From Oxford University's Rothermere American Institute, host Professor Adam Smith talks to guests doing world-leading research that sheds light on the United States from the outside in. We ask 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. Is America now, or has it ever been, the "last best hope of earth"? Probably not, but plenty of people have thought so. We try to understand why.
The Memorialising Covid Episode
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused the deaths of over one million Americans to date. How have people memorialised their dead through grassroots memorials and how do we memorialise something that has affected different groups of people in vastly unequal ways? Should there be a national COVID memorial in the US and what form would it take? In this episode, RAI Fellow Dr Alice Kelly speaks to Professor Marianne Hirsch and Professor James Young about the challenges of a national memorial, the idea of ‘reparative memory’, and how we remember separately and together.
The Cotton Famine Episode
In Manchester on new year’s eve 1862, thousands turned out for a public meeting to congratulate President Abraham Lincoln for issuing the Emancipation Proclamation. What motivated these people to come along on a wet Wednesday night to listen to fiery speeches about a foreign war? Especially since the most obvious impact of the American Civil War on Lancashire was that the supply of raw cotton was cut off – the so-called ‘cotton famine’ – causing huge economic distress in the textile mill towns. The answer seems to lie in the faith that – somehow – the US represented the last, best hope of earth. Even to people in Lancashire. In this episode, Adam talks to David Brown of the University of Manchester and Richard Blackett of Vanderbilt, to find out about the impact of the cotton famine and what it tells us about the meaning of America in mid-Victorian Britain.
The Book of Mormon Episode
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is simultaneously the most American and the most 'un-American' of projects. Out of the intense religious revival of the 'burned-over district' of New York in the 1820s, "Mormonism" made the astonishing claim that the Risen Christ had literally walked on American soil. They were thus the first truly homegrown American religious movement even as they were reviled for being an alien threat to the Republic. In this episode, Adam talks to Laurie Maffly-Kipp and Rick Turley to find out how Mormonism related to the American nation, why they attracted so much opprobrium, and why, against all the odds, they succeeded.
The Free World Episode
Has the Russian invasion of Ukraine restored America's role as the leader of the 'free world'? What are the challenges for US diplomats and politicians in trying to advance American interests while also speaking about universal values like democracy? In this episode, Adam explores these issues with Ambassador Philip T. Reeker, who served as the chargé d'affaires at the US Embassy in London. Reeker was present when the Berlin Wall came down, and his career -- mostly in Europe -- has spanned the post-Cold War decades. As the Russian tanks rolled into a European country in 2022, did he feel that the world has come full circle?
The Dust Bowl Episode
The Dust Bowl: the ecological disaster within the larger disaster of the Great Depression. It’s a story that generations of Americans have come to know through John Steinbeck's classic novel, The Grapes of Wrath and Dorothea Lange's unforgettable photos of migrant families struggling on the road to make a living in Depression-torn California. In this episode, Adam talks to two prize-winning historians, Linda Gordon, author of a biography of Dorothea Lange, and Sarah Phillips, an expert on the environment and politics in the twentieth century and asks what the dust bowl tells us about the American Dream.
The Battle Hymn of the Republic Episode
The Battle Hymn of the Republic is one of the most recognisable songs in the world. Easy to sing, and to march to, its words are stirring and optimistic, and filled with vivid images: trumpets that never call retreat, watch-fires of a hundred circling camps, trampling of the grapes of wrath, loosing of the fateful lightning of the terrible swift sword, burnished rows of steel, lilies in whose beauty Christ was born across the sea. It contains the frisson of redemptive violence, too: as he died to make men holy, let us die to make men free. It is, in fact, the most perfect musical expression of the idea that America is peculiarly blessed by God -- the last best hope of earth. Adam talks to John Stauffer and Richard Carwardine to find out more about the song's origins.
Interesting and informative