, the RAI also welcomes the John G. Winant Visiting Professor of American Government, whose visiting chair has been held by many of the most distinguished scholars of American politics and government including, in recent years, Lisa Miller (Rutgers), George C Edwards III (Texas A&M), Margaret Weir (Brown), Sidney Milkis (Virginia), Stephen Skowronek (Yale) and, in 2020-21, Robert Lieberman (Johns Hopkins). Oxford is home to a vibrant community of graduate students working on American politics. The Winant Professor delivers an Inaugural lecture during the course of their visit. 

In election years we run high-profile series for the general public. In the 2020-21 academic year we organised a series called America Decides, followed by a series on The Future of American Politics. Both series featured leading thinkers, historians, political scientists, journalists, and politicians debating the ideas, the trends, and the people that shaped the election and will shape the next era of American politics. Both series were organised by RAI Fellow Dr Mitch Robertson. Click on the series titles to watch the events on the RAI YouTube channel.