RAI Interdisciplinary Summer School 2016: Action Figures

Political Plots and Promises, Cultural Hopes and Horrors across the American Century, 1916-2016

The Rothermere American Institute Interdisciplinary Summer Course at Oxford University: June 26 to July 3


An interdisciplinary summer course exploring the political, cultural and artistic productions of the American century in mainland America and beyond. The focus of our discussion will be the real and imagined nature of American subjectivity and citizenship in relation to ideas of civil freedom and democratic integrity. The course will raise questions about the successes and failures of American democratic promises, their cultural compromises and ambivalence realised in political, cultural, literary and artistic terms.

Course Ethos: The course is designed to encourage cross-generational intellectual discussion mixed with stimulating forms of creative practice across several media and disciplines. Since 2011, participants have included pre-university students (carefully selected); undergraduate and graduates, independent learners, non-traditional students, retired professors and professionals. Tutors include scholars of literature, music, art history, cultural and political history, alongside practising journalists, poets, composers, artists, film-makers and script-writers, actors and theatre directors. Sessions are interactive and conversational. There is a strong correlation between intellectual enquiry and creative practice. 

Sessions secured so far: jazz and civil rights; the American athlete; Action painting and the nude; the literary essay; the American lyric and choreography; war novels and journalism; poetry and painting; Aids activism in film and memoir; the aesthetic of terror in American documentary; representations of abortion in literature and film; American masculinity in contemporary society. 

Unique course commissions:  every year the course hosts unique artistic commissions and performances; the 2016 course will include a performance on 'Bob Dylan's Mr Tambourine Man and America’s Whimsical Dream', supported by The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH) and the RAI. 


Registration has now closed

Places are limited to 20 and will be available on a first come, first served basis. Participants may sign up for individual days but we strongly encourage full attendance where possible. Individual mentoring is provided for younger students or those involved in related research or creative projects. The course builds into its structure several creative workshops in order to encourage development in several forms of writing and visual arts practice. 

Course outline

The overall structure will resemble that of previous years (see programmes for 2014 and 2015). A provisional outline of the 2016 course can be viewed here.

For more information, please contact Dr. Sally Bayley at sally.bayley@rai.ox.ac.uk.

For me the summer RAI course opened a world up. Being exposed to the ideas of people of all ages and backgrounds definitely helped me mature as a reader and thinker. During A-levels I found there was often little room for exploration and listening; even the chance to sit in a circle on the course and make eye contact with fellow students speaking was exciting. Learning in school can be very rigid: all facing the front, the teacher, the exam, the goal, but the summer school introduced me to a much calmer and more creative way of discussion. Working with manuscripts was one of the things I found most fun. Initially intimidated by these precious things, I soon learnt from watching other students use them that they were mine to play with and enter into as well. As I grew more confident in these new ways of approaching texts my thinking became more explorative too. I entered the week with quite a rigid understanding of what literature is and how it works, but left it all stirred up about the freedoms and possibilities of the subject.
Lydia Phillips Lea, summer course 2015