The RAI welcomes 2023–24 Visiting Professors

The RAI is delighted to welcome the holders of two visiting chairs to Oxford for the coming academic year. Jason P. Casellas is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Houston and joins us as John G. Winant Visiting Professor of American Government. Elizabeth R. Varon is Langbourne M. Williams Professor of American History at the University of Virginia and this year’s Harold Vyvyan Harmsworth Visiting Professor of American History. They share their first impressions below.


Jason Casellas

Selected as a Winant Professor in 2020 during the pandemic, I had been looking forward to visiting Oxford for several years, and I was delighted to arrive in early October to sunny and uncharacteristically warm weather. Equally warm was my welcome to both RAI and Balliol College. Hannah, Katy, and Adam have been very kind and welcoming, and I have met some really impressive D.Phil. students, as well.  I am living in Holywell Manor, an historic and, some say, haunted premises on Manor Road ideally located next to the Law School and the Politics and International Relations department. While I have not encountered any ghosts, I have been deeply embedded into the Oxford experience, ranging from freshers’ formal dinners to casual chats with interesting scholars from a wide range of disciplines. Dame Helen Ghosh, the Master of the College, gave me a warm personal welcome and I was delighted to sit and chat with her during my first formal dinner at high table my second night in Oxford.  I’ve never had to take an oath to a college but I was pleased to make a pledge to Balliol College stating that “I will be true and faithful to the College, will observe its Statutes and by-laws and promote its interests and studies”.

Even though I have not had the chance to explore many of Oxford’s fine museums and historic colleges, I do look forward to doing so once the weather becomes more typical of Oxford winters. What I have been most impressed by is the spirit of interdisciplinarity both at RAI and Balliol. The Oxford model truly fosters such exchanges, which I think are excellent ways to not only enrich our own research but also provide different perspectives to those in fields far from our own.  After a week here, I am delighted and cannot wait for the year ahead!

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Elizabeth Varon

I have had a wonderful period of transition as the new Harmsworth Professor and am very grateful for the warm welcome I have gotten from the RAI, Queen’s College, and History Faculty.  My first impression was, “How does anyone get any work done around here?,” given all the stunning historic sites and cultural events and tempting pubs and restaurants serving as distractions (the Turf and Antep Kitchen are already favorites).  But I have quickly come to appreciate what a vibrant and dynamic intellectual setting this is, full of robust dialogue and opportunities to think outside the box.  I have especially appreciated getting to know graduate students, and sampling my first Evensong, at Magdalen (wow!!). Yes, I have fumbled somewhat learning new customs—having my own designated napkin and napkin ring at the Queen’s SCR was a surprise—but everyone is unfailingly kind and patient.

Coming here from the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, where I have been active in truth-telling projects on the legacies of racism and slavery in American higher education, I am eager to learn how Oxford and UK universities are addressing the issues of slavery complicity and memorialization.  Adam Smith and I are already working on ways to develop links between RAI and UVA’s Nau Civil War Center.  For all the surface differences between American universities and Oxford, there are endless potential points of connection and shared interests.  I am honored to play the role of academic ambassador.  Along with my husband and fellow historian Will Hitchcock, I look forward to a great year in the “city of dreaming spires,” and I encourage all members of the RAI community to reach out so we can get acquainted.

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