The following is a guest post by Joe Ryan-Hume, 2014 Arts and Humanities Research Council Fellow at The John W. Kluge Center.
In 2014 I had the pleasure of completing an Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded fellowship at The John W. Kluge Center of the Library of Congress. A year has passed since then, but this summer I found myself back once again at the Center, drawn like a moth to a flame, walking by the same desk I occupied all those months ago. In the interim, I was able to travel widely, from a fellowship at the University of Hong Kong to one at the British Library. I had plenty of time to reflect on my experience at the Kluge Center. I hope to use this space to illuminate why I believe the work that the Kluge Center does is incredibly important, and for young scholars, deeply formative.
I am a current third-year Ph.D. student based in the Department of History at the University of Glasgow. My thesis questions the notion of conservative ascendancy and the so-called ‘Reagan revolution’ in 1980s America by reinterpreting the impact of liberalism at the time. In order to effectively survey liberalism during this tumultuous decade, it was essential that I traveled to the U.S. to examine primary sources. And what better place to do so than at the Library of Congress, looming in the shadow of Thomas Walter’s famous Capitol dome and surrounded by a wealth of material. Fortunately, the Research Council that funds my Ph.D. in the United Kingdown, the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), offers fellowships at the Kluge Center as part of its International Placement Scheme. From March to September of 2014, I was lucky enough to hold one.
My time at the Kluge Center was beyond compare. I was able to consult a range sources, from the papers of retired Senators (particularly the Daniel P. Moynihan Papers) to the organizational papers of key liberal interest groups at the time (the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights [LCCR] papers are fantastic), which have proved essential to the range and depth of my argument. Not only that, but the arrangement of the Center provides the most conducive environment to network with scholars from a range of disciplinary backgrounds and foster cross-collaboration projects. The Kluge Center actively encourages such opportunities, and during my time there I embraced as many as possible. From brown bag lunches to organized events, the Center provides a stimulating and thought-provoking environment to work within. Working with people from a range of disciplines, from archaeology to psychology, allowed me to cast a far wider net in my research than I thought possible and tackle some of its problems in a completely different way. Since leaving the Center, I have been able to tap this resource in a number of ways: from having people in different disciplines critique my work to attending a range of events I never would have before. On returning to Glasgow University, I also helped convince department heads that an ‘Americanist’ group-made up of postgraduates from a range of disciplines would be an effective way of fostering cross-collaboration within the institution. From Scottish ‘brown bag’ lunches to famous happy hour gatherings, this group has proved a success. Indeed, by working together, the Glasgow ‘Americanist’ group has recently organized a conference,”Collaboration in America and Collaborative Work in American Studies”, to take place at the University of Glasgow in December 2015.
My particular journey over the past year is a testament to the Kluge Center. Having never really embraced networking in my first year of postgraduate study, on returning from the Center I embraced as many networking opportunities as I could. One particularly sticks out. Glasgow University recently established links with the University of Hong Kong (HKU) and set up a fund to send postgraduate and early career researchers back and forth. Seeing this as a great opportunity to showcase my work and network with others outside of my institution–almost as far away as one could get from it, in fact–I applied. As the first person to win the award, I gleefully headed off to Hong Kong as somewhat of a pioneer. My time at HKU proved both professionally and personally invaluable. Not only did I establish research links with various scholars at HKU’s history department, but I participated in two organized conferences as well as a workshop catered to HKU postgraduate students. Indeed, I helped co-organize one of the conferences on “Women, Gender, and Efforts for Equality: Comparative Asian-Western Perspectives” given my recent work on women in the Reagan Era, while the other was a postgraduate symposium that attracted scholars from all over the world. In fact, I actually met a fellow from the 2015 Kluge cohort, Pete Millwood, at the symposium who was yet to begin his tenure at the Library of Congress. Knowing that I was planning on returning, we swapped contact details. It is true what they say; it is a small world after all!
Alongside embracing opportunities to network, I also started to work with a number of former Kluge scholars upon return to the U.K. Specifically, I co-organized a panel with AHRC Fellow Will Riddington at a major international conference in June 2015. Meeting up at the University of East Anglia for the Historians of the Twentieth Century United States (HOTCUS) annual conference, we convened a panel titled “Body Politics in the 1980s: Grassroots Organising on the Left and the Right in the Reagan Era.” Given its success, we have since decided to ‘take our show on the road,’ and have discussed co-authoring an article together based on it. I hope to collaborate with Will on a number of other projects going forward, from potentially arranging our own conference to collating a co-edited book. Likewise, I met another former fellow, Matthew Wright, at an interview for a seconded government internship. We were able to help one another out on that day because of our Kluge connection. Finally, I made a number of lasting friendships and continue to keep in contact–and often visit–former Kluge fellows all over the world.
This summer I returned to the Library of Congress when my thesis required further excavation of their available manuscript sources. From an examination of my initial research completed in 2014, it became clear that a number of figures whose papers are housed at the Library had played crucial roles in protecting liberalism’s brightest jewel, Social Security, from conservative dissection in the 1980s. With a new case study titled “Social Security and the 1982 Midterms,” I sought to use the collections at the Library (particularly the Moynihan papers) to show how and why a strong liberal defense of Social Security in 1982, driven by Moynihan in the Senate and supplemented by the activism of liberal interest groups, dissuaded the Reagan administration from attempting major revisions and had a dramatic impact on the 1982 midterms. Returning to the Library allowed me to carry out all of the research required for this chapter over a four-week period.
By providing a unique opportunity to learn about other research methods and practices whilst also enabling me to expand my knowledge and understanding of my topic through serious academic discussion, the Kluge Center was/is an invaluable part of my academic narrative. Each time I’ve visited, I have returned to Glasgow both with more confidence about my project and more motivation to put pen to paper. Having never really left Scotland for more than a couple of weeks before my fellowship, moving to the U.S. seemed a daunting prospect in 2014. But in the Kluge Center, I found a home.
Joe Ryan-Hume is currently a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Glasgow.