American studies scholars at Oxford are launching a series of podcasts reflecting on America – and what the current COVID-19 crisis means for the United States.

In a series of broadcasts, the Rothermere American Institute (RAI) – the Oxford centre for the study of American History, Politics and Literature – reflects on key events in US history and their implications for today. 

In a nod to Abraham Lincoln’s 1862 message to Congress, delivered during the American Civil War, the podcast series is entitled the Last Best Hope? Understanding America from the Outside In. In his speech, President Lincoln said, ‘In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free - honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth.’

In the first episode, the RAI’s new director, Professor Adam Smith discusses why anti-lockdown protests take the form they do in America with this year’s Harmsworth Visiting Professor Margaret Weir. The history of the division of power between the Federal government and the States is the focus of another broadcast, with Oxford DPhil student Grace Mallon. And in the third podcast, the idea of ‘crisis’, especially in the time of pandemics, is discussed with the former RAI Director, Professor Jay Sexton (now at the University of Missouri). In future episodes, scholars and critics talk about American literature and culture and its role in the world.

Talking about the series, Professor Smith explains, ‘Is America now, or has it ever been, the “last best hope of earth”, as Lincoln so hopefully suggested? Probably not, but plenty of people have thought so. In this podcast, we try to understand why that is.’

The series has been put together amid social distancing and involves leading academics from the US and the UK coming together over the internet. In a series of interesting and challenging programmes,  Professor Smith interviews and interrogates fellow US experts. And, it is not restricted to students – it is available online to anyone.

In a series of broadcasts, the Rothermere American Institute – the Oxford centre for the study of American History, Politics and Literature – reflects on key events in US history and their implications for today

Co-Host, Dr Alice Kelly, says the new podcast asks ‘what forces have shaped the culture and politics of the US, how its role in the world has changed and what it might be in the future’.

The podcast draws on experts carrying out world-leading research within the institute and from other universities, from DPhil students to Professors, to discuss both topical and universal questions about the United States. 

It is just one of the ways in which the RAI is seeking to reach new audiences during this time of social distancing. Dr Kelly says, ‘We have been working really hard to keep our community together, even while apart. We have decided to see this time away from our physical building as an opportunity, rather than an obstacle, for creativity and innovation in terms of event planning and engaging with broader audiences.’

This term, the RAI is putting on a larger number of public events than usual, all of them online and open to all. Dr Kelly is leading a film series The RAI Goes to the Movies, where participants watch a film in their own time and join a discussion on Zoom led by an expert in American history or film history. There will also be a special roundtable discussion to mark the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower’a voyage to North America, featuring academics and heritage curators and practitioners.

The Last Best Hope? Understanding America from the Outside In is available on all podcasting platforms (including Apple PodcastsGoogle PodcastsSpotify,  Soundcloud, iHeartRadio, StitcherPodcast AddictPodchaserDeezerListen Notes, Tune In). You can also follow the podcast on Twitter for regular updates on new episodes: @TLBHpodcast

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