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 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 library provision is tailored to our researchers’ needs.

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

American History

American history thrives at Oxford thanks to its large academic community and dedicated research library. Oxford historians have a strong commitment 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 several different papers in American history. History undergraduates can also write their final year thesis, based on independent study of primary 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 history MSt.

Queen's College and the RAI host the Harmsworth Visiting Professorship of American History, which 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 Bruce Schulman, Peter Mancall, Barbara Savage, and Alan Taylor. 

The Harmsworth Lecture in American History serves as the Harmsworth Professor's inaugural lecture and is held each year in Michaelmas term. 

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

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

"The first vote" by A.R. Waud, Harper's Weekly, 16 November 1867


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 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 symposium on ‘Rhetorics of Reading: American Contexts and Methods in Literary Studies’, organised by Nicholas Gaskill and 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. Recent lectures have been given by Michael Chabon, Joy Harjo, Deborah Treisman, Claudia Rankine, and Hilton Als.

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.

Clockwise from top left: James Baldwin, Sylvia Plath, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Toni Morrison

American Politics

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, a scholar of US parties and party systems; Nigel Bowles, a scholar of US presidential power; and Gillian Peele, a 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 a distinguished scholar of American politics and government as John G. Winant Visiting Professor of American Government. Recent Winant Professors have included Robert Lieberman (Johns Hopkins), Margaret Weir (Brown), and Stephen Skowronek (Yale). Holders of the Winant Chair deliver the Winant Lecture in American Government in Hilary term.

Oxford is home to a vibrant community of graduate students working on American politics.


2020 US presidential margins by county, Crossover1370, Wikimedia Commons (cropped) - CC BY-SA 4.0 -